There’s a growing interest in how to minister to otaku, both here and abroad. Often painted in a broad stroke with comical or pitying tones, anime fans are far more than their image conveys; they are a complex and diverse group of individuals. Jesus Otaku is a ministry birthed out of Saddleback Church that is reaching out to otaku in California, and one I admire so much both for the passion of its members and leadership and the wisdom with which they approach their ministry. I was able to sit down with Cecilia, the ministry leader and talk to her about Jesus Otaku and especially about the artbook they developed.
Charles: What inspired Jesus Otaku to develop this art book?
Cecilia: As I was praying about the ministry, which I did for two years before I met anybody, I found Gamechurch, which gives out the book of John with gamer commentary (Jesus for the Win). It’s been always on my mind and heart that we needed something like that, but I didn’t know what it was. I went through a lot of research and seeing what was out there.
Identity and community are often themes in anime and also some of the biggest hurts of the otaku community, and the Holy Spirit hit me and led me to write this content. I showed it to the group and they were excited to develop a devotional. We prayed for additional words, which came up, and artists in our group did thumbnails with scenes. At the last minute we realized that if we went to a con calling it a devotional, they wouldn’t realize what it was. So what do we call it? It’s an art book. That’s it. It’s amazing to see what God’s been doing through this simple thing.
The art book is entitled, “As You Are.” Why did you choose that title?
Identity is one of the main hurts of the otaku community. Honestly, this also stems from my own hurts. My background is that I have this “not good enough feeling” and I think a lot of people – Christians, too – struggle with that “not good enough” and “nothing I do is good enough” feeling. So you are loved just as you are. “As you are” came out of that hurt. Pastor Rick Warren says something like your greatest ministry comes out of your greatest pain. It’s that hurt that God uses to bring comfort to people. Those at anime conventions and in the otaku community wonder how they fit in.
The art in the book is wonderful. Could you tell us a little about it?
Alicia Crawford, who did the illustrations for the book, is the artist that does the main artwork for Jesus Otaku. One of the founders of the ministry became the art director for the project, and all the artists of the group came together to make it cohesive. It was a creative decision to go with one artist at the end. We were blessed with two graphic designers, Jonathan (who was co-leading with the ministry) and Desiree, who shaped the branding and helped us reach out to the community, to otaku (who are very visual). It’s a very simplistic color palette with minimalist branding, something very different from what you see in the exhibit hall at conventions. Our inspiration for our cosplay booth is also minimal, in black and white, to highlight the person instead of the cosplay, as part of our “as you are” theme. We’ll ask cosplayers what they’re name is and they’ll be surprised. It’s a little break in their characters. Suddenly someone “sees” you.
I also really like how you speak to otaku through the bible verses! It’s interesting that some of the verses are presented in karuta style. What a neat idea!
That’s a great story! When we all first met, it was the first time I’d met so many anime fans in one room. Chihayafuru was one of the anime that was airing at the time. We got so excited about it! We were on the ground with cards trying to explain how good this anime was and everyone in our ministry is highly encouraged to watch it as they join. We just started doing karuta-style bible verses and we posted some on our social media and decided, “let’s put some in the art book.” They’re bible verses in karuta syllabic meter.
True love is fearless
And God’s love is perfect —
It casts out all fear.
But the person who has fear
does not know how God loves us.
~ 1 John 4:18
How is the book being distributed?
Mostly we’re at Anime Expo. That’s the big event for us every year. It’s been growing a lot over the last five years (over 100,000 people attend). The first year we printed the art book, we printed 2,500 copies and they were all gone by the third day and Anime Expo is four days long. The next year, we gave away almost 5,000 over the course of four days. We had great things come out of it. You could see the impact it was making and we probably don’t even know the real impact! One girl messaged us who didn’t even attend the convention – she worked as a waitress across the street. Someone left a copy at her restaurant. She picked it up and started reading it by the dumpster while she was throwing things away. It was what she needed. She ended up going to church with us two weeks later!
That’s an awesome story! And what else is Jesus Otaku doing these days?
We’re really excited about sending one of our founding members off to Japan and figuring out what otaku outreach looks like there, because even in the United States, it looks slightly different everywhere we go. We are also focused on empowering the local church and spreading awareness. Our purpose statement is to creatively model Jesus to bring otaku and the church together. We have the otaku side and the church side. On the otaku side, we have the art book and “as you are” message and on the church side we let the churches know there is a need as we inspire people to do their creative outreach based on how they’re shaped. There’s going to be a lot of helping people do what they’re doing and in a healthy way, because we’ve found a lot in the last four years of how not to do it! Otaku outreach is really particular and really specialized.
You have so many great things going on! I know I’d love my for my local church to be involved in all that’s happening. Are there copies of the art book available to the general public?
No, not right now. It would be nice! I try to send a copy if people contact us. And we really believe in empowering local churches in doing what we’re doing. So one of the focuses this last year has been in building up our branch locations. This next year, I want to speak to even more churches and talk to them about the need that is there and how to empower people. It’s been really crazy how so many Christians come to our booth asking, “How do I share my faith?” I feel there’s a movement waiting to happen. We don’t have to be weird about sharing our faith.
If you would like to make a tax deductible donation toward printing of the art books, please click here. Note that while it appears you are contributing to a single member, the funds for this project will go to the entire team, as it is a collective effort to raise support. This link will be good for the next couple of weeks. And if you’ll be attending Anime Expo in July, look for the Jesus Otaku booth there! And be sure to like and follow the ministry’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.