Caroline Anderson on How Global Sporting Events Provide Opportunity for Evangelism in Japan

IMB workers, national partners, local churches and volunteers worked together to reach thousands of rugby fans with the gospel during the 2019 Rugby World Cup. IMB photo

Caroline Anderson is a writer for the International Mission Board. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.


Global sporting events bring nations together. Yes, rivals banter and boo, but myriad nations gathering because of a common love is also a beautiful sight. Sports bring about a quirky unity and solidarity.

A few months ago, I attended a rugby match during the Rugby World Cup in Tokyo, Japan. Like the Japanese people who were present in the audience that October evening, I clapped for both teams, Australia and Wales, for we were citizens of neither of the countries who were playing. We didn’t need to be a fan of any particular team, because we found enjoyment and exhilaration just being a part of a global event.

Making connections

After the rugby match, two Japanese men posed for me to take their photo. They were wearing two rugby scarves, one for each of the teams playing, and were proud their country was hosting.

When I stopped to snap the photo of them, I took the opportunity to share with them about an upcoming viewing party of a rugby match that IMB missionaries in Tokyo were hosting at Tokyo Baptist Church.

One of the ministry goals of the IMB team for both the Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Summer Olympics is to connect Japanese people to God.

Tokyo Baptist Church and IMB missionaries hosted three viewing parties for matches during the Rugby World Cup. The goal was to begin to build relationships with the community and initiate gospel conversations.

Some who wandered into the complex of Tokyo Baptist Church one warm Saturday afternoon didn’t even know it was a church, or that churches had activities. Some were drawn in by the posters or were invited by friends and neighbors. Others noticed the booths and activities in the parking lot. Still others heard that a famous rugby player was there.

At a viewing party, retired New Zealand All Blacks player Timo Tagaloa shared his testimony. He also taught the famous Haka dance that is performed before all New Zealand rugby matches.

Japanese children made a square around Timo, squatting half-way as they began to mimic the motions and lyrics that accompany the ancient Maori tradition.

Other visitors took advantage of the opportunity to try new food, including Scottish haggis, Vegemite and chocolate chip cookies.

The crowd then moved inside to watch the rugby match. This was the first time many had stepped foot into a church. Church members sat next to visitors during the match, talking and cheering on the teams, much like I did.

The goal of the viewing party was not just a mere introduction to the Gospel, but the beginning of a long-term relationship to share the Gospel.

It was a fantastic beginning.

Tokyo Baptist Church’s ministry pastor reported the church hosted 700 new visitors during the Rugby World Cup events and handed out 2,000 Bibles, 2,700 flyers with links to testimonies of Christian rugby players and 600 Gospel tracts.

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Source: Baptist Press