When you ask Belinda-Marie Purkey what she is doing on the island of Okinawa, Japan, she gives a little laugh.
“What am I doing here?” she repeats.
On the surface it would seem that she and her husband, James, and son, Steven, left their assignment at Malstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Mont., because James received an overseas assignment at the Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. But looking back over the last five years, Purkey says that the military was merely the setting for their story.
After she and her family settled into their off-base home in the village of Zakimi–consisting of only 20-some houses–the Lord opened the door for the Purkeys to meet all of the families in the village. “They were the reason God put us on Okinawa,” Purkey says.
Their Okinawan neighbors invited them into their culture and shared with them what they hold dear. Sometimes Purkey questioned whether she should attend their festivals because they were religious in nature. But the Lord always prompted her to accept the invitations extended to them. In addition to strengthening their bond of friendship, the experiences have given Purkey a chance to witness. “During one of their festivals, you’re not supposed to go near the water for fear of the water gods or angering the ancestors,” she says. “But we’ve been able to share that through Christ we are free from fears.” Through such dialogue, seeds have been planted. It amazes Purkey how the Japanese and English-speaking people in her “little village family” have been able to communicate.
The interest in developing relationships has been mutual. When Belinda-Marie gave birth to their second son, Brady, the community was there to welcome him and help the family. The Purkeys’ neighbors were up at five in the morning to see James off when he was deployed to Iraq, and they brought Belinda-Marie gifts while he was away. And when James came home? “Every single one of them in the whole village had a yellow ribbon on their gate,” she says. “[The Okinawans] are the most kind, loving people. It breaks my heart that the vast majority of them could leave the world without knowing Christ.”
When the Okinawa Franklin Graham Festival was announced, Purkey sensed the Lord telling her, “This is why. This is why I put you on Okinawa at this time in your life–to befriend them.” Purkey wondered if any of her neighbors would attend because it coincided with the Yomitan festival, something residents would not want to miss.
But one family did come to the Franklin Graham Festival. And not only did they hear a message about trusting in no other gods but Christ for salvation, the mother and son responded to the call to commit their lives to Him.
Over the years, Steven Purkey, 12, has developed a special bond with the neighbor’s son, Sei. Steven had just completed BGEA’s Dare to Be a Daniel online evangelism training, and he was especially excited about going to the Festival with his friend. Belinda-Marie told Steven to be careful not to push or coerce his friend; Sei needed to make a commitment to Christ on his own. When Franklin began the invitation, Steven asked Sei if he understood about Jesus, and Sei said yes. Then he walked forward with his mother. Steven told his mom that the best thing about the Franklin Graham Festival was that he and Sei could be best friends for eternity. The two boys have no trouble communicating, using a combination of their languages, says Belinda-Marie. “They just make it work without missing a beat.”
Belinda-Marie prays for her neighbors, and she is confident that the Word of God will not return void. Because the community is so close-knit, if just one person grasps the truth of Christ, she believes, His message will spread. “The joy that we have as a Christ-believing family bleeds into the community,” she says. “They see it, and I think they want to know what it’s about.”
Recently the Purkeys had to move onto the base and out of their beloved village. But even though they don’t live there anymore, their former neighbors want to know what they can do to help–and now more so since James was diagnosed with cancer. Belinda-Marie says God is working through that, too, because now James won’t be deployed and will be able to stay with his family. The Purkeys don’t know what God has in store for them, but Belinda-Marie says they’re fine because they know who holds their future.
For now, they are happy to remain on the island and continue to love and minister. Since the Franklin Graham Festival, Belinda-Marie says that the Christians want to take what was started and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, go “a little bit further … and a little bit further … and a little bit further.”
Each believer has the power to share God’s love, she says. “We may never stand before thousands to share it, but one by one, we all can help strengthen that chain of grace.”