God works wonders in East Asia (Part 1 of 3)
Jeremiah Farmer* and his wife Joy received a clear call from the Lord to minister in East Asia, but exactly what their ministry should look like was unclear. The couple had been heavily involved in the ministry of their local church, but they had no seminary training nor any plans to pack up their lives and leave for a foreign country. Nevertheless, in obedience to the Lord, they decided to follow their church’s advice and apply with the International Mission Board (IMB), which accepted them and then deployed them to a closed part of East Asia where no other missionary work was being done.
Confident in his call to ministry but uncertain of his new vocation, from the beginning, Farmer told fellow believers from the U.S. that he was a “fake missionary” who did not qualify to be on the field. Even so, he and his wife agreed to stay as long as the Lord told them to stay and to maintain a “laser focus” on a specific goal: figuring out how to get the Gospel to their region’s 650 million people, 80 percent of whom had never heard the message of Jesus.
Before being deployed to the mission field, the Farmers were assigned six core tasks by the IMB: entry, evangelism, discipleship, leadership development, church formation, and missions-sending. Their first term focused primarily on the first two tasks—entry and evangelism. Eight out of 10 people in their location had never heard the Gospel, so the evangelistic task required the Farmers to break new ground.
In that culture, relationships are everything, Farmer says, so rather than do door-to-door evangelism or hand out Gospel tracts on the street (which likely would have gotten them arrested), the Farmers engaged in relational evangelism. Because the Farmers were the only “foreigners” in that area, many of the local people wanted to get to know them and practice speaking English with them. The Farmers used this to their advantage, inviting people, typically just one person or family at a time, to share a meal with them.
Another aspect of the culture is to reciprocate actions, which means that whenever the Farmers invited a family to share a meal with them, that family was socially obligated to later extend a similar invitation. “So we knew that no matter what, if we invited someone to dinner, we got two chances to share with them,” says Farmer, who later enrolled in Southwestern Seminary to get equipped for ministry. “So we made sure we shared [the Gospel] both times.”
The difference in worldview between East Asia and the U.S. required Farmer to modify his Gospel presentations. Whereas in the U.S., Gospel presentations tend to focus on sin and being cleansed from guilt, in East Asia, Farmer says, people would often say, “Well, I’ve never sinned before.” Farmer, therefore, focused more on the relational aspect of the Gospel.
“When it came to evangelism,” Farmer explains, “we would start with, ‘God originally created us for a relationship that was not broken in the beginning; it was pure. But then, because of the bad things people did, the sin that we did, that relationship was broken.’
“So instead of the emphasis being on the bad things we did, the emphasis was more on those bad things breaking the relationship. And that really rang home with them.”
The way to restore that relationship, Farmer explained, is not by doing good, “because you can’t ever be good; it’s through Jesus Christ.” Thus, the same message was shared, but from a different angle, Farmer says.
As the Farmers employed these methods of evangelism, God blessed their efforts and called numerous individuals to faith in Him, restoring that broken relationship through the blood of His Son. And each time people professed faith in Christ, in addition to rejoicing with them over their newfound life, the Farmers quickly taught them how to share their faith with others.
New believers learned to wake up each morning and ask themselves, “With whom am I going to share the Gospel today?” As more people came to know the Lord, more people shared their faith with lost friends and family members, resulting in yet more people coming to know the Lord. Before long, the Farmers were receiving reports daily of people coming to faith in Jesus.
Thus, despite their supposed lack of qualifications, the Farmers had begun to witness the Holy Spirit do miraculous things through their ministry. They had successfully entered their field, and their intentional evangelism was bearing much fruit.
But with more and more believers being added to their number, the couple had to determine quickly how to proceed to the IMB’s next three tasks: discipleship, leadership development and church formation. The spiritual walks of these new believers depended on it.
*All names have been changed to protect mission work in secure areas.