BWOODBY@CULLMANTIMES.COM



More than 16 booths lined the walls of the Seventh Street Baptist Church fellowship hall Saturday, each representing mission fields across the globe.

Missionaries from as far away as the Philippines, Zambia, and Tokyo and as close to home as West Virginia and Cullman, stood by artifacts from their service and explained what it means to leave home and teach others about God.

“These are called on-mission conferences, and these are places for us to go and thank people at the local churches for supporting us through prayer and contributions,” Missionary Jeff Burns said.

Jeff and his wife, Kimberly, met as students at Samford University in Birmingham. Now, the couple and their sons Hudson, 10, Joseph, 7 and Caleb, 5, have been living and working as international missionaries in Tokyo, Japan for the last four years.

While the family is its year-long sabbatical in the states, Jeff said he is looking forward to sharing their experiences with other missionaries and those interested in missions.

“I always like to come and do things like this in Alabama,” Jeff said. “We get to trade stories with other missionaries and encourage others to volunteer. It helps churches to put faces on the label ‘missionary.’”

Unlike some of the other missionaries at Saturday’s conference, Jeff and his wife live in a house in Japan and have enrolled their youngest son in Japanese school.

“A lot of times people in America think all missionaries have to live in grass huts,” he said. “That’s definitely not the case for me and my family.”

Instead, Burns said the challenge of his family’s work is to battle the sense of religious apathy which many Japanese people feel due to the culture’s intense pressure on work performance and materialism.

“A lot of Japanese people think they can do anything,” Jeff said. “They think they don’t have a need for anything else in their lives, except for more money. ... In America we know these Japanese names like Sony and Toyota but most Japanese people have never heard the name ‘Jesus.’”

To teach the Japanese about the fundamentals of Christian faith, the Burns enlist the aid of American icon Santa Claus to launch an annual Christmas ministry.

“We have a Santa Claus project where people from the states come and volunteer to be Santa Claus,” Jeff said. “The Japanese people, especially teenagers, love Santa Claus and want to have their pictures made with him. So before they leave, we tell them who Jesus is and how He is the real reason for Christmas.”

The Burns also host a Christmas party and Bible school, which has grown from a guest list of 30 families to more than 150 families. Children at the party get a book written in Japanese which tells the story of the first Christmas when Jesus was born.

Through these projects and others, Jeff said he and his family have been able to reach young Japanese people in particular, and guide them to Christ instead of money for fulfillment in their lives.

“God is really starting to move among Japanese college students,” Jeff said. “These people start to see their parents and their grandparents and the lives they have lived and how they are still missing something. Then, they begin to question their own lifestyles. A lot of them are coming to realize they are missing Jesus.”

Jeff said the need for missionaries in Japan is growing and he has used his time in the states to encourage volunteers to come to Japan and teach people about Jesus. This summer he expects to have 380 volunteers come to Japan for mission trips and the summer after, 400.

“My job here is to mobilize volunteers,” he said. “If anyone is interested in being a missionary to Japan, I encourage them pray and speak to their pastor, and then to check out the International Mission Board Web site (www.imbtokyo.org) for information on how to apply to go.”

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