Christianity Explained in Action
by Louise Levick
Kita-Hiroshima is a commuter city, on the outskirts of Sapporo, on Hokkaido Island in the North of Japan. Winters there are bitterly cold. Temperatures drop down to -20 Celsius Tony Evans, Pastor of Suzuran Bible Baptist Church, has been living there for 23 years, and compares the winter climate to the spiritual condition of the Hokkaido People: “Their hearts are like the weather, [cold] and generally closed to Christianity.”
In spite of the cold, and centuries of resistance to Christianity, Tony and his family have been blessed to see steady growth, which is incredible when seen next to what is the norm in Japan. Typically, Christianity in Japan does not progress very quickly.
When Tony was 26 and his wife Debbie was 24, they arrived in Kita-Hiroshima, and started English classes in their home. The cold weather encourages people to do indoor activities, so many Japanese people are happy to get out and meet people and study English. Japan has a 100% literacy rate, is highly educated, and it’s people respect knowledge, learning and teachers. English classes gave the Evans something to do, and a concrete way to connect with people. Within a few months of arriving, they had 60 students coming through their home.
Japanese culture provides some serious challenges to evangelism. The Japanese are group oriented people. Their world view, in which the group is more important than the individual, is most often counter productive to allowing an individual to consider the gospel message for themselves. And yet, personal salvation requires individuals to personally consider the claims of the gospel in order to repent and believe.
The Evans found that, week after week, people would listen to the Bible stories and then go home. After a couple of years, a few people were interested in knowing more about Christianity, and Tony was keen to find a tool to use with people who had become curious.
Tony had heard about CE before going to Japan, during his internship at Highlands Baptist, NSW, where it had been effectively used. He started using the course, one on one, with people as they became interested.
“Japanese people like the idea of doing a course and it’s only 6 weeks, so we did it one on one and after a while, a few people came to trust Christ as their Saviour. We’d been at it for a few years before we saw any fruit. After 7 years we had 4-5 people in our church, but we could tell this was going to keep on going; we were going to see more people put their faith in Christ.
“Other pastors watching us, wondered what we were doing. Our verse was “Faith comes by hearing and by hearing the word of God,” so this is why CE was working, because it is simply presenting God’s word and arranging it in 6 simple, logical lessons.
“My Japanese ability was good enough that I could simply read something in English and say it in Japanese, but I wanted to get permission from Mr Bennett, the author, to translate it into Japanese, so I contacted him to tell him what was going on. The timing was perfect!”
Tony discovered that a Japanese lady in Brisbane was just finishing the translation of CE. Tony agreed to proof read it, but he couldn’t wait for it to be printed. He was just so excited to have a Japanese translation that he could start using. When it was eventually published, he bought some copies. Over time, other people could see he was doing something that was working. When they enquired, Tony would tell them about CE, and gave them a copy, so he needed to keep replacing the extra copies he had.
“Three years ago we moved to our newest (fourth) rented building and since then, our church has doubled from 25-50, and over half of these people have come to faith through doing CE. Our church has basically been built through doing CE.”
Another thing Tony likes about CE, is that it offers people an opportunity to become Christians and then it can easily flow into doing another course for discipleship. “Let’s keep meeting the way we have been. You’ve crossed the starting line, and what you need to do is keep meeting with me to do some Christian discipleship, because you have only just started the Christian journey.”
“By teaching one person at a time, there is no group to influence them, so you can effectively reach their hearts. If I teach a woman, I have a female chaperoning, either my wife or another lady from the church.
“We’ve grown so big, I can’t teach everyone one-on-one anymore, so I’ve taught a few of our people how to teach the course, and we also have lots of fingers out in the community. Now that the church is working together as a family, the group mentality is starting to work in favour of the gospel.”
I asked Tony to explain all the fingers they have out in the community. “Anything we do is to make contact, build bridges, and build trust. For example, earlier this year (2014), our youth wrote and produced a musical production. We didn’t do a hard sell, or a gospel push. We just wanted to get people in the door so that we can build trust. Over time, as people become curious, then we can invite them to do the CE course.
"Anyone in the church can invite someone to do CE. When they find someone a little bit curious, they can say, ‘Our church offers this 6 lesson course, no pressure, no cost and you can leave if you want, but it will tell you all about Christianity and the Bible. Why don’t you give it a go?’”
Four years ago, Tony had an astonishing conversation with a lady who was not yet a Christian but was very close. She said, “Pastor, I want to join this church, but I have no gifts, and no talents. All I can do is invite my friends.” Soon afterwards, Tony showed her that she needed to finally repent and trust Jesus and she did that on the spot! From then on, she hasn’t stopped inviting people to church and to do CE. Over the last four years, she’s brought 25 people to do CE. Some of them have trusted Jesus. Her husband has studied CE but is not yet saved, but she has brought lots of her friends and relatives!
One lady she brought along got sick and couldn’t finish the course. She was in her late 80’s and while she was sick it was impossible to reach her. When a window of good health opened up early last year, Tony was able to visit her in hospital. At that stage she was 90 years old, but Tony was able to abbreviate the rest of the course with her. She prayed and trusted Jesus. Three weeks later, she went home to glory, and now her daughter has done the course and trusted Christ before Christmas! The granddaughter and great-grandsons came to the musical last Christmas, so that was pre-evangelism.
“Our strategy is to just convince people to come and do this course. Just get them to come and commit to 6 study sessions. Anyone in the church can do that; it’s manageable. Faith cometh by hearing and by hearing the word of God. CE is a logical presentation, that makes it clear Christianity is not about something man has done, but it is just a present. When people know nothing, they don’t need complexity.
“If you use the Word of God, God will glorify himself.”
During the first two years that the Evans were working in Japan, they had no-one consistently in Church.
“We’d set up for church and it would just be our family and my little boy said, “Where is everybody?”
Psalm 46:10 became our life verse -
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
You be still. I will be exalted. That promise is what we clung to, and it has become our life verse. In His good timing He will exalt Himself if we are faithful in doing what’s right, and we believe that that’s what we are witnessing right now!”