Hospitality as Evangelism

by Joe Handley

A few years ago, my wife and I moved to Tokyo. Our intention was to be in closer proximity to those we serve in developing mission-minded leaders for the Church of Asia. And, since our work began in Japan over 50 years ago, what a perfect place to live, putting us close to our missionary staff in Japan.

Not long after moving, we started interacting with our next-door neighbor. It’s been a delightful journey connecting with her, especially in the early months of moving here. To learn more about how eager we were about this friendship, take a look at this blog from Christmas a few years ago: Advent Surprise.

Since then, life has moved along and, in many ways, we lost touch. The enthusiasm of our first few months and the surprise of her hospitality began to wane. Plus, I think my wife, Silk, felt pressure to be a great teacher, mom, wife, and mission ambassador. It was all overwhelming that first year.

However, since this new year began, the Lord stirred her heart for our neighbor once again. She started exploring ways to engage in a conversation (even though we don’t speak Japanese) and she shared with her middle school Bible class how challenging it was simply to set up a time to visit our neighbor. Her class jumped in and started holding her accountable. “Did you talk to your neighbor yet?” they’d ask each morning. She came home one day and said to me, “I’ve got to do it now.”

Have you ever felt like that in sharing your faith? I have. Many times. And some would say that I’m a gifted or natural evangelist. It takes courage to reach out, even for those of us who are more natural at it.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife was finally able to set up a time to have tea with our neighbor. Even though Silk doesn’t know much Japanese – and our neighbor doesn’t know much English – with the help of Google Translate, they were able to enjoy getting to know each other over the course of 2 1/2 hours. How cool is that! And, who would’ve thought that modern technology could be such a helpful tool?

You see, simple acts of faith, steps of courage, and a lot of hospitality can be key to evangelism. When we take the simple step to be kind, to encourage others, to reach out, and to share a cup of tea or coffee, the door of life begins to open up. In those settings, life becomes tangible and real, and people can share from the heart.

For me, I’ve learned that these situations tend to be the most fruitful for evangelism. I’ve tried many approaches, and at different times have employed every approach you can imagine. But, more often than not, this form of simple hospitality that my wife practiced last week is the most profound.

To learn more ways to practice hospitality as evangelism and to explore the theological issues behind the idea, check out my colleague Adrian De Visser’s article, Evangelism in Asia.

In particular, Adrian shares what the Bible says about hospitality:

Hospitality was specifically commanded by God (Lev. 19:33-34; Luke 14:13-14; Rom. 12:13). It was to be characteristic of all believers (1 Peter 4:9), especially bishops (Titus 1:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:2). Jesus emphasized the importance of hospitality by answering the question of who should inherit the kingdom: “I was a stranger and you took me in” (Matt. 25:35). Several Old Testament personalities set a good example for all believers in the practice of hospitality. These included Abraham (Gen. 18:1-8), David (2 Sam. 6:19), the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8-10), Nehemiah (Neh. 5:17-18), and Job (Job 31:17-20).

What about you? What forms of hospitality do you use as you try to reach out to your friends, family, and neighbors? I’d love to learn from you!

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.