Searching for Community-Building Friendship at the Anime Expo

09/11/2014 .
Katie Sallee  .  Intern and Storytelling Volunteer

The Anime Expo is a place that welcomes people who don’t necessarily fit in with the status quo. If you attend the expo, you’ll see attendees wearing Keep Austin Weird shirts, green-caped devils with orange corn-cob horns, and skinny Spartans in loin-cloths and tan-colored capes tied around their necks. But what’s more interesting than the outlandish outfits is the way attendees come to the expo searching for friendship and a sense of belonging.

At this year’s expo, a shy girl with black-rimmed glasses talked to a boy with a wide smirk and smile lines. They had just met, but she was already telling him about her boyfriend’s disappointment in her and her difficulty in talking to new people.

“I’m just not a social person,” she told him. “I can’t just walk up to people and be friends, so it’s only in places like this that I really feel like I belong.” He agreed with her, saying, “I’ve had to learn to be a social person.”

The vulnerability between strangers is amazing and heart-breaking, but this is the culture of anime enthusiasts. It doesn’t matter how you dress, or act, or which fandom you are a part of—everyone belongs. Expo attendees make friendships easily and quickly, but they will abandon them just as swiftly. For those attenders who only come once a year, community is virtually suspended for a year at a time.

“The anime crowd knows how to do community, but the minute you go outside of the convention, it disappears,” says ministry co-Leader Jonathan Pease. 

And that’s why Saddleback’s Jesus Otaku ministry was created—to bring lasting relationships and hope to this community. Cecilia Amo, the ministry’s founder and board member for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, noted the lack of lasting relationships. After meeting several other anime lovers at a Saddleback’s PEACE event, they decided to come together to reach out to people attending the LA anime conference. Since that time God has blessed their ministry by providing opportunities to visit other anime conferences both locally and globally.

“Fans of this unique media come together at anime Conventions looking for community and connection,” says Amo. “Jesus Otaku is a place of acceptance where fears of being an outcast are forgotten.”

Jesus Otaku addresses this gap by modeling healthy community and communicating God’s love at conventions and pursuing the relationships throughout the year. Their purpose is to creatively model the love of Jesus in order to bring otaku, or anime fans, and the church together.

“Thousands of anime fans are seeking the community that the church offers, they just don’t know where to find it. That’s what we’re here for.”

Jesus Otaku is a growing organization within the anime community. To learn more about this unique ministry visit jesusotaku.com.

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