A mission team from Sandia Baptist Church, Albuquerque, traveled to Yokohama, Japan recently. Pictured are Ronny Cooksey, pastor of Sandia Baptist Church(far left), wife Kathy (far right), and Sandia BC missionary Carolyn Starks (front, third from right).

ALBUQUERQUE (BNM) – Thirteen members of all ages from Sandia Baptist Church, Albuquerque, returned from a mission trip to Yokohama, Japan in May. The group stayed in Yokohama from April 30 to May 9 for the purpose of “direct evangelism,” according to Ronny Cooksey, pastor of Sandia Baptist Church. Cooksey and his family are former International Mission Board missionaries who served in several areas of Japan for 10 years. Yokohama is located south of Tokyo. It is the second-largest city in Japan, with a population of just over 3.7 million as of 2015. 

The group partnered with Kanagawa Prefecture, led by IMB missionary couple Jason and Esther Queen, whom Cooksey praised for their effectiveness in Japan. “We felt [the trip] was very effective,” he said. “The missionaries did a good job of helping us understand the significance of our part in the process.” He said the team from Sandia Baptist Church shared the Gospel “dozens of times,” distributed about 800 bilingual Gospel tracts, invited people to English classes, and visited Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples to pray for everyone inside. The first thing the team did was tour Yokohama, praying for the lost people around them. At the top of a tower, they prayed for everyone they could see below. Cooksey and his wife, Kathy, also hosted parenting and marriage seminars.

The Queens have been missionaries in Japan since 2012. Jason said the Sandia team was a “pleasure to work with” and that they were “willing to try anything” to share with the people from Yokohama.

Cooksey said one key lesson the team learned from the trip was the poor spiritual state of Japan. “Japan is spiritually dark,” he said. “Salvation is low, and the need is great.” The Freeman Spogli Institute reports that Shinto, Buddhism, and Confucianism dominate Japanese religious tradition, with about half a percent of the Japanese population adhering to Christianity, according to Jason. “Overall, the people remain closed to the Gospel, but we have been seeing more and more of them respond in faith to the Gospel,” he said. 

Cooksey also said this trip will aid Sandia BC in achieving their goal of becoming a world mission center. “This is one step in that process as we try to increase our number of partnerships around the world,” he said.

He said the moment during the mission trip that impacted him the most was “seeing [his] team members being willing to step outside their comfort zones” for the sake of sharing the Gospel in Japan. 

The Yokohama trip was the first overseas trip for Sandia member Carolyn Starks. Due to health concerns, Starks was limited in the number of places she could travel. She said Japan was not her first choice, but when the opportunity to share the Gospel in Japan appeared, she took it, using investments she has made to pay for travel. “It was definitely a God thing,” she said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had money to go."

Starks especially noticed all the people who are not Christians while she was in Japan. “There’s a lot of people that need Jesus,” she said. She saw people praying to trees, and whenever they walked into the temples and shrines, a feeling of emptiness came over her. “It was like there was nothing there,” she said. This trip motivated her to be an active missionary at home, while also being ready to take the next opportunity to take the Gospel elsewhere.

Drew Stevens is a news management intern with the Baptist New Mexican news journal and GoBNM.com, news and information outlets for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.

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