Missions & Evangelism: Lessons Learned

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This year I had the opportunity to go on two very different missions trips (and my firsts).

I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream by traveling to Japan. But I was not there as a tourist, I went as part of a group of four Americans at the invitation of a Christian church in Ishikawa Prefecture. Rendezvousing with two Japanese translators and meeting the pastor and his wife, we served as ambassadors of Christ in a number of ways.

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We canvassed the surrounding neighborhoods with fliers and invited people to some of the upcoming special events the church was hosting. We had daily prayer and focused teachings on prayer and discipleship. We facilitated two screenings of the Jesus film in Japanese. We participated in a Mama & Kids party and were able to engage in Q&A with members of the community. And I had an opportunity to share powerful testimony during the Sunday service about how God has drawn my heart to Japan time and time again and the care I know he has for the Japanese people.

Second, I was able to attend Dragon Con in downtown Atlanta with a group of missionaries through Gamechurch, a nonprofit ministry that attends various gaming conventions across the U.S. and a couple in Europe. For four straight days, we worked a booth in the vendor hall, handing out free swag (lanyards, stickers, pins), gamer Bibles (the gospel of John with some commentary), and told people the simple but profound message of “Jesus loves you.”

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From both of these experiences, here are some of my observations and conclusions:

Speak the Language, Understand the Culture

If you aspire to any missionary or evangelistic activity, you should speak the language and understand the culture. I spent several months prior to my Japan trip not only practicing speaking and reading Japanese via Pimsleur audio CDs, iPad apps, and watching Japanese TV shows on Netflix, but also by reading as many books as I could get my hands on to understand the history, philosophy, aesthetics, and etiquette of Japan. I barely made a dent in the potential pool of linguistic and cultural knowledge, but what I did learn served me immensely in Japan and opened doors.

Likewise with Dragon Con, I understand the culture and speak the language of gaming and various aspects of geeky pop culture. Every Gamechurch missionary is a Jesus-loving gamer! If I was not, I would have had zero credibility (more on that later). Both Japan and video-games are two of my seven core interests, so these trips were natural fits.

Evangelism is Fun

Growing up, I dreaded the idea of traditional evangelism outreach. Accosting strangers in the park or, worse, going door to door, was a thought that raised my anxiety and triggered an avoidance response. I came to identify more with the prophetic type of work, of speaking to and nurturing the people of God, rather than the evangelistic work of reaching out to people who are not yet believers.

Although I am deeply idealistic, I am also extremely pragmatic. I view walking up to strangers at the park or knocking on doors to share the gospel as an ineffective and outdated method, with little hope of making any converts. But more than that, I view such behavior as a violation of the Law of Christ, or specifically of the second greatest commandment. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. In the phrasing of the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do to you. Would I want Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on my door or interrupting time with my family at the park? Absolutely not! So why would I do that same behavior to others?

But during my two missions trips, I learned that evangelistic outreach can be very enjoyable and rewarding, even addictive! To do it right, you need to be meeting some sort of need or have some sort of unique angle or gimmick. As the old saying goes, nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

My church has had good experiences hosting immigration help seminars, international food festivals, and giving out balloons at a local international festival. In Japan, special events were being advertised or community activities offered. With Gamechurch, we were handing out free stuff! At my most recent job, I would be able to weave apologetics into my weekly ethics lectures in response to questions from atheistic members of the audience. In David Platt’s Radical, he describes setting up a table in New Orleans and offering to read people’s future for free (using scripture).

What Would Jesus Do?

Outside of Dragon Con, a group of angry street preachers / protesters set up on the corner with large signs and loud bullhorns. Their signs pointed out that God hates the sin of the Dragon Con attendees, and that such people as “idolators, porno-freaks, dope heads,” and others are doomed to the fires of hell for eternity. These protesters generated a lot of anti-Christian sentiment inside and outside the convention with their methods. I have seen their like elsewhere before, such as at the BelleChere festival in Asheville, NC.

First, I wonder what their actual goal is. What are they trying to accomplish? I’m genuinely curious. Second, I wonder if they think they can achieve that goal with this particular method. From everything that I saw, they were making Christians look bad and driving people far away from Jesus. Instead of their conversation being “full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6), it was nothing but spades of salt.

Thankfully, the extreme negativity of the street “preachers” outside put what we were doing in a much better light inside. We had people say things like, “I’m an atheist, but thank you so much for doing what you’re doing this way, instead of like those guys!” I was happy to be able to say “Jesus loves you” and give out free pins to many, many people, including a self-described Satanist and another guy literally cosplaying as Satan.

