When Atsuko Tateno joined a Japanese gospel choir 13 years ago, she was only looking for a new hobby.
A local cultural center connected her with a gospel group—a common occurrence in Japan, even for non-Christians. Tateno didn’t understand the words she was singing, but she quickly began to sense that they were special.
“After three months I thought, this is not just music. This is not just a song,” Tateno said. “At that time, I bought a Bible. And when I sang the Gospel, I noticed it was the Word of God.”
And so, through the choir she had joined so casually, Tateno had a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ and accepted Him as her Savior.
Saturday night at the Hokkaido Festival of Hope in Sapporo, Japan, Tateno sang in the 500-voice gospel choir, lighting up the stage with her smile.
She is one of many Japanese Christians who heard about Jesus through music. Ever since the Sister Act movie came out in 1992, gospel music has been popular with many Japanese.
Knowing that God has opened a door for evangelism through music, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association invited musicians from around the world to participate in the May 9-11 Festival with Franklin Graham.
The world-renowned Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers flew more than 6,000 miles to sing at the event, held by the BGEA at the invitation of churches on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido.
“Music is so powerful,” said Brooklyn Tabernacle member Fayola Bull. “Something about music moves your heart. I know it’s the Lord and the Holy Spirit working through the music somehow, in some miraculous way, to touch hearts.”
Many hearts were visibly moved as Japanese people flooded the area in front of the stage after Franklin Graham’s invitation to accept Christ. He preached about Zacchaeus, the tax collector who climbed up a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus (Luke 19).
“Jesus was passing by,” Franklin Graham told the crowd of more than 6,000. “Tonight, He’s passing by here.”
Many people seized the opportunity to respond to the Gospel. Gathered together up front, they prayed out loud to accept Jesus and begin a new life in Christ.
Atsuko Tateno was in the middle of the crowd, praying along with Franklin Graham. Even though she’s been a Christian for years, the powerful message caused her to make an important resolution.
“I wanted to make a decision to get baptized,” Tateno said.
She explained that she’s been hesitating for a long time, fearing her family members, who are Buddhist, will shun her. Saturday night, she drew a line in the sand.
“The Gospel is the truth,” she said. “I wanted to clearly make a decision and set the date.”
Franklin Graham told everyone who publicly accepted Christ to mark the date and time. Like Tateno, they received a fresh start. And beyond that, they received a new hope that can never be taken away from them—the hope that comes from knowing the unending love of Jesus Christ.
You can watch the Festival online at http://billygraham.org/japan, beginning at 9 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday.