Reunion half a world away

Classmates who bonded during mission trip in Japan reconnect 20 years later

In 1997, Michelle Dolan was a busy sophomore at Campbell, leading worship each week at a Monday night Bible study. It was there that she met Yurie Matsuzaki, a native of Fukuyama, Japan.

Ministry initially united the two when Matsuzaki became a Christian during her college years. She asked Dolan if there were any missionaries in Japan, to which Dolan replied there must be. But Matsuzaki maintained she had never heard about Jesus until she arrived in the U.S. and asked her friend to come to Japan with her to help tell her friends and family about God. The generosity of their college friends miraculously provided enough money for Dolan’s plane ticket and some gifts for the Matsuzaki family. Not only did Dolan get the chance to explore Japan, but their evangelism yielded fruit; on the last night of the 14-day trip, Matsuzaki’s mother decided to become a Christian. One year later, her father and aunt made the same decision after seeing the change in her life.

When the two friends lost touch after college, Dolan took to the internet, looking for Matsuzaki off and on for more than 17 years with no success. One day in March, she felt a strong urge to search for her friend in earnest again. She sat down at her computer and messaged every single Yurie Matsuzaki she could find on Facebook.   

“I just thought, what do I have to lose, right?” said Dolan. “No doubt, I scared a bunch of Yuries in Japan.”

Many of the profiles she messaged didn’t share their profile pictures publically, so Dolan says she didn’t have much to go on. But she prayed specifically that day that God would reconnect her to her old friend.

The next morning, Dolan woke up to a message from her Yurie Matsuzaki. Within moments, the old friends were video-calling on Facebook, seeing each other for the first time in 17 years. Matsuzaki had been searching for her old friend, too. What’s more, she told Dolan that on the day she received her message, she had been praying, too — for God to provide her with a friend who follows Him.

The two have talked every day since and made plans to meet again. Matsuzaki asked Dolan to come back to Japan with her to continue the work they started in college. There are very few Christians in her city — in fact, less than 1 percent of the population of Japan are Christian. Matsuzaki rides a bus two hours one way to attend church in Hiroshima because there is nowhere to worship in Fukuyama. With Dolan’s help, she plans to bring the gospel closer to home this August.

Dolan has created a GoFundMe page to cover a round-trip plane ticket, transportation in the city, lodging and food expenses, as well as donations to Matsuzuki’s church. “I am floored by this story God is writing,” Dolan says. “He knows that this of all years is the one I would never be able to travel on my funds alone, but he’s shown me that with his help, I can go.”