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Bridge Strategies for Japan


Non-web examples from a missionary

Japan not only has few Christians, but also few seekers. Since non-seekers are not, by definition, seeking more about the gospel, we could put 1000 gospel presentations on the Web, but most people would not find them. Yet the Web is strategic for outreach to Japan – a highly-wired technological society.

For non-seekers, there are three keys to outreach: the bridge strategy is a key to evangelism in Japan: offering web-pages on secular interests and Japanese culture or felt needs, and building incarnational relationships. As a beautiful illustratration of these opportunities, here are three examples in (non-web) ministry that were very fruitful for Patrick McElligott, a missionary in Japan, as recounted in his book On Giants’ Shoulders. He is a fluent Japanese speaker and writer.

  1. Incarnational relationships: using sport
    Patrick’s barber was president of the local primary school sports club, and he had no one to coach boys in football on Saturday afternoons. On finding that Patrick was a football player, he asked him to be their coach. “I’m too busy to give that much time,” Patrick replied. After all, that was when he usually did sermon preparation for Sunday, even though his audience might be tiny! “All through the week, whenever I prayed, the thought of becoming the boys’ football coach came to my mind. I went back and told him I would do it for one year. I ended up doing it for the remaining four years we lived in Ishiyama.

    “This was a strategic way to establish relationships with the boys, their parents, and other sports coaches, as well as building positive attitudes towards the Christian message. In this way some of the suspicion, indifference and resistance towards the Christian fellowship was dispelled. A few boys and even one or two of the parents began to attend the fellowship. Not only so, I could now visit a good number of home as someone more than a complete stranger. People would stop me on the street and thank me for befriending their children.”

  2. Addressing felt needs: the PTA lectures
    “The Lord opening another door of opportunity for me, an opportunity the likes of which I could never have planned for or contrived to create by myself.” A church where he was to be guest preacher also asked him to speak to an extra women’s meeting that day, on the subject ‘bringing up children’. About 15 ladies attended the meeting; some were not members of the church, having been attracted by the subject. One non-member asked Patrick to give the same talk to her school’s annual Parents and Teachers Association lecture meeting. An audience of 600 received the lecture with enthusiasm. “I knew that in all probability a missionary had never given a lecture at the PTA meeting before then. It had been a unique experience for me, one that I thought would not likely be repeated.”

    He could not have been more wrong. Invitations to give this lecture poured in from schools and other groups, including a meeting for all the headteachers of the county. The subject was a huge felt need for many. There was a moral crisis in Japan with youth problems and violence. Post-war, the country had rejected any sort of religious teaching in schools, but this also meant that there was no basis for teaching morals and ethics. Children were also under huge pressure to achieve academically, and under-achievers could lose a sense of self-worth and react against the system. “The popularity of these lectures was very much a question of ‘cultural relativity’. Unknown to myself, I was ‘scratching where they itched’. In retrospect I can recognize how the principles of Acts 2 – ‘speaking in their own language’ – can be applied to this ministry,” says Patrick.

    The PTA lectures are also available on DVD

  3. Engaging with and using the culture: haiku
    Patrick had already taken a degree in Japanese as an external student of London University, and had come across the Japanese haiku form of poetry. For a postgraduate study, he chose to write a thesis on the work of haiku poet Kobayashi Issa. No westerner had made a study of this poet, and very little of his work had been translated into English. “Before long, my bookshelves groaned under the weight of my study books. My study hours were constantly filled with two subjects: the Scriptures and the life and work of Kobayashi Issa. As my studies progressed, I discovered that the two were far from mutually exclusive.

    “The poetry of Issa in particular, and illustrations from Japanese literature in general, began to find their way into my lectures at PTA meetings, and into my preaching of the Word of God in the churches. The Japanese have a very high regard for poetry. Everyday speech is filled with allusions to well-known verses. The ability to quote, or cleverly misquote, a line of poetry, is the basis of much Japanese humor. As I studied in preparation for preaching, I would often recall a poem that would help me to illustrate a point and at the same time stimulate interest.”

Patrick’s experiences illustrate three ‘kingdom keys’ being used to unlock human hearts. We believe that similar approaches online can have the same results.


© Quoted by permission from On Giants’ Shoulders. Bringing new life to Japan, Patrick McEllicott
Emerald House Group
ISBN-13: 9781840301229
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Available online: Amazon US | ChristianBooks | Canada | UK | France | Germany | Australia | Japan

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