MTW Tokyo intern Anna Gardner Herren (right) with K.* Photos by MTW Tokyo intern, Faith C Ettlich

The Bridge of Dance: How Ballet Became a Surprising Gateway to Faith in Japan

By Anna Gardner Herren, Dec 12, 2023

One year ago, I had a phone call with a woman from Mission to the World. I wanted to serve, but I didn't know where or how. I told her, “Here I am, send me!” I wanted to spend my summer serving the Lord and sharing the gospel. As a ballet dancer, I also understood that committing to a summer of missions meant giving up dance altogether. (Three months off from dance is sabotage to any potential future in ballet.) I was planning to drop my dance major in college, quit dancing entirely, and focus instead on becoming a chemist!

But that was not what God had in store for me.

Over a series of phone calls with MTW, my summer plans changed from street evangelism in England to teaching ballet in Spain (hablo un poquito Español). I was willing to go wherever God could use me, but I was hesitant about teaching ballet because of my intentions to quit dancing! It was then that I had one more phone call. It went something like this:

“Would you consider serving instead in Japan?”

“Sure, I'd love to help out with the Tokyo City Team!”

“No, we'd like for you to join the Community Arts Team.”

“Oh, I see. Well, I could teach kids camps and help with the youth group.”

“Actually, you'll be dancing.”

“Oh … okay. Wait, WHAT?

… “but I don't speak Japanese!”


Art Is a Bridge to Faith

I didn't question their placing me in Japan, but I did question why I needed to be a dancing missionary, not just a missionary. What could dancing possibly do to further my ministry in Japan? I had almost no idea what to expect.

One year and one MTW summer internship later, here's what I've learned:

Art is a powerful bridge to reach Japan for Christ—and the Lord can use even the faltering steps of a few summer interns to bring about His glory and the salvation of souls.

Don't get me wrong—I enjoy performing. However, 99% of the time, the most important part of a performance is the conversations I have with people afterward. These conversations about God led to friendships, Bible studies, and even to my best friend in Japan being baptized.

Almost from the moment I came to Tokyo, I had been hearing about a girl who knew many people from the church but was not yet a Christian. Twelve years ago, on my birthday, a horrific Tsunami hit Japan, devastating the country. That tsunami allowed K's parents to meet my MTW summer internship hosts, Roger and Abi Lowther. For 12 years, the Lowthers have been praying for K's parents to become followers of Christ.

I met K on the night of my first performance with Faith Ettlich (a pianist and fellow MTW summer intern) in Tokyo. During the performance, Faith played excerpts from Piano Concerto No. 2, Movement 2 “Andante” by Shostakovich, to which I danced a ballet piece about Mary, telling the story of Christmas through Mary's eyes. Throughout the night, both Faith and I shared our testimonies, our stories of what God has done in our lives.

After the show, I was introduced to K,* who came with her parents. She told me that she was impacted by the dance because she is also a dancer! She asked me many questions about the piece “Mary's Song.” Through a translator, I was able to tell her the story of the gospel. In return, she told me that she had felt God's presence during that dance, and said that she felt the Lord was calling her to Himself. You can imagine my surprise! K had been to church perhaps three times in her life and was simply not interested in God. However, she strongly felt the call of the Holy Spirit that night, and she wanted to become a Christian. Clearly, as prayers were prayed, the Lord was at work for 12 yrs; all our efforts are for naught apart from Him.

Anna with Students

Belief, Baptism, and Ballet

On one of the last days before I left, K and I danced a mirrored duet while Faith played the hymn “Be Thou My Vision” on the piano. The dance reflected K’s faith journey and my prayer that the Lord would be her guide, her vision, for the rest of her days.

What a blessing to rejoice over the salvation of a new dear friend! Since her parents are still unbelievers, it is truly a miracle for K to be baptized and still maintain a good relationship with them. And so we will keep praying, for their story is not over yet! And so, we look to the future with hope! For all is being made new.

I'm currently preparing to return to Japan in the summer of 2024. I'm studying Japanese, taking as many free online seminary courses online as I can get my hands on, and choreographing new works centered around different themes of Christianity. I'm also dancing and working in Greenville, South Carolina, for a semester. I hope to serve long term (in Japan?), and this is a huge step towards doing so.

Anna teaching ballet

I’m so thankful for how God used me and my fellow interns this summer. Yet I know, as much as we pray, as much as we do, we can do no good apart from God. For unless the Lord builds the house, all who labor in it labor in vain. This, more than anything, is what I learned from my summer internship with MTW in Japan. As we praise God for K's new faith, we also pray for the salvation of our dear friends, her parents—and for the Lord to send more missionaries to Japan, even if only for a summer. The harvest is plentiful, by God's grace, but the workers indeed are few. May the Lord send out more laborers into His harvest! 

Summer 2024 summer internships are open! Browse opportunities or apply today at

*Name withheld for privacy. 

Anna Gardner Herren

Anna Gardner Herren is a professional dancer with Logos Theatre and a student at the University of Alabama, studying both dance and speech pathology. When not dancing, she loves rock climbing, rolling sushi, and making latte art. Visit her profile page to support her ministry. 

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Mentored Internship: Tokyo City Team
Summer Internships
Art, Music, Mission
Reach the Unreached Through Music and the Arts

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

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

Give thanks and pray for a couple in Japan who recently came to faith as they faced the last days of the husband's life.

Pray for believers in Tokyo, Japan, to grow in their faith, and pray for their loved ones to come to know Christ.

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 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 a Japanese student who is eager to believe, but still skeptical and asking a lot of really good questions.

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. 


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