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Everyday Evangelism

How an Alliance worker weaves Jesus into ordinary conversations and brings others a step closer to entering His Kingdom

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Alliance Life: Your love of surfing has helped you to reach other surfers in Japan. How did that come to be?

International Worker: Men in Japan are notorious for working long hours. The Japanese even have a word for working oneself literally to death: karoshi. This is such a problem that the Japanese government has capped overtime to 100 hours per month. Such heavy work schedules combined with a strong sense of obligation to the company make reaching Japanese men with the gospel a real challenge.

Four years ago, my family and I moved to Ishinomaki, one of the hardest-hit cities by the March 11, 2011, tsunami. We moved there to start a center to demonstrate the love of Jesus in word and deed to tsunami survivors. After a year or so of living near the coast, I started surfing as a way to exercise and recharge after a week of work.

Our neighbor, a salesman, surfed too. We started surfing together regularly. In time he connected me with his tribe of surfers, and soon I was developing relationships with this diverse group of men: barbers, a salesman, a realtor, a builder, and a nurse.

In a culture where there are clear outsiders and insiders, surfing has provided a way for me to connect with men who otherwise would not be accessible. Just recently my salesman surfer friend and his wife asked Jesus to come into their lives. As my wife and I seek to live ordinary lives with gospel intentionality, God is even using my surfing as a way of drawing people into Jesus’ tribe.

“Live ordinary lives with gospel intentionality”—what does that mean?

In his book Total Church, Tim Chester uses the expression “gospel intentionality.” What that means for us is to start each day asking God to give us opportunities to talk about Him. Then after praying, we go through the day and actually look for those opportunities, whether going to the grocery store or having a conversation with the taxi driver. When opportunities arise, we act upon them.

Can you give an example of “praying, looking, and acting”?

Before leaving Japan for home assignment, I was invited by a gentleman in his 80s to an event where the Japanese emperor honored him for 30 years of community service. At this event there were local leaders and people from the community. I introduced myself to the people around my table, and the guy next to me said he’s a fisherman—that’s one of the big industries where we live. So striking up a conversation with him, I said, “Do you know Jesus? Some of His disciples were fishermen.”

Whether in Japan or the United States, find any way to weave truth, Scripture, or Jesus into conversations; then see where it goes. Try to be intentional with those small things as they arise.

How can someone begin these conversations in a natural way?

Be winsome. For example, it could be something as simple as a biblical principle. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a Scripture verse.

When I was in language school, we didn’t use any textbooks. My teacher was a believer, so his goal wasn’t for us just to speak Japanese but to use interesting Japanese so that people will want to listen and pay attention.

Because Japan is known for businessmen working themselves to death, one of the expressions our teacher taught us basically says, “Even if you succeed in business but fail to raise your kids, that’s something you can never get back.” Boom! Saying that then takes us down a conversation about family, kids, and priorities.

The Holy Spirit can give you wisdom to maybe say something that isn’t necessarily a verse, but it is countercultural, and it could have a shock value. They’ll think, Oh, wow! There’s some truth to that. I wonder what he meant by that. Then they’ll ask a follow-up question. Use your experience and wisdom from Scripture to respond in a heartfelt way.

What’s the end goal for these exchanges?

When I’m conversing with people, I tend to think I’m a link in this chain of them potentially coming to Jesus. I may be the person who actually leads them to Jesus, or I might be the first person to even talk about Jesus or mention His name.

Often times it takes two, three, four, five times before a person actually receives Jesus. Sometimes it takes 30 or 40 years! There’s no formula. I’ve heard stories in Japan where people are still handing out gospel tracts and a person reading it for the first time gets saved. This stuff happens.

Then you have instances when the Christian counselor on staff with us has been praying for her dad for 30 years, and he finally becomes a believer. Everyone is different. The Lord in His perfect timing and in His perfect way draws people to Himself. We have the privilege of being a part of that.

How important is it to have a relationship with someone before bringing up Jesus?

People have differing views on this. Some say it is all about friendship or relational evangelism: You have to build trust first; then in time you share your faith.

Others take the approach of, “Don’t bother. Just share the gospel immediately. Then you’ll find out who is open to the gospel and who is not.” For me it is not an either/or but a both/and.

I want to have the posture and habit of sharing anytime, anywhere with anyone. In our context in Japan, there are thousands of cults and a general distrust of organized religion. We deal with an unreached people group with vastly differing worldviews, belief systems, and presuppositions. Oftentimes we have to define terms like “God,” “sin,” and “grace” and give the big picture storyline of the Bible before people understand the news we are calling them to believe and respond to. We—with the Holy Spirit’s assistance—have to help them connect the dots as to why we and the world we live in are broken and what God has done in Jesus to make things right again. Often this takes place over time and during multiple conversations in the context of a relationship.

In Japan there’s a saying that all paths lead to Mt. Fuji, which is the Japanese way of saying that all religions lead to heaven. Over a meal, I told my neighbor friend that Christianity is unique in that we don’t reach up to God with our efforts and good works in order to get to heaven. Rather, God reaches down to us.

In other words, all paths don’t lead to heaven, but the God of the Bible came to us and made a path so that we can be saved. She responded, “I’ve never heard this before. I want to know more.” That lady is now reading the Bible, asking questions, and taking steps toward Jesus.

You make it sound easy, but a lot of people are scared to death of evangelism.

That word “evangelism”—I call it the “E” bomb. When we as pastors and missionaries use the “E” bomb, people have this image of Billy Graham or someone who has a type-A personality and is a very strong and confident salesman. That’s not me at all.

I love the word “evangelism,” but that word can provoke anxiousness, worry, or fear in believers’ hearts.

Do you have a better word?

I use the phrase “show and share the Jesus story.” Jesus used stories, and I’m seeing that we need to get into more storytelling—and listening to people. This is a big part of evangelism too: just listening.

How so?

Going back to my language school experience, one day my Japanese instructor gave this illustration of a cup. He said, “The Japanese cups are full.” He held a glass full of water. “We’ve got to be careful of pouring on the truth—as important, great, and glorious as it is. If you pour water into a cup that’s already full, where will that water go?” Of course, it spills onto the floor.

He said, “Sometimes in our zealousness to share the good news, we can overdo it, and we just pour it on. And then that opportunity—that water—is wasted because people’s cups are already full.

“But when you take time to listen,” and he took a sip out of the cup, “you’re now providing space. There’s now capacity for you to share something that’s going to impact their heart because now you know their story. Now you know what passage of Scripture to share or what encouraging word to say. Now you know how to pray for them because you’ve taken the time to listen.”

I think that principle is applicable to any culture. We love to talk about ourselves; it’s hard to listen. But listening is a powerful way to show love. Listening to people’s stories gives you credibility and trust so that when you do share something, it’s something that’s actually going to impact their hearts. You’re weaving their story in with Scripture. It’s not a canned response. It really is heartfelt, and the Holy Spirit can use that.

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