English Classes Build Faith Through Fun in Japan

August 31, 2017

“I don’t do anything but fun stuff.”

Holly Muehleisen never dreamed that her main ministry as a missionary in Japan would be to teach babies and preschoolers—and their moms—English. With a seminary degree under her belt, she wanted to partner with the national church in some way, but she assumed it would be a preaching/discipleship role.

Noriko sensei, a pastor’s wife in the Tokyo metropolitan area expressed an interest in starting a children’s ministry in her church, and approached Holly for help. Because there are so few Christians and churches in Japan—less that ½ of a percent—there are a lot of misconceptions.

“People assume that if they are not a Christian, they can’t go into a church.”

Holly and Noriko sensei want to change that, and so they started a baby-mama group on Tuesday mornings, hosted at the church for a small fee. With a nation-wide push to learn English because the Olympic Games are being hosted in Tokyo in 2020, it seemed that learning English would be a good draw. Soon, Fun Fun English was born. The goal was simple: to make learning English fun and to make the church a safe, comfortable place to be.

Starting Small—with The Littlest Ones

It was a surprise to Holly and Noriko sensei when the group began to take shape, and their “students” were babies and toddlers. “How do you teach a pre-verbal child a different language?” she asked.

She simplified her lesson plans, and adjusted to her students’ ability levels. The first year was slow, with attendance even dipping to just one child for several months. But during that time, Holly was able to experiment and learn how to teach English to young children. As word spread, the group grew and other churches began their own groups.

Today, five churches have Fun Fun English groups that meet at various times and frequencies throughout the month. They do games, crafts, activities, and vocabulary—never forgetting the name or the goal: to have fun learning English.

The message of the gospel is presented clearly at several special classes during the year, particularly around Christmas and Easter.


“It does take time to see results,” shared Holly. “But we are starting to see more crossover between kids and families who are regulars at Fun Fun English, and kids and families who come to special events at churches. Over time, we hope to see that become even more regular.”

One child (and her mother) began coming to Fun Fun English with her best friend, who was a church member. The family invited the child and her mother to a special church service, which was followed by an ice cream social.

“At one point, I looked over,” shared Holly, “and I saw the mother helping serve the ice cream. I realized that we were in the same room that the class was held in. She felt so comfortable in that place, she was willing to help out, even starting to consider it “her” church.”

The family are still not believers, but they are strongly connected to the church.

“Evangelism here is based on word of mouth and relationships,” Holly said. “Fun Fun English is one of those building blocks. And sometimes we play with actual blocks!”

Partner with Fun Fun English

PrayPRAY: Pray for kids who have come in the past and haven’t been able to return. Pray for continued relationships with church and church members. Pray for seeds of faith and love to grow. Pray for pastor’s wives and volunteers who give sacrificially of their time to help. Pray for special sessions where Gospel is shared in simple ways that they can understand that will reach their hearts. Pray for Holly as she travels throughout Tokyo to lead these classes.

GoGO: Volunteers are welcome to come and help teach Fun Fun English! Contact mobilization@wgm.org to get started.