Roberta Stephens Portrait
Roberta lives in Yokohama where she has a variety of ministries. She serves with the Japan Baptist Union Women in their ministries, and since she lives close to Kanto Gakuin, an American Baptist related educational consortium, she is engaged in a variety of other ministry opportunities. These include telling Bible stories to kindergarteners, leading Bible studies with their mothers, and speaking at chapel services at Kanto Gakuin University. She works with the Sigma Society on the university campus, helping them to prepare for volunteer work in Thailand. She also recruits volunteers from the U.S. to work in partner churches of the Japan Baptist Union. Her framework for all of these ministries is comprised of biblical literacy and personal evangelism.
She writes of a recent trip to an ice cream store in Japan: The shop was decorated throughout the store with Easter eggs. This would not be such an unusual thing in the US but it seemed totally incongruent for Japan which is predominately secular-Buddhist-Shinto society. Inroads to the gospel have come from Christmas, which is now totally secularized, and recently from western Christian weddings and gospel music. These have all given an opportunity to introduce Christianity to Japan in acceptable ways.
I didn’t have an evangelistic pamphlet with me but just remained amazed as I wondered what the girls selling ice cream thought these eggs meant. Last Sunday when I shared with the women’s circle about the empty tomb I mentioned about the Easter egg and how it represented the grave in which Jesus was laid. Then I told the women about our visit to the ice cream shop. None of them had ever been in the store, even though they are quite common. I challenged them to do what I had not done, ask the clerks if they knew what the eggs meant.
This Sunday, I was in for a big surprise. One child came up to me and displayed 8 plastic Easter eggs and declared, “We went.” I didn’t get it at first but later found out from her mother that her family had gone and asked the unsuspecting clerks if they knew the meaning of the Easter eggs they were selling ice cream in. Shortly, another elderly member came up to me and said “I went and bought ice cream for my husband and me and talked to the clerks.” Both proceeded to tell me the various reactions to the news that it represented a tomb! Then after telling that Jesus had risen from the dead, one girl looked stunned. “You know Christmas, don’t you?” She shook her head with vigor. “The same Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas (stunned look), died on the cross for our sins and was buried in a cave, then three days later he rose from the grave.” “Christmas is Jesus’ birth?” one girl asked...And so it went.
These two people who were about as shy as they come had their first chance to witness in a public arena. I congratulated them as we discussed the incident, while I berated myself. Four young clerks had the opportunity to hear the gospel in a nutshell (egg shell?) for the first time. Praise the Lord!
· Pray for Roberta as she reaches out for Christ in Japan.