As I think through the four gospels, the only people that Jesus was verbally harsh and confrontational with were the self-righteous religious hypocrites. Otherwise, Jesus was dining with sinners (Matthew 9:11) and letting immoral women touch him (Luke 7:39).

Generosity is Good

In a little over one year, I’ve been able to raise $3,500 for missions trips and other charitable endeavors. That is also a first for me. For the past few years I’ve been focused on trying to provide for my family and have had little margin for generosity. That lack of generosity has been gnawing on me. But apparently, I’m better at raising money for missions trips and evangelism than I am at selling books!

With that in mind… stay tuned for an exciting announcement…

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Support My Missions Trip to Dragon Con!

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On Labor Day weekend of 2017, I am going on a Missions Trip with an organization called Gamechurch to Dragon Con in Atlanta, GA – the “largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction & fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe!” In 2016, Dragon Con drew attendance of over 77,000 people.

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Over the course of four days, I will be manning a booth with a team of fellow missionaries, handing out Bibles and spreading a very simple but profound message: “Jesus loves you.” At the time of this posting, I only need to raise $875 to fully fund my part of the trip. Please consider donating using this Gamechurch link (unlike GoFundMe, there are no service fee deductions!)

Do you think it is worth sharing Jesus with people like this?

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And this?

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And this?

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I think it is very worth it. If you agree, and you are not able or willing to go yourself, help send me to be an ambassador for Jesus to tens of thousands!

The Importance of Christian Art

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There was a time when great Christian art was not an anomaly. Think of the magnificent frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, the sculpted perfection of the David statue, the soaring grandeur of Handel’s Messiah, and the literary achievements of Dante, Milton, and Bunyan. Even in the modern medium of film, recall the Academy Award-winning Ten Commandments (1956) and Chariots of Fire (1981).

Those are examples of when Christian art was second-to-none, innovative and peerless – leading the artistic charge. My, how the times have changed. These days, a common refrain from believers whenever a new faith-based film is released is “they keep getting better with each movie,” which is at best a backhanded compliment. Christian fiction (bonnets required?) is relegated to a niche shelf in the back of your local bookstore. Mainstream Christian music is still catching up to trends that secular music mastered two decades ago.

Here are three reasons why Christian art is important:

IMAGING

In the words of Michael Heiser (2015), we are God’s human “imagers.” We are called to represent God and participate in fulfilling his vision and will on Earth. God is the ultimate creator; he is the greatest artist and author; can anything man-made rival Giant’s Causeway, the Aurora Borealis, the feathers of a peacock? When we humans exercise our uniquely God-given artistic potential and make something new, we are sharing in an ex nihilo-lite act of creation that reflects the image of God within us.

GLORIFYING

I love the accounts of Bezalel and Oholiab in the book of Exodus:

“Now Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones to fill in, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. And behold, I myself have given with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are wise of heart I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded you.” (Exodus 31)

Then Moses said to the sons of Israel, “See, Yahweh has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And he has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship; to devise designs for working in gold and in silver and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings and in the carving of wood, so as to perform in every inventive work. He also has put in his heart to teach, both he and Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with wisdom of heart to perform every work of an engraver and of a designer and of an embroiderer, in blue and in purple and in scarlet material, and in fine linen, and of a weaver, as performers of every work and makers of designs.” (Exodus 35)

“Now Bezalel and Oholiab, and every man wise of heart in whose heart Yahweh has put wisdom and understanding to know how to perform all the work of the service of the construction of the sanctuary, shall perform in accordance with all that Yahweh has commanded. Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every man wise of heart in whom Yahweh had put wisdom, everyone whose heart stirred him, to come to the work to perform it.” (Exodus 36)

God had specifically gifted these men with artistic ability, and was now calling on them to use those talents for his glory and greater purpose. To borrow the words of Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire, “… God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

TESTIFYING

A third reason why Christian art must not be neglected is the evangelistic testimony it can provide. Timothy C. Tennent (2009) writes in Theology in the Context of World Christianity that even elements of non-Christian art can be co-opted as a preparatio evangelica, something that prepares the heart to receive the gospel and an opportunity for us to build bridges to non-believers. A classic example of this is Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill, when he quotes a pagan poet but immediately uses that illustration to point his hearers to Jesus Christ (see: Acts 17:28).

In our postmodern Western society, the strengthening of explicitly Christian art has never been more important. Will McRaney (2003) says it this way, “Postmodernism has its roots in artwork. Art has increased in value and use in postmodern culture. One way to sum up the modern mind-set is that it is an attempt to know empirically and rationally, to control and engineer reality. This is the work of the scientist. Another way to sum up the postmodern mind-set is that it is an insightful attempt to perceive, imagine, and create reality. This is the work of the artist. Evangelism of the future will look more like an art form than a science formula.”