Jan. 19, 2020
LA MIRADA, Calif. --- Biola Men's Soccer had the opportunity to take 12 days from its busy preseason schedule to travel to Japan for a service project where they used soccer as a form of ministry to the local children, American military children and local college students.
During the 12 days the players and coaching staff ran camps, played games and fellowshipped with the people of Osaka and Iwakuni while trying to spread the Gospel.
"We used the platform of soccer as our base to share the Gospel," said Stephen Tanquary. "For the most part, the games were the best ministry opportunity we had."
Tanquary explained an evening when the team took on the team from Kinki University, and he called it one of the "coolest moments of the trip."
Kinki is a private university with over 30,000 students and one of the top soccer squads in the country. The men used soccer and their shared athletic ability as a platform to forge relationships with the opposing team in a time of fellowship following the game.
Tanquary and fellow senior Joey O'Keefe talked about this as a time when the two teams set aside a language barrier and found a way to just be "guys" together.
Eventually the night broke into some fun and games, with the fastest player on the Kinki team racing Daniel Martinez, and Christian Aparicio getting into a sumo wrestling contest with one of the opposing players.
"This was the first time on the trip we were fellowshipping with guys our own age," said Tanquary. "It was difficult at first because they speak about as much English as we speak Japanese, but by the end we were just having a great time together and doing fun things. That was the best way we were able to share the Gospel with these people."
O'Keefe also shared his testimony that night, with the help of a translator, as another way to continue sharing the Gospel throughout the time of fellowship.
"We got to show them that we are the same as them, because we are guys, we are in college, and we play soccer," said O'Keefe. "We also got to show them how we're different, and that was through the Gospel."
That night was one of many, many busy days of work for the team, as a typical day began with breakfast at 7 a.m., which was followed by a few hours of camp and a lunch together. Then, the team had about an hour or two to get changed and sightsee before an afternoon/evening that featured a game and some more outreach.
One special night of reward for the team came in the latter half of the trip, when they were in Iwakuni. They went as a large group to a downtown market area where a large group of local vendors had collaborated on a spectacular hour-long fireworks show over a majestic bridge that was a landmark of the city.
This was a special time for the men to grow even closer as the season rapidly approaches, because they were stuck like sardines shoulder-to-shoulder in a massive crowd taking in the sights and sounds of the Japanese culture.
"By the end of the trip the freshmen and transfers were just as much a part of this team as any of us who have already been here," said Tanquary. "It was huge for team chemistry to be able to play a few games together out here. It really helped us on the field, but off the field as well, just to feel like a team and feel like we know each other."
The team partnered with the So. Cal Seahorses, an affiliate of the Missionary Athletes International, to make the trip possible. Women's Soccer took the trip a few summers ago, but the men's soccer team hadn't been in 16 years.
More information on the trip and activities can be found at the blog run by the Seahorses at http://www.seahorsesinjapan.blogspot.com/.
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