When I was a missionary in Thailand, a Finnish missionary, Dr Lilja Kinnunen-Riipinen, taught drama at the Lutheran Institute of Theological Education in Bangkok. Every Lent, she directed a passion play – a drama of Jesus’ trial, suffering, and crucifixion performed by students and church members. One year, she had to cancel the play and was […]
When I was a missionary in Thailand, a Finnish missionary, Dr Lilja Kinnunen-Riipinen, taught drama at the Lutheran Institute of Theological Education in Bangkok. Every Lent, she directed a passion play – a drama of Jesus’ trial, suffering, and crucifixion performed by students and church members.
One year, she had to cancel the play and was looking for a replacement event. By coincidence, I showed her a Japanese Christian newspaper that contained photos of scenes from Bible stories that my wife, Hiroko Sugioka, had made using dolls. Hiroko is an artist who made ‘Bible dolls’ to illustrate children’s Bible stories in that newspaper.
That year, Dr Lilja produced the passion play using Hiroko’s storytelling dolls in a dimly lit classroom with only candle lighting and quiet background music. She displayed dolls at each station – scenes from the Last Supper through to the crucifixion of Christ. Only a few people could enter that small theatre at a time, so each could meditate on the passion of Christ. The dolls directly spoke to people’s hearts. After seeing the play, some people tearfully said, ‘Now I understand more the meaning of the death of Christ’.
Hiroko then started the Bible Doll Ministry, making dolls to convey the ‘Stations of the Cross’, the Christmas story and women in the Bible. She travelled to countries with her ‘actors’ in one suitcase, opening the Bible doll theatres in churches, day nurseries, community halls, youth camps, women’s conferences, international events and even in disaster refuge centres.
In a non-Christian country like Japan, it is not easy to invite people to church events. People are vigilant of any religious events. But when you invite friends or families to a doll exhibition, they show interest and most people would like to see it!
Once in Tokyo, a church held a Bible doll exhibition for seven days during Christmas. More than 1,000 people visited that exhibition – many more than the usual 100 we expect for a church event. Some people started going to Sunday services from those audiences, with some later being baptised.
After more than 15 years, this ministry is still developing. Hiroko says, ‘This is not me who produces this ministry, but our Lord. If the Lord didn’t send us to Thailand, I couldn’t meet Dr Lilja, and if I didn’t know her, my dolls were never brought to life’.
Overseas mission is not a one-way ministry. It bears various kinds of unexpected fruits, and they will certainly return to your home country. We may apply these words of Jesus to our mission too: ‘Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you’ (Luke 6:38).
You can enjoy more photos on the ‘Bibledoll ministry’ Facebook page.
This story was also published in the April 2022 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.
Many of our partner churches are working in new territory for the kingdom of God; therefore, spiritual attack is their everyday reality. As a member of a congregation, school, or family, or a couple or individual, you are invited to commit to praying for our partners in mission. For regular prayer point updates, go to www.lca.org.au/international-mission/act-now/pray
Read more stories about our partner church in Japan at https://www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories/international-partners/japan/