When the Olympic Committee announced in 2013 that Tokyo would host the 2020 Games, Fellowship of Christian Athletes Japan(FCA, www.fca.org) 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.
“She [Yoriko Okamoto] 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.”
The upcoming 2020 Olympic Games felt like perfect timing and a confirmation of Thompson and his team’s ministry to begin 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.
To grow FCA Japan’s influence leading up to the Olympics, 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.
“We thought, ‘God’s going to use this to bring the people of Japan to Himself,’” Thompson said.
After it was announced that the Olympics would be postponed, Thompson and his team rebounded quickly, viewing 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.
A major source of encouragement is Yoriko Okamoto, the Japanese taekwondo bronze medalist at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 and a supporter of FCAJapan. 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.”
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. 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 FCACamps and Huddles, and intentionally reach out to coaches and athletes to walk with them through 1-on-1 Zoom chats and Bible studies.
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.
“God is 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.”
FCA’s theme for 2021 is Pursue, which is based on the verse 1 Timothy 6:11: “Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.”FCA encourages its members to pursue God utilizing His Word as an anchor, grounding Christians as they look to His Kingdom.