Evangelism by Immersion: The Mode of Evangelism
Happy early Easter from the shores of Kaihin Makuhari! This is a picture of one part of Bay Town (to the right) and the two new high rises that were just built (in the center past the park) in Bay Park. Would you pray for the 24,000 people Bay Town and the thousands moving into Bay Park?
We are baptizing one gentleman on Easter Sunday. To be honest, he's a product of "Immersion" evangelism. Therefore, in light of that, let me share my third sermon on the "Place" of Evangelism. For those who want to catch up, here's a table of contents of my previous articles:
Where is the Place of Evangelism? 1) "Fishing" in the Desert: A Reflection on the Place of Evangelism What is the Place of Evangelism like? 2) The Frontyard: An Attractive Fruit Garden 3) The Inside: An Inviting Feast of the Words of Jesus 4) The View: The Majestic New Jerusalem on Mt. Zion
What do we do at the 'Place of Evangelism'?
What do you think is necessary to make a life-changing decision that will require you to lose everything you have and change your entire lifestyle? Let me give you two thought experiments.
Experiment #1: What would it take to throw away your citizenship of your home country?
While I was writing this sermon, we were in discussions about having to 'throw away' Megumi's Japanese citizenship so that Megumi she could be an American citizen. (Japan does not allow for dual citizenship and it is incredibly expensive and cumbersome to maintain a US Green Card. It is very hard to get in and out of US for long periods of time with a Green Card. Therefore, we have to decide--do we keep the Green Card/Japan citizenship or just become US citizen? A perennial dilemma for international couples).
If I had asked her that question in the first year of our marriage in 2013, it would have been an immediate, "Absolutely not." Her refusal of American citizenship would not because she was not knowledgeable of America. She had a good command of English. She had many American friends and was exposed to American culture through many American missionaries. She spent several months in the US as an exchange student and visited the US multiple times for large stretches of time. I could spend hours explaining cognitively all the benefits of becoming a citizen of the US, but she would still refuse the offer. And I would guess her refusal for US citizenship is because she had not experienced what it meant to live and be a resident in the US.
Fast forward seven years. She had lived in San Diego for four years during seminary and one year in Pasadena during our HMA. Gave birth to our first child in Oceanside, CA. She shopped regularly at Trader Joe's, attended weekly and was part of North City Presbyterian Church and Foothills Neighborhood Church, enjoyed eating American brunch on the shores of Encinitas and eating Kalbi-Kimchi (Korean cuisine) filled burritos (Mexican-American cuisine) at an LA food truck. She made lifelong friends in San Francisco, Pasadena, Escondido, San Diego, Encinitas, Temecula, and Orange County. She was immersed in the US for five whole years and became--gradually and not intentionally--a "Californian."
That's why when I asked the question in 2020: Would you want to be an American and forsake your citizenship in Japan? She didn't hesitate and say, "What does that entail?"
Experiment #2: What would it take for you to marry someone?
Here's another thought experiment. Let's say you are single. And I give you large file of your 'perfect' soulmate. It has her full resume, a full family history, a stack of pictures, a full portfolio of her writings/works/interactions. It's basically everything that you can know about the person.
Then I ask you this question. "Would you like to marry this person tomorrow without meeting her?"
And I'd bet that a large majority of you absolutely refuse--even if you were completely knowledgeable of that person. But here's my next question. How many meetings would it take for you to be sure that you know enough to marry this person?
One phone conversation? Two? Three?
One ZOOM date? A year of long distance relationship?
One year of physically being with one another?
And I think a large majority of would say, the more you experience being with that person, the easier it is for you to make that decision--regardless of how much you know about that person on paper.
Thesis: Evangelism is not a class, but an immersion experience.
Therefore, my thesis is this: "Like with any life-changing decision in our lives, evangelism is not merely about the 'head' but an immersion experience of head-heart-body."
When we ask people to become a Christian, it's not enough to just explain the health, philosophical, spiritual, and moral benefits of the Christian life. If we think that way, we do not fully understand what we are asking people to do when they become a Christian.
When we evangelize, we are asking them to forsake their citizenship in this world, in their country, in their home culture, and become citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom. We are asking to commit their lives, bodies, souls, to to submit, love, and cherish Jesus Christ as their King and Bridegroom. There is no decision that is more life changing than this.
Therefore, if a 5 minute pitch is not going to convince you to become a citizen of another country or to marry a complete stranger, what makes us think that a non-Christian Japanese person will want to become a citizen of Heaven and the bride of Christ after 5 minute Gospel presentation?
Immersion is not about the what, but about the where.
When we evangelize to people, we need to remember that we are not just teaching or downloading "information," but we are hoping them to observe, immerse, and experience for themselves life in the kingdom of Christ. This is why it is not just about what we say to non-Christians, evangelism is about WHERE we bring non-Christians in order to teach them, love them, and immerse them in the Kingdom of God. Evangelism is a heavenly cultural immersion of the whole person--head, heart, and body.
For those who know me well, you all know that I am not saying we completely get rid of Bible studies and an intense study of doctrine. However, what I am saying is that an evangelistic Bible study alone is not going to get us anywhere. The place and context is what determines how the person is absorbing and receiving the material of the Bible. Learning about the US in a classroom in Japan in Japanese is different from learning about the US while eating buttermilk pancakes in flip flops, conversing in English with a California twang, on the beaches of San Diego. Learning about a person through text, photos, and a screen is different from learning about a person while eating, laughing, and interacting with the person in front of you.
Therefore, if we accept the other 'half' of evangelism is an immersion experience and not just a teaching experience, then shouldn't we talk more about the where, rather than the what? My whole argument is this--if Evangelism can't happen without being immersed in the heavenly Kingdom community on Earth, the local Church, the Assembly of God, then immersion can only happen inside the Kingdom, not outside.
Last sermon, we talked about the specific nature of the "Place" of Evangelism: we had the front fruit garden of our works, the dining room with the Word, and the big windows that showed us the kingdom of God. This third installment will be talking about what we should "do" to immerse non-Christians into the Heavenly Kingdom. And there are three things that correspond to the three 'rooms' of the 'Place' of Evangelism.
Neighborly Hospitality - We feed them with love at the fruit garden.
Exotic Christian Cuisine - We shock them with the Word of God at the Dining Table.
The Alien Christian Dream - We 'alienate' them with our desire for heaven as we show them the view from our windows.