MENU
Unsplash: Jezael Melgoza

Karaoke Confessional: Missionary Finds an Unlikely Avenue for Ministry

Editor’s note: This story was written prior to the coronavirus outbreak. As of this update, Karaoke clubs in Japan have closed to help contain the outbreak, but the relationships formed there continue.

In Tokyo, karaoke is king. Every night, millions of Japan’s notoriously overworked professionals leave their offices behind and venture out in search of a way to kick back and unwind. Many seek out karaoke bars, taking to the stage or renting little rooms by the hour to sing with friends. The popular activity is, by some accounts, a $10 billion a year industry in Japan. For MTW missionary Jeff Saunders, karaoke has also provided surprising opportunities to speak the truth of the gospel into the lives of his Japanese friends.

Jeff met Koji* in early 2017, just after moving to Japan. When they struck up a conversation in a Turkish restaurant in Tokyo, Jeff spoke barely any Japanese and Koji only knew a few words of English.

“It was a lot of grunting and trying to get our point across with body language,” Jeff laughed. “It was pretty atrocious, looking back on it.”

The pair exchanged contact information, and that very night Koji invited Jeff out for karaoke. They’ve been meeting up ever since, getting together once every other week or so. Through their time together, Koji has taken an interest in the Bible and Christianity. Meanwhile, Jeff’s language skills have greatly improved, allowing them to have real conversations about life, work, and faith in Japanese. Many of those conversations happen at karaoke.

“Karaoke has turned into this thing for us,” said Jeff. “You rent these karaoke boxes for a few hours at a time. They’re real small … a tiny room with a couch that can fit maybe three people. It almost feels like a confessional.”

They step into the karaoke confessional box and sing their songs, and in between every song they talk. Sometimes their conversation is about Japanese language or culture issues that Jeff is learning, other times Koji talks about his job and how much he hates it. Often, Koji will ask Jeff questions about life, God, and faith.

One day Koji told Jeff that wanted to go to the United States.

“Why would you want to go to the U.S.?” Jeff asked.

“Well, I would love to see where Jesus was born,” Koji answered.

“It kind of dawned on me in that moment—this lack of basic understanding [in Japan] of what Christianity is,” Jeff said. “It proved to me the statistic that we had heard about just how many Japanese people live their entire life without hearing about Jesus even once.”

This, of course, is exactly why Jeff and his wife, Katie, came to Japan—to have just these sorts of conversations and to share the truth and hope of the gospel with young Japanese just like Koji. Partnering with fellow MTW missionaries Joe and Felicity Congdon, Jeff and Katie are working to plant a church in Tokyo aimed at reaching university students and young professionals. Jeff will head up a new RUF ministry on a nearby college campus, while Joe will focus on leading the church plant itself. God-willing, there will be many more fruitful relationships and gospel conversations to come.

As for Koji, he has not yet become a Christian, but the karaoke conversations continue, and he continues to ask good questions and soak up information about Jesus and the Bible. Two Christmases ago, Koji became enraptured by the beauty of Christian art, spending hours researching online. One day he texted Jeff a painting of the Trinity that he had found on the internet—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit connected to one another in a triangle of pillars, each bearing the words “is not,” to convey that each person of the Trinity is unique. More pillars, inscribed with the word “is,” pointed to the center, where “God” was written.

“Can you explain this to me?” Koji asked, innocently bringing up one of the faith’s most difficult to explain mysteries.

Clearly, Jeff has his work cut out for him. Yet, just as clearly, God is at work, stirring in Koji’s heart and opening doors for ministry in Tokyo’s karaoke confessionals.

Editor’s note: We checked back in with Jeff following the coronavirus outbreak and he told us that although karaoke is on hold, he and Koji remain in frequent contact.

*Name has been changed.

Andrew Shaughnessy, Tokyo Japan May 12, 2020
Please login to continue
Forgot your password?
Recover it here.
Don't have an account?
Create an Account

Sign Up for Free

Name
Email
Choose Password
Confirm Password

GET INVOLVED

Mentored Ministry Training in Tokyo
Art, Music, Mission
Longer
Campus Ministry in Tokyo
Longer
Sports Ministry
Longer

“Coincidence” Becomes Calling: Debbie Pixley’s Journey From Automotive Engineer to MTW Missionary

Debbie didn't plan on missions—or Japan—but God lined things up, one after another, to set Debbie on a path for His purposes.

SEE MORE

A Tale of Two Ministries: God at Work in Endings and Beginnings in Japan

Two ministries in Japan are at exciting turning points, both looking forward to God's continued work in and through them for His kingdom.

SEE MORE

Lost in Tokyo as a New Missionary

I was simply making the three-minute drive from a parking garage in Ginza to choir practice to pick up equipment. How did I get so lost?

SEE MORE

Celebrating 10 Churches in 10 Years in Tokyo (VIDEO)

"To plant a church in the city center of Tokyo is difficult. Ten churches in 10 years is remarkable. It is clearly a work of God."

SEE MORE

What God Is Doing in Japan (Audio)

MTW missionary Mark Bocanegra shares what God is doing in Japan and how you can participate.

SEE MORE

A Love for Japan: A Vocational Missionary Story

After serving for a two years as an MTW intern in Japan, Anna McLendon is returning as a vocational missionary through the 18.26 Network.

SEE MORE

Pray for God to break through cultural barriers to draw Japanese men and women to Himself. And for God to call more missionaries to serve in Japan.

Pray for Japanese college students wrestling with new faith. Pray that they would have the courage to give their lives to Christ and not fear their family's reaction.

Pray for MTW Japan as they grow and expand, transitioning some churches to new leadership and planting in new areas. 

Pray for children in Japan who are attending Christian school and influencing their families for Jesus. 

Pray for the U.S. church to send workers to Japan where less than 0.5% of people are Christians.

Pray for the Japanese people, particularly that they would see that the beauty within brokenness—a very Japanese concept—is also a core message of the gospel.

Pray that God would use our Japan teams to open the hearts of the Japanese to God’s presence and love for them.

Pray for Tim Mills (Thailand), Abi Lowther & Roger Lowther (Japan), Joe Congdon (Japan), and Shannon Hinkle (Australia) as they all use their artistic gifts to support the Church in gospel outreach, mercy ministry, and community building.

Pray for the Japanese to realize that money, health, education, and material possessions do not satisfy the human heart.

Pray for those who are coming to faith in Japan. Pray that they would find their identity in Christ and grow strong in Him. 

SUBSCRIBE TO MTW ONLINE

Stories from the field straight to your inbox.