Fast forward 15 years later, and a brand new manga is making waves this Tokyo Olympics!
Tsubasa: Searching for Wings tells the real-life stories of three athletes who overcame their struggles in a uniquely Japanese format that shares the message of God’s love for the world.
We spoke to the man behind this new manga, Loh Weng Kong, a Cru missionary who has been serving in Japan with his wife for over two decades, to find out how the manga came to be.
Having previously produced The Search (a tract on the 4 Spiritual Laws) with renowned manga artist Kelly Kozumi Shinozawa, Weng Kong explained that he felt moved to produce another manga in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“After much prayer and encouragement from missionaries, I decided to trust God to produce another evangelistic manga using sports to communicate God’s love through the lives of Olympians,” he shared.
The manga follows the story of Reina, a reporter who is plagued by self-doubt after being forced to retire from competitive figure skating after a traumatic ankle injury in her younger days.
Reina is tasked to interview two Olympians and one Paralympian – Lauryn, Yoriko and Daniel – after her editor assigns her a feature article examining the relationship between sports and faith in top athletes.
The inspiring stories that Reina uncovers are all based on real life, such as her interview with Brazil’s most decorated Paralympian, Daniel Dias, who shares how he came to terms with his disability.
Also featured are sprinter and bobsledder Lauryn Williams, the first American woman to earn a medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, as well as Yoriko Okamoto, the first Japanese athlete to win an Olympic medal for taekwondo.
For Weng Kong, however, each panel in the manga would also come to belie hidden pain and prices paid.
The work on Tsubasa: Searching for Wings began as early as October 2019, when the Singaporean first met up with manga artist Kelly to discuss content for the comic.
That was also the time when challenges and obstacles started to appear. The first problem Weng Kong faced was that there were no funds for the artwork and printings required for the project.
Nevertheless, he and his team decided to trust God and proceed with the project. In the course of doing so, God miraculously provided people who gave “just the amount” needed to pay for the artwork.
But soon, there were more troubles on the way: Weng Kong had to rush back to Singapore because his father-in-law had passed away.
At the same time, he also discovered that both his parents had been diagnosed with cancer.
COVID-19 also worsened around the world while Weng Kong and his wife were back in Singapore, meaning they had to extend their stay in their country as restrictions were tightened everywhere.
Having served in Japan since 1994, the couple did not have a place of their own in Singapore.
Coupled with the fact that Weng Kong only had a portable Wi-Fi unit, working remotely with Kelly to finalise and edit the manga’s content was difficult.
But again, God provided.
The missionaries were blessed by people they did not even know, with a fully furnished apartment in Singapore they could stay in — one that had good and stable Wi-Fi!
Additionally, when the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were postponed to 2021, it gave Weng Kong and his team extra time to work on the creation of Tsubasa.
By August 2020, the master copy in Japanese was completed.
While praying and waiting for funds to print the Japanese version, Weng Kong began translation work on the English version of Tsubasa with eight other believers from around the world.
But last November, tragedy struck.
Kelly’s (the manga artist) husband met with a traffic accident and sadly passed on.
“It was a shock to all of us,” said Weng Kong. “Why must this happen to her?
“There were so many questions and frustrations in us that we almost wanted to stop the whole thing.
“We worked so hard to produce this in order people can have an opportunity to hear the gospel, and all we get are these challenges and pains.”
TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
Amid the grief and discouragement, however, God spoke to Weng Kong, gently reminding the missionary that Tsubasa would be “by Him and for Him”.
“People will see His hand in making this manga,” he said. “It is not about me.”
Returning to the work, the team was able to get the master copy in English version out in late November, which was ready to print by December.
To Weng Kong’s encouragement, God had taken care of the personnel for the English translation and provided the funds for it.
Although there was still the question of funds for the Japanese version, things seemed to be looking up.
But just then, another bereavement came to bear.
Having flown back to Japan in January 2021, Weng Kong had to make an emergency trip back to Singapore in March for his mother’s death and funeral.
“Emotionally, it was challenging,” he said.
Besides the pain of losing his mother, the missionary had the problem of a lack of funds to print the Japanese version.
By May, mere months before the Olympics, all there was to do for him was to face reality and fly back to Tokyo.
FOR HIM, BY HIM
By the grace of God, a large amount of money was provided in late June to print the Japanese version. Weng Kong was also able to connect with a Japanese Christian for the printing.
“Just two days before the opening of the Olympics in July, it was printed!” he said in relief.
“Immediately, more than 10,000 copies were delivered to various parts of Japan for churches and organisations to use for evangelism.”
Indeed, Weng Kong shared that the response to Tsubasa since the manga’s release has been encouraging.
“Most of the people using it said that the presentation is very well written and easy to understand. A few non-Christians have said that it was speaking to their needs and situations.
“And, God did not stop there! Chatting with a friend in New Zealand about this manga, he shared with me that God was speaking to him to use the media to reach more people.
“So, we connected with more people and within one to two weeks, we managed to develop more than five languages of the manga – more than 15 countries are now using it to reach their communities!”
Few will know the blood, sweat and tears Weng Kong and his team faced in producing the manga.
But the final product certainly makes for material that is relevant, refreshing and compelling in laying out gospel truths concerning God’s love, sin and the hope we have in Jesus.
The experience was also ultimately a precious one to the long-term missionary.
“Indeed, God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply!” he chimed. “I learned so much in producing this manga, and God drew me closer to Him.”
It reminded Weng Kong that God provides in His perfect timing, and that He never forsakes His children.
“He was always there with me throughout the project, challenges and pains,” he shared. “He gets all the glory and praises because this was only possible because of Him!”
Weng Kong and Jaine have been serving in Japan with Cru since 1994. They have two daughters, Josephine and Angela. Josephine is serving with Cru Singapore in the creative ministry, while Angela is in her final year at university and goes on mission internships during her college breaks.
- What are some other unexpected ways or mediums through which the gospel can be shared?
- Based on your talents and skillsets what is one strange, special or unique way you can take God’s message of love to someone?
- Know of someone who might enjoy Tsubasa? Why not share it with them? 🙂