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 Mission Trip to Japan!

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I am seeking to raise support for a short-term mission trip to Japan at the end of July of this year. Although I have a deep love for Japan and it has been a lifelong dream to visit, this is not a vacation or sightseeing excursion, but rather a working trip to support and encourage a young, growing Christian church. In connection with Carolina Lighthouse Ministries and Discipleship International church, I will travel with a small team to the Ishikawa Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan side of the main island of Honshu. We will be sleeping on the floor of the church at night and rolling up our sleeves during the day!

Japan has been historically resistant to Christianity, with periods of violent persecution of both foreign and domestic believers. Even today, Shintoism and Buddhism dominate the spiritual landscape. Current estimates are that only 1% to 1.5% of the country’s population is Christian. Compare this to Syria, which is 10% Christian! The good news is that God loves the Japanese people. I am praying for an awakening!

The $2,000 I am seeking to raise will go toward roundtrip airfare and passport fees, with whatever is left going toward basic day-to-day expenses. I am spending the next six months immersing myself in the Japanese language and prayerfully considering what message God might have for me to share to encourage my Japanese brothers and sisters. Thank you for your support!

“And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” – Matthew 10:42

gofundme.com/c4xsb-mission-trip-to-japan

Divine Wind & Plum Wine

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A couple months ago I walked into a Starbucks and saw a guy studying from a premium Bible at one of the tables. “Is that a Cambridge Clarion?” I blurted to the stranger excitedly. He confirmed that it was. “Nice!” Later, as I saw him hard at work, we began a brief dialogue and I asked him if he was in seminary or perhaps writing a sermon. He told me that he was actually preparing to move to Japan that upcoming Thursday to be a missionary – indefinitely. Wow. Here was a young man setting off on a divine adventure, leaving relationships, home, and native language – doing something courageous that I have only dreamt about doing but cannot due to family, vocational, and financial reasons.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Japan is 1.5% Christian. That is not a typo. I love the people, the language, the cultural aesthetics, the history, and the food of Japan, but it is one of the spiritually darkest countries on Earth. Despite the many ways that Japan has thrived and prospered, I detect a pattern of fatalism and ennui when examining their pop culture art, which I believe reflects the spiritual undercurrent of the nation.

One recurring theme in Japanese pop culture art is uncontrollable, world-consuming destruction. Perhaps this is a remnant in the cultural consciousness of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Godzilla is an obvious symbol. Others include the enveloping headless forest god of Princess Mononoke, the rampaging No-Face spirit in Spirited Away, and the Tokyo and Neo-Tokyo obliterating destructive force of the titular Akira. Another theme is boredom or feelings of emptiness as motivation to engage in violent or extreme actions. Both student Light Yagami and the Shinigami Ryuk cite boredom as contributing to actions that eventually result in mass killing in the manga series Death Note. Not one but two murderous antagonists in the videogame Persona 4 cite boredom / emptiness as reasons for their diabolical actions. Even satirical manga superhero One-Punch Man struggles with the drudgery of lacking meaningful challenge. No wonder. English writer and psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple states that people who are bored, alienated, or not spiritually anchored may find that “danger absolves one of the need to deal with a hundred small problems or to make a thousand little choices – danger simplifies existence.”

In March of 2011, I awoke in the middle of the night. I was trembling, shaking uncontrollably, much to the alarm of my wife. I thought my body was cold, so I tried to bundle up with extra clothing and get back in bed. It didn’t work. I wasn’t cold, my body was just trembling. I had no idea what was happening to me and I begged for God’s help. After quite a while I was able to stop shaking and fall asleep. In the morning, I read that there had been a devastating earthquake in Japan, followed by a tsunami. It happened at the exact same time that I woke up, half way across the world. As the ground in Japan was shaking, so was I.

Interpret that however you wish, but when I shared this mysterious occurrence with a Japanese friend of mine, she later told me how encouraged she felt upon hearing it. To her, it meant that God still cared about Japan and the Japanese people, and perhaps he had good plans for that Land of the Rising Sun.