Joy fills a home near a Japanese university every week as a time of fellowship, playing games, English lessons, and Bible discussion unfolds. The weekly gathering, called Joy Night, takes place in Joyful House, The Navigators women’s ministry house, where one staff member and three students live.
One student says, “I love Joy Night! It’s my favorite event every week.”
Joy Night is an outreach stemming from the BEST (Bible, English, Sports, and Travel) club at Utsunomiya University in Utsunomiya, Japan. Most university students in Japan have never read the Bible and don’t have any Christian friends. The BEST club offers a relational atmosphere to connect with students. The staff team, which is led by Bryan and Renee Gibbs, includes American and Japanese Navigator staff and alumni volunteers.
Students are often drawn to the BEST club because of the activities and fun atmosphere among the members. The staff team works together with students to plan club activities that build relationships. Students invest in the time together; usually a few students come early to help prepare the meal for the Tuesday Joy Night. The evening starts with dinner, but students feel free to drop in throughout the evening.
While knowledge of God and the Bible is limited, Japanese university students thirst for discussion about important life issues. Bryan says, “We don’t call what we do ‘Bible study,’ but rather ‘discussion,’ because we want the students to be free to share their opinions and questions. For almost all of the students, Joy Night is their very first exposure to the Bible. We often focus on a parable of Jesus or a story about someone who meets Jesus. Then we use discussion questions to encourage the students to dig into what the Bible says and think about how it applies to their lives.” During the Bible discussion time they break into discussion groups of five or six students so everyone has a chance to interact.
While the process of coming to faith is gradual, the focus on relevant life issues resonates with students and meets a felt need. One student says, “The best part of Joy Night is that we get to have really deep discussions about life.”
Experiencing life together and sharing hospitality are important factors of building student relationships. Renee says, “Our family reaches out to students through hospitality and our kids have built many relationships with students in our ministry. We look for opportunities to discuss spiritual issues as we live life together.” The Gibbses have been serving university students in Japan for 15 years as a couple, and both served in Japan prior to their marriage.
The ministry that brings joy to Japanese university students is best summed up in 1 Thessalonians 2:8: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well.”