Tokyo missionary watches hearts 'slowly soften'

EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention was Dec. 1-8, focusing on Revelation 7:9 ("I saw a great multitude from every nation and all tribes ….") The theme undergirds the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The offering, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at IMB.org/lmco, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year's goal is $165 million.

TOKYO, Japan (BP) -- Sometimes when Mark Bennett baptizes someone, he makes a normal request -- he asks the new believer's family and friends to come up on stage and stand behind him.

And then something abnormal happens -- dozens of people do what he asked.

That may not seem strange, but when the man being baptized is homeless, that crowd is a miracle. If you're a homeless man in Tokyo, Japan, then you're not used to having people know your name, much less call themselves your "family."

"To me, it's incredibly moving because a homeless, helpless, family-less, broken person comes to faith and becomes a part of the family," said Bennett, an IMB missionary.

That's what he's going for when he takes vanloads of bread out to the streets of Tokyo to feed dozens of homeless men, share Jesus and study the Bible with them.

"As long as we show up and we have food, they're going to show up and they're going to get the Gospel," said Bennett, who works with a sidewalk chapel ministry that draws 80 to 100 people every week. A teammate of his started the "chapel" 11 years ago as basically a house church without a house -- a gathering without walls where the hungry can get literal bread and the Bread of Life.

It's hard ministry, Bennett says, and people trickle in and out. But over time, many hearts are changed.

"I watch men slowly soften as the good news penetrates their spirit," Bennett said. "Then a few weeks later, that guy is saying, 'Yes, I trust in Jesus as my Lord.'"

Bennett prays that those seeds would take hold and grow strong in those men's lives. Not every story is a success story, but many are.

Masuda San was a broken man when he showed up the first time to sidewalk chapel.

"It was a typical story. They come for the food -- that's their whole motivation," Bennett said. "But while they're there, we give them a portion of Scripture and share the Gospel."

Bennett learned Masuda San's name, and that made an impact -- Masuda San wasn't used to people looking him in the eye, much less calling him by name. He accepted Bennett's gift of the Gospel of John, blazed through it quickly, and came back and asked for more. Then he asked for more again. Within six months, he had read the whole Bible.

"He has this little worn-out New Testament, and it has notes and highlights," Bennett said. "We'll be sitting around in Bible study, and someone will ask a question and he'll start teaching them from Scripture. He knows the Word, and the Holy Spirit is using him to teach these other guys."

-- PRAY FOR Bennett and his teammates as they meet physical needs and share the gospel with dozens of homeless men on the streets of Tokyo.

-- PRAY FOR The homeless men there to find their significance in Christ.

Grace Thornton is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Ala., who writes for a variety of Baptist publications.
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