By Marilyn Stewart, Regional Reporter
[img_assist|nid=5990|title=Judi Folds, wife of Tokyo Baptist Pastor Dennis Folds, leads a Bible study at Bethel Colony for recovering addicts.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=56]NEW ORLEANS – Dennis and Judi Folds left Louisiana 30 years ago to follow the Great Commission and take the Gospel to a distant land. A team of Japanese Baptists – the fruit of the Folds’ ministry in Tokyo – recently came to New Orleans on the same mission.
The 12-member team from Tokyo Baptist Church partnered with five members from First Baptist Church, Minden, and one from First Baptist, Homer, to share the Gospel in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. As a result, three area residents came to faith in Christ.
“[The Tokyo team] has been a blessing to work with,” said Bill Crider, First Minden’s minister to senior adults/missions. “And the people here have been very receptive.”
Tokyo Baptist Church, founded by Cooperative Program-supported missionaries and American military personnel stationed there in 1959, averages 1,400 in five weekend services, with 50 nationalities in attendance. Services take place in English.
“Our goal is to send a mission team to each country represented at our church,” said Folds, pastor of the Tokyo church. Church teams have served in 18 countries, including Australia and Fiji.
The Japan-Louisiana team led a Bible study at a center for men recovering from addiction, worked with Southern Baptists’ Global Maritime Ministries at the Port of New Orleans, and shared the Gospel while prayerwalking.
Dozens attended “Tonjiru Café,” an outreach event at Gentilly Baptist Church featuring authentic Japanese food and tea prepared by team members.
“Members of this team have developed a real heart for the city of New Orleans and its people,” said Ken Taylor, Gentilly’s pastor. “They made a great sacrifice to come to our neighborhoods to share the good news of Jesus.”
“Mission 50-50-50” – Tokyo Baptist’s theme for the year – represents the church’s age, the nationalities attending, and its mission offering goal of 50 million yen – equaling one half million dollars.
Folds stayed on as pastor at the church after the couple retired as International Mission Board missionaries 11 years ago. They were appointed in 1980.
Fusako Takada, team leader, said Japanese Christians struggle with forsaking ancestor worship because it is an integral part of honoring one’s family.
Tomotaka Nakabachi, team member, said his family does not understand his decision to follow Christ.
“Christ is my Savior, but that is not enough. He is my Master,” Nakabachi said. “I am happy to give everything – my money, my time, my life – to Him.”
The Folds’ ties to Louisiana helped develop the mission partnership. Dennis Folds was reared in Lawtell; Judi Folds is from Minden.
Crider said the First Minden team hopes that church will send a mission team to Japan as the next phase of the joint venture.
Virgina Fox from Minden said the Tokyo team members were “very humble, caring and concerned.” Carolyn Raley said team members felt a strong kinship because “we have the same Father.”
The team received a warm welcome in the community because of the work of Southern Baptist volunteers there following Hurricane Katrina, and Gentilly Baptist’s continuing ministry, Crider said.
The Arkansas Baptist Builders, in partnership with the Kansas-Nebraska Baptist Builders, headquartered at Gentilly Baptist in Katrina’s aftermath and directed thousands of volunteers in rebuilding the community.
Raley said the church has an excellent reputation for meeting needs and reaching out to its community.
“People said to us, ‘I know that church – they helped restore my home!’” Crider said.
Joel Cuellar, pastor of evangelism and missions at Tokyo Baptist, and a Filipino, said America is a mission field and the need for evangelism in New Orleans is great.
“The people we talked to know Christian terminology, but the meaning behind the words is quite different,” Cuellar said. “I will pray that American churches would be empowered to reach out to their communities.”
Cuellar said the Japanese people have needs and many suffer from depression. People respond to the Gospel’s message of forgiveness, acceptance and love, Cuellar said.
Five nationalities are represented on the seven-member staff at the Tokyo church.Biblically-based preaching and every-member evangelism are central, Folds said.
Folds stresses that while members take seriously their responsibility to share the Gospel with friends and family, the credit belongs to God alone.
“God is doing a work in Japan,” Folds said.
Taylor expressed his appreciation to the team for their work.
“Their presence here has been a great encouragement to our church and to the people they have ministered to,” said the Gentilly Baptist pastor.