How the BEST Friendships Lead to Growing Faith

“How does a person enter faith?” Yoichi Suzuki asked. 

Yoichi was with Wayne Meyer at a doughnut shop close to the Utsunomiya University campus in Utsunomiya, Japan. It was the beginning of Yoichi’s senior year of college. As he considered graduation and heading toward the workplace, there were many questions on his heart about what he would do with his life. However, one of the biggest questions was about having a relationship with Jesus. 

Wayne, who met The Navigators in 1965 and has served in Japan since 1971, shared The Bridge to Life Illustration with Yoichi. This wasn’t the first time Yoichi had seen this illustration. He first met Wayne through the BEST (Bible, English, Sports and Travel) Club on campus at Utsunomiya University his freshman year and even attended weekly Bible studies in Wayne’s home his junior year. 

“Yoichi and I discussed other things after I talked through The Bridge to Life Illustration,” Wayne shared. “As we got up to leave, Yoichi asked me again, ‘But how does a person enter faith?’ I thought to myself, I haven’t had someone ask me that twice in the same conversation, and definitely not that directly.

Wayne responded to Yoichi’s repeated question, “Yoichi, would you like to try?”

“Yes,” Yoichi responded.

Wayne and Yoichi prayed together in Wayne’s car. Yoichi invited Christ into his life, by admitting his sin and need for a Savior and believing Jesus is God’s Son who died for him and was resurrected so he might have eternal life. 

Yoichi’s faith and trust in Jesus  became one of the answers to decades of prayer for Japan.

This story from 20 years ago continues to have an impact on Japan today. 

Reaching College Students Through an On-Campus Club

The Navigators campus ministry in Japan started in 1966 following a Navigators one-year worldwide prayer focus for the country. Wayne mentioned that at that time the average of only one out of 100 students responded to invitations to join small group Bible studies. God pursued hearts, but the interest and response to the gospel had yet to surface. 

“Most students we met had never read the Bible, never attended church and never had a Christian friend,” shared Wayne. “There wasn’t an interest in God and only a small percentage were open to the Bible.”

In the 1980s, The Navigators staff in Japan created the BEST (Bible, English, Sports and Travel) Club, which opened up more opportunities to build relationships with students, even if they had no initial interest in the Bible. 

As The Navigators team passed out brochures for the BEST Club Yoichi’s freshman year, Wayne walked over to Yoichi’s cafeteria table and asked the guys sitting there where they were from. 

“I’m from Sendai,” Yoichi shared. 

“I lived in Sendai my first three years in Japan,” Wayne responded. “Where did you live in Sendai?”

Yoichi responded with the location and Wayne realized that he had lived a block away from Yoichi’s parents house, but before Yoichi was born. This common ground led Yoichi to joining the club. 

“Often what happens in the BEST Club is that people who have interest in one of the areas besides the Bible join and during that first year they build relationships with Christians, they become more open to the Bible,” Wayne shared. 

While many Japanese have a negative image of the Bible and religious things, Yoichi felt differently. He said he had been exposed to the Bible through the Christians who led this school. 

“Before the BEST Club, I hadn’t heard the gospel. When I was in preschool, I remembered hearing the Christmas story and learning about Jesus being a gentle man. These were the only things I remembered,” Yoichi shared. “The club staff were very kind and because I was invited, I joined.”

Yoichi’s faith journey had ups and downs and even during his sophomore year he decided not to participate in the club for a time. However, as he started his junior year he thought about his future and what he had gleaned from the BEST club—friendships, learning about God’s love and grace, and growing step-by-step. 

“I decided to join the club once again as I wondered how I should live my life. I thought, Maybe I can learn from Jesus,” Yoichi shared. 

Lead a Bible Study for the First Time

At the beginning of Yoichi’s junior year, Wayne invited a group of students into his home for Bible study. During that first semester the group lost momentum and Wayne wondered about what to do next. 

Before the second semester started, the Lord gave Wayne an idea about how to approach leading the study. 

“There was actually only one believer in the group. However, I told the group that second semester that I would lead this first time and then everyone would take turns leading,” Wayne shared. 

This approach to Bible study changed Wayne’s perspective on John 16:13, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (NIV). 

“I used to think that this was just for believers,” Wayne shared. “Not once over the next three years of leading Bible study this way did anyone get off track. The majority of the time the people leading were not believers yet. Over the next few years, many of these students who took turns leading the Bible study came to Christ. Then they started leading their own Bible studies, inviting others to join them.”

Yoichi smiled as Wayne shared about these Bible studies. He remembered thinking these studies would be similar to the Japanese education system where Wayne would be the teacher and he would be the student. However, Wayne had a different style of teaching that Yoichi wasn’t used to. 

“When I asked Wayne questions about the Bible like, ‘What does this verse mean?’ Then he would always ask me back, ‘What do you think Yoichi?’” Yoichi shared. “At first I was frustrated because he would always ask me a question back. This helped me think about the Bible and its truth, taking it seriously. I had to consider how I would answer the question first and, overall, helped me remember what I was learning.”

Yoichi shared how Bible study transitioned for him, moving from attaining knowledge to seeing how God’s Word changed his heart. 

Expand Spiritual Generations in Your Community

Today, Yoichi is with the Japan Navigators as Campus Director at Utsunomiya University, where his discipleship journey began. His family often opens their home to students for small-group Bible study.

Through Yoichi’s time at university, many Navigators staff in Japan impacted his life through their intentionality. Wayne mentions that he is only one small part of Yoichi’s story. 

The Navigators BEST Club continues at Utsunomiya University and its student leader recently became a Christian. Even a  number of the participants when Yoichi was a student stay connected with The Navigators and continue to meet regularly.  

“Today when students ask me questions about the Bible, I respond with a question, ‘What do you think?’” Yoichi shared. “That’s a very practical way they can learn. Also, I always pray before meeting with students that the Holy Spirit will lead the conversations and that my words will be seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6 NIV).”

Yoichi is praying for and watching for doughnut-shop conversations like the one he had with Wayne, when he asked about entering the Christian faith. Yoichi sees the many invitations God gave him throughout his life, even through Wayne, to learn more about God and His love. 

“I want to encourage students to know and memorize Scripture, so it may help them like it does me,” Yoichi shared. “That energizes me.”

How the BEST Friendships Lead to Growing Faith | The Navigators Collegiate Ministry | Japanese family sitting on sofa

Comments:

  1. I found it interesting that the “student” found it helpful when the “teacher” answered his question with a question…a practice that is normally frowned upon. Following the Spirit’s leading doesn’t always follow practices you have normally used.

  2. I started Navigators’ style Bible study in Potcefstroom, South Africa. I would like to get more information concerning BEST club.

  3. Fantastic story of the work of God’s grace through His Spirit, His Word and His faithful labourers.

  4. This story is so encouraging. The greatness of God in our humble efforts to reach out to the next person. And I’m very thankful for how this story has turned out. Thankful that a brother is there looking to make an impact in a donut shop. Godspeed!

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