Will Thompson always knew he’d be back to Japan. To the country of the rising sun, to the people and culture who captivated his heart, and to baseball.
As a first-grader, Thompson’s family moved from Atlanta, Ga. to Japan for his father’s job at IBM. He was forever impacted, developing a heart for the culture, people and baseball.
The family returned to Atlanta just before he began middle school, but Japan stayed in Thompson’s heart. He attended Wheaton College in Illinois with a dream of pursuing a Japanese professional baseball career, joined a Japanese church, and over summers went back for language study and mission work. The country and its people were always close to him, even while half a world away.
His senior year, God revealed that while as well-intentioned as his desire was to be a professional ballplayer for God’s glory, it was still Thompson’s dream, not God’s. He had to let go, but God would still use his desires in different ways.
After graduation in 2011, he attended language school in Japan over the summer. It was then God revealed that He wanted Thompson back in Japan for an extended time, through the avenue of FCA.
While already familiar with the ministry of FCA, there had never been opportunity for international work. But God impressed it was the right season for sport ministry, and in 2012, he set off for his new home across the Pacific Ocean.
Will Thompson teaching hitting at a baseball clinic in Ishinomaki, a seaside community devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Sports has opened doors to share the hope of Jesus to these communities.
But pioneering sports ministry in a culture where less than .5% of the population call themselves Christian certainly had its challenges.
Discouragement and loneliness set in three years after he arrived. Even after he married his wife Kimberly in October 2015, he wondered if there would ever be visible impact, if all the time, relationships and energy spent would reap an eventual harvest. His whole life had been filled with the hope of getting back to Japan and invest in people and sports. But was the struggle worth it?
Thompson, who’s been on staff five years, keeps plugging away, celebrating relationships that blossom over time. Like with Taka, who, after years of questions, conversation, and doing life on and off the baseball field together, received Christ. With his position in athletics, he has great influence in the sports world, and uses his talents and abilities for God.
The key for Thompson is building relationships, whether it’s joining multiple baseball leagues, cultivating coaching clinics, or inviting professional baseball players to participate in local camps and clinics. From these one-time events, Thompson wants to further connect to attendees, but navigates carefully through a country where doors can close as quickly as they were slowly opened.
In Japan, competition is heightened to almost divine levels. Coaching is approached systematically and can be viewed as stern and stoic. Thompson wants to influence the culture and has plans to implement the 3Dimensional Coaching method.
“They will see that 3D Coaching makes a difference,” he said. “A tool that doesn’t have religious language of faith that would turn a Japanese coach off, but it instills the values-based teaching with spiritual values originating from the heart of Jesus, and I really believe that could transform the sports culture and is really needed in Japan. They need to be introduced to another way.”
The inside of the Japanese Baseball Bible, with testimonies of coaches and players who have played in Japan or are familiar to Japanese fans and athletes.
He and his staff also continue to develop, translate and contextualize resources to make it accessible for the Japanese sports world. They created a baseball Bible with stories of professional players and coaches familiar to the Japanese that helps get the gospel to people who may never step foot in a church or pick up a Bible.
Groundwork is expanding, and Thompson prays God blows a revival wind through the country among coaches and athletes.
“We want and trust God to move in mighty ways,” he said.
Japan is poised for great movement in the next few years as it hosts the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Summer Olympic Games in 2020 in Tokyo. These are major events in the sports realm, and Thompson and other sports partners around the country are gearing up for great impact. There is new light rising in Japan’s sports world.
“It’s a gift from God to have these major sports events to ignite sports ministry in Japan with sports chaplains and coaches ministry,” said Thompson. “I’m thankful and really believe God’s bringing things in Japan together for such a time as this.”
Give to help expand our work in Japan. To give, click here and select Will Thompson, or call FCA Support Services at 1-800-289-0909.
To learn more or get involved with FCA Japan, visit fcaworld.org.