Grace Before Truth Evangelism: A Snapshot from Asia

by Joe Handley

I was recently asked to share at the Asia Leaders Summit in Taiwan on the topic of “Effective Evangelism in Asia.”

It was an honor to be requested to speak, especially given the focus of the group: “Asia by Asians! – A diversity of Asian churches united to evangelize and disciple Asia.” As the only non-Asian participating, I was humbled to be invited and asked to share.

I trust you enjoy learning from my Asian Access colleagues’ wisdom below…

A Principle from Japan

A Japanese colleague became a follower of Jesus at a young age. In his early days of following Christ, he attended a seminar on apologetics. He felt he was gaining insights into how to reach his friends. After completing the seminar, he tried these new ideas on outreach on a friend.

He explained the gospel to his friend. At each stage of the sharing, he asked his friend, “Do you agree with this?” Each time, his friend answered, “Yes, I agree with what you are sharing.”

My colleague thought that his friend was ready to become a Christian. He asked his friend, “Do you want to accept Christ as your savior?” His friend’s answer? “No!” My colleague replied, “But didn’t you say that you agreed with me on all these issues?” “Yes, I did.” “Then why don’t you want to make a decision to follow Jesus?”

His friend answered, “All you care about is being right. You don’t care about me. If that is Christianity, I want nothing to do with it.”

This encounter was a devastating but powerful lesson for my colleague. Effective evangelism in Japan was not about arguments or apologetics–it had to involve true care and friendship.

A Principle from Sri Lanka

I have another colleague, a Sri Lankan. He’s written an article called Evangelism in Asia: Developing and Living Out Relevant Theologies (EMQ, July 2015). He mentions that the Western world focuses on truth but this truth often clashes with other truths in pluralistic Asian contexts.

My colleague builds his model of John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

In this context, grace is mentioned before truth. My colleague’s contention is that in Asia, grace must precede truth in relationship with people you are trying to reach for Christ. He argues that in a world of competing truths, the only way forward is through grace, which then opens people become open to hear the truth.

Let me share two examples of this ‘grace before truth’ approach, both coming out of devastating disasters.

An example following Japan’s triple disaster

When the triple disaster hit Japan in 2011, Japanese leaders and missionaries felt called to mobilize and help their fellow compatriots. One pastor would visit daily all of the fishing villages he could reach. I recently was in one of these villages and heard his story firsthand.

This pastor introduced a group of us to a lady and her husband whose family ran a fishing business for several generations. As the post-earthquake tsumani approached, the husband heard the sirens. He mobilized as many people as he could to onto his fishing boats, heading out to sea and safety. But his wife and daughter were not among them; they had been out of town that day.

Driving home, his wife made it to a bridge when the waters struck their town. She watched as her friends and community were swept out to sea. When the waters subsided, she went home thinking her husband had also been lost. It was three days before his boat returned to their town.

As the pastor visited their area, he brought supplies, food, and clothing to this family. Week after week, he shared what he had and told them about the hope he had in Christ.

Their daughter became a believer. She begged her parents, “Please come to Jesus. Please come to Jesus!”

The mother became a Christ-follower a few months ago and now hosts a small house chapel in their factory. The husband, smoking a cigarette, told us that day that he didn’t know about this faith stuff, but he knew that that pastor loved him and his family and his community. He said, “You can use my factory any time you want for your church!” His wife told us that she won’t become baptized until her husband accepts Christ and they can get baptized together.

I have heard story and story much like this one. And now, a country that used to believe that planting 1,000 churches was impossible now believes they can plant 55,000 churches, making Christianity accessible to everyone by planting small fellowships on virtually every corner, just like convenience stores. They call it convenience store church planting!

An example from earthquake relief in South Asia

A few years ago, another major earthquake struck a South Asian country. When the quake hit, it destroyed many remote towns and villages and devastated their capital city. Some regions are so remote that no government or aid groups were able to get there. But believers in that country are used to walking days to attend a church.

In one of these regions lived a Tibetan monk who was antagonistic toward Christians. He blocked all Christian activity in the entire area. But when the earthquake hit his town, a group of Christ followers decided to deploy supplies to that region. Day after day, his church served the people of that community. After several days, the Tibetan priest came up to the pastor and said, “I don’t know who your God is, but He obviously cares about us. I want to follow your God!”

That monk is now a pastor. When I met him, he had already planted two churches and was working on a third. He has led 34 other Buddhist monks to Christ! He told me,“All these valleys in the big mountains near my region have no church. Before I die, I have a vision to plant a church in each one of those valleys.”

Church leaders estimate that in this country, more than 200,000 people have come to Christ since the earthquake.

I think you get the picture. When grace precedes truth, evangelism becomes much more natural. When we make friends, and serve people, they are more open to hearing the truths we have to share.

I hope that these examples will build your faith and your confidence to share with those around you. Do you have examples of sharing your faith that highlight these ideas? If so, please share!


Joseph W Handley, Jr. (@jwhandley) is the President of Asian Access. Previously, he was the Founding Director of Azusa Pacific University’s Office of World Mission and lead mission pastor at Rolling Hills Covenant Church. He co-led one of the first multi-national high school mission congresses in Mexico City in 1996. Joe serves on the International Orality Network leadership team and the board of PacifcLink. He is pursuing a PhD in Leadership at Fuller Seminary. Joe strives to develop leaders for missional movements across Asia.