This article appears in the Spring 2021 edition of the FCA Donor Publication. The FCA publication is a gift from our FCA staff to all donors giving $50 or more annually. For more information about giving, visit here.
When the Olympic Committee announced in 2013 that Tokyo would host the 2020 Games, FCA Japan Director Will Thompson saw an opportunity coming. After long years of establishing relationships in Japan’s sports community, he began connecting with the International Sports Coalition (ISC) and church and ministry leaders to prepare to leverage such a major global spotlight. From his perspective, Japan’s hosting of the Olympics could spark a fresh vision for sports ministry in the country, and he was ready for it.
After living in Japan for five years as a child with his family, Thompson was drawn to the country’s culture and people. He knew he wanted to go back and take his passion for baseball. In 2012, Thompson returned to Japan from the U.S. to begin a vision plan for sports ministry through FCA, which he had been introduced to the previous year. Since then, he has been redefining strategy and reestablishing vision for FCA Japan—not just for now, but for years to come.
“We asked, ‘God, what are You doing moving forward?’” Thompson recalled. “We have a foundation established, and having an organization is important in Japan. It’s important to raise up Japanese leaders who can advance relationships within the country.”
The upcoming 2020 Games felt like perfect timing and a confirmation of Thompson and his team’s ministry. They began the process to establish FCA as an entity with the Japanese government (which became official in fall 2020). Motoki Oba joined Thompson as full-time staff becoming FCA Japan’s Field Support Manager. Thompson and supporters had spent years building up the vision, and God was blessing their team.
“FCA is a game changer,” Oba said. “I was looking for teammates. In Japan, there was no ministry like FCA to focus on serving coaches and athletes, but God gave us a way to reach these communities.”
"God's going to use this to bring the people of Japan to Himself."
To grow FCA Japan’s influence leading up to the Games, the team developed a Japanese baseball Bible and a Bible for the Rugby World Cup, hosted numerous baseball and rugby clinics, and designed a set of three Olympic pins for trading among athletes, something that happens throughout the Olympic Village and host city Olympic venues each Olympic Games. Each pin designed by FCA for trading displays one of the three main words of 1 Corinthians 13: faith, hope and love. At the end of 2019, on the tail end of hosting the Rugby World Cup, the country appeared ready to host the Olympics.
“We thought, ‘God’s going to use this to bring the people of Japan to Himself,’” Thompson said.
As the world watched and waited as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, athletes hoped they would still be allowed to compete after years of training and preparation. When the decision to postpone the Games was announced on March 24, 2020, a collective sigh of disappointment resonated across the globe. As the host country, Japan’s sigh may have resounded even louder, and Thompson and his team joined in. They had poured countless hours into prayer, brainstorming and preparation. It was a detour for certain, but one that didn’t leave them devastated, just discouraged.
But Thompson and his team rebounded quickly, and he began to see the postponement as an extra year to prepare. Over the past year, FCA Japan has narrowed in on two main initiatives: Olympic Bibles and chaplaincy training.
For the Olympic Bibles, Thompson and others in FCA East Asia have been working on a Bible that appeals to coaches and athletes. Biblica has a long history of producing Bibles for the Olympics and partnering with groups like FCA to get them into coaches’ and athletes’ hands. The Bibles are currently in production, and Thompson’s goal is to get one into the hands of every Japanese athlete.
For Christian competitors, the Olympic Games are one of the largest platforms from which to share their faith and to engage the world in one venue with the Gospel. Over the next two years, two Olympic events will be taking place in East Asia and FCA’s team is preparing for this Olympic-sized opportunity.
FCA East Asia is partnering with Biblica, The International Bible Society, on a project involving the printing and distribution of 20,000 Bibles that contain the four Gospels, sport testimonials and devotions. The team plans to follow up with a similar mission in 2022 for the Beijing Games.
There’s also a sports partnership with the Olympic Chaplaincy Committee forming, which doesn’t only operate during the Games, but also once they’ve ended. Thompson’s hope is for the chaplaincy opportunity to enable FCA Japan to impact more coaches and athletes in the country moving forward.
“If we’re able to serve coaches and athletes through chaplaincy at the highest level—the Olympics—it gives us more credibility to be able to serve through sports chaplaincy through every level of sports moving forward,” he explained.
A major source of encouragement is Yoriko Okamoto, the Japanese taekwondo bronze medalist at the Sydney Games in 2000 and a supporter of FCA Japan. Not only has Okamoto chosen to partner with FCA as a volunteer and donor, she also is a prospective chaplain giving insight from her years as a top-level athlete, leading a Huddle in Osaka, and helping start 3Dimensional Coaching® to support other Japanese coaches and athletes.
“She is on fire for God,” Thompson said. “We have a champion to engage in sports ministry who is also a high-profile athlete and an amazing witness for Christ.”
A SHIFT IN PERSPECTIVE
COVID-19 has brought continued uncertainty for coaches and athletes all around the world, but FCA Japan says it has led to a shift in perspective and approach for sports ministry. Now, what had largely centered around event ministry has transformed into everyday ministry.
How to Pray For FCA Japan
• Open doors to share Christ with
coaches and athletes during the
2021 Tokyo Games.
• More laborers—For God to raise
up new staff and volunteers with a
heart for the Lord and sports.
• To go deeper with coaches and
• Wisdom and discernment for
continued vision moving forward.
• Growth of 3Dimensional Coaching®
and the coaching ministry.
Before 2020, much of FCA Japan’s impact came from camps and clinics, utilizing professional baseball players, many of them celebrities, who visited the country during short-term events or who participated on off days during their season. Now, Thompson and Oba are looking to strategically develop staff and leaders, re-envision FCA Camps and Huddles, and intentionally reach out to coaches and athletes to walk with them through 1-on-1 Zoom chats and Bible studies.
“Two years ago, we would have thought ministry change was because of the Olympics, but the shift of our thinking has developed us in a good way,” he said. “We are less event-driven and more discipleship focused.”
According to Thompson, this re-envisioning actually invigorated the work going forward.
“We are believing that maybe the spark for the 2020 Olympics wasn’t about the event itself but about what God’s going to do,” he said. “We are trusting and believing God’s plan. Now, we are strategically raising up disciples to equip for the harvest.”
If the Olympics had gone on as planned, ministry in Japan may have looked different from what it does now. What appeared as delay gave way to an undeniable movement of God that has the team in Japan excited and hopeful.
"We are believing that maybe the spark for the 2020 Olympics wasn't about the event itself but about what God's going to do."
The Olympic Committee’s decision to proceed with the Tokyo 2021 Games is complex, as it isn’t just one sports season spread over many months, but 33 sports with athletes from around the world converging in one city for a short amount of time. Yet despite this uncertainty and complexity, Thompson and his team are more ready than ever for whatever comes next.
“God’s using this pandemic for His Kingdom purpose,” Thompson said. “We pray and believe that what the enemy uses for evil, God will turn around for good. We’re believing God is preparing an awakening and bringing people to Himself.”
Learn about a new prayer initiative for Japan during the Olympics and Paralympics:
Japan 1 Million
Accompanying YouVersion Reading Plan: Pray4Japan
Photos courtesy of FCA Japan and International Olympic Committee