Spreading the Gospel through the universal language of sports, the East Texas Baptist University Tiger Spirit Teams (cheer and pom), and acrobatics and tumbling traveled to Japan from Thursday, Aug. 1-10 as part of the Tiger Athletic Mission Experience (TAME) program.

Led by the Director of Global Education and Great Commission Center Lisa Seeley; Vice President for Athletics Ryan Erwin; Head Coach of Cheer, Acrobatics and Tumbling Farrah Dunaway; and Pom Coach Kyla Arbuckle, the group of 23 athletes and staff partnered with the International Sports Federation (ISF) in evangelism and ministry surrounding Camp Buttobi and the people of Yokohama, Japan.

The trip to Japan marks ETBU’s 11th sports mission experience and the third trip with ISF — an organization that seeks to change the world through sports.

“In preparation for this trip, I had been praying that my athletes would be able to experience the Lord in a truly personal way, and that they learn to serve others when it does not benefit them,” Coach Dunaway said. “One of the greatest gifts in serving as a coach for these athletes has been watching them experience God, serve others, and realize what the Father can do through them if they are willing.”

During the trip, the Tiger Spirit Teams spent time with the Joy Joy Children’s Ministry during a worship service at Hongodai Church. Student-athletes shared testimonies as well as their cheer, dance and acrobatic talents with attendees at the church.

“I became captivated by the smallest of children with eyes closed and hands raised in complete worship of God,” sophomore Yasmin Hamilton said. “I was overwhelmed to see the Japanese children and adults genuinely love the Lord and hunger to spend time with other believers in a community where it is not popular.”

Tiger students witnessed firsthand how the Christian faith can overcome cultural and linguistic barriers during a community outreach activity at a shopping mall in Yokohama where they connected to the local community through music, games, and dancing.

“Our goal was to get as many people involved as possible, including children and adults,” junior Anna Gaddis shared. “It brought joy to my heart seeing the many smiles on their faces, and it was fun to see Christ working.”

Before setting out to facilitate a kid’s camp for the last leg of the trip, the group made the one-hour train ride to Tokyo, where they spent the day sightseeing and praying for the city as they make preparations for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

“I was in awe of the beauty of this country and how God created it all,” junior Emily Buffington said. “We walked around, enjoyed the views, and were able to sit and pray for the upcoming Olympic events and that the Gospel will be shared with the many upcoming visitors.

“It is so cool how an event can be planned and bring so many new people from around the world together.”

To minister and reach the children of Japan, the group volunteered at Camp Buttobi, a kid’s camp four hours from Tokyo, where they spent the remainder of the trip teaching the campers dances, cheers, and stunts. Student-athletes also served in the kitchen and built relationships with the kids and adults at Camp Buttobi as they spread the Word of God.

“Seeing the eagerness of the children to learn from us was extremely heartwarming, and their joy was contagious,” sophomore Sarah Murray stated. “It was a special moment to step back and watch these children dance and cheer with our team. There was no language barrier, and we were all the same. This was such a perfect picture of how I imagine God sees all of His children.”

Many of the Tiger Spirit members mentioned how the experiences overseas inspired and encouraged their own personal faith. From worship services to serving the kids at Camp Buttobi, the group of ETBU student-athletes marveled at God’s workmanship throughout the trip.

“During worship with the kids, there was a time where we were all singing ‘Hallelujah’ and I just felt a sense of peace throughout the room. In that moment I closed my eyes and listened to people worshipping,” Buffington said. “We were all praising the same God and we were all the same, no language barrier, just all of God’s children coming together to worship Him.”

Whether participating in community outreach, facilitating fellowship at Hongodai Church, or serving at a kid’s camp, the ETBU student-athletes used their unique skill sets to minister to each other, the ministry partners, and the people of Japan.

“One of the main things we have been talking about while in Japan is how can we incorporate sports into the Word of God and why millions of people show up to support an event where they have no personal relationship with the athletes. The answer is community,” junior Jacqueline Comparin shared. “Our mission here has been to spread the Word of God by doing what we love. Whether that be dancing, cheering, or tumbling, we are all doing it for the Lord.

“When people ask us what we are here for and how they can be a part of it, we tell them how like in athletics and sporting events, there is community in Jesus Christ.”