The State of Evangelism in Asia

In Luke 10:2, Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few, pray that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers into His harvest.”

Jesus is not saying to merely “pray to the Lord of the harvest” as one would make a casual request. Jesus intends something more. The word translated prayin this passage is the Greek word deomai. In unadulterated language, deomaicommunicates the idea “to beg.” That’s why it has been translated as “beseech the Lord of the harvest” in the New American Standard Bible and “pray earnestly” in the English Standard Version.

Deomai.To beg. It denotes desperation. Here’s the thing. When you come to Asia, you will see both the dark desperation and the divine opportunity.

Welcome to Asia

Asia is a vast and complex region covering 50 independent countries from Afghanistan to Japan. According to Operation World: 21st Century Edition, more than 83 percent of the 4.4 billion non-Christians in the world live in Asia. The needs are great, but the presence of God is glorious.

On Aug. 12, 2009, the South China Morning Post, a major secular newspaper in Hong Kong, carried an article headlined “Christ has risen.” It reported that the born-again Christian population in China had grown to 135 million, even outnumbering the Communist Party membership of 75 million.

Gaining Ground

The global Christian demographics have shifted dramatically. In the historic “Christian” West, the demise of Christianity to the lure of secularism and skepticism has long been documented.

Conversely, in the same period, churches in East Asia were growing by 360,000 converts annually, and in South Asia by 447,000 converts, according to researcher D.B. Barrett. Today, new churches continue to be planted daily. Asia has seen its share of Christians nearly double, from 7.8 percent in 1970 to 15.2 percent in 2010.

Allow me to draw from Discipleship Missions (2016) with the research done by Elder Tan Lian Seng, who co-authored that book with me. By God’s grace, Protestant Christians in Asia increased exponentially in the last century, from under 4 million in 1900 to more than 193 million in 2000.

Korea is one of the leading lights in evangelism, which is effectively integrated into their cell-church infrastructure. In 2010, Christians represented 18.3 percent of the total population in South Korea, according to a 2005 census. In Southeast Asia, there is a bright spot of Christian growth in Indonesia; despite severe persecution in the home of the world’s largest Muslim population (225 million Muslims), census data show 10 percent are now Christians. Persecutions abound in Asia, but the grace of God abounds even more.

Four Pertinent Movements

At the risk of oversimplification but with the intent of giving a strategic overview of Asian evangelism, four pertinent movements should be considered in order to better understand Great Commission work there: the city movement, the unity movement, the marketplace movement and the discipleship movement.

  1. The City Movement

Asia has rapidly urbanized and is becoming even more urban. The battle is won or lost in the cities. However, with Asia’s urban explosion, an estimated half of its population live in slums or shantytowns. Thus, meeting people’s tangible needs opens doors for urban evangelism, particularly to the marginalized in the cities.

  1. The Unity Movement

A Japanese pastor from Sapporo had asked non-Christians what was the one thing that they liked and disliked most about Christians. Everyone responded that what they liked most about Christians is that they are kind, caring and generous. But their answer to the second question was surprising. The majority were disappointed that Christians often criticized other Christians!

The needs are so vast in Asian cities that a unity movement is vital to reach the city. Perhaps a good place to begin is in a citywide united prayer, bringing together people across denominations as ambassadors for Christ.

  1. The Marketplace Movement

In the Philippines, I spoke to an esteemed Christian business leader who has a heart for evangelism. For the anniversary of his mother’s death, he gathered his staff and invited a speaker to share the Gospel. I was told that about 60 of his staff were converted in that single lunch gathering.

In Hong Kong, I met a group of young business professionals. As they introduced themselves, I learned that six of them were converted through the same evangelistic outreach. What’s interesting is that their children attended the same prestigious
kindergarten, and someone had started an outreach to parents at this school. Many such conversion stories abound in the Asian marketplace.

  1. The Discipleship Movement

Asia has witnessed many converts. The mass people movement to Christ in China and India alone is staggering. Yet without discipleship, the effort is self-defeating.

Discipleship and evangelism work in tandem. An urgent need in Asian Christianity is to return the church to her disciplemaking roots.

The work in Asia is immense. Many in Asia have never heard of Jesus. Among the major world religions, Islam claims an estimated 25 percent of Asia, Hinduism 22 percent and Buddhism 11 percent. There are also various other belief systems. The key to reaching them for Christ is not merely in making converts but in making disciples.

What Would Jesus Say?

Indeed, God is on the move in Asia today!

So what would Jesus say for the evangelization of Asia? I surmise that He would say what He has said before: “The harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few, pray (beg, beseech) that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers into His harvest.”

See the desperation. See the opportunity. For though the needs are great, the opportunities are glorious!
©2018 Edmund Chan

 

Edmund Chan is founder of the Global Alliance of Intentional Disciplemaking Churches and a leadership mentor at Covenant Evangelical Free Church in Singapore.