The Evangelism Axe – Advance in South East Asia

I haven’t been in this part of the world for a very long time. My wife and I moved to Thailand in 2019, and since then we have been involved in ministry to both internationals living here, as well as to local Thai people. Since moving here, one thing has drastically stood out to me: things aren’t as black and white as they seem to be, especially with regards to evangelism.

I have had so many wonderful conversations with Christian leaders who are from, and working in, South-East Asia. They have helped me grow and develop my own understandings of what ministry looks like in this part of the world. One person, a Malaysian leader, shared with me that in her experience, a lot of the evangelism strategies coming out of the “West”, at least   those she has come across, do not do an adequate job of tackling the existential realities of the people who live in South-East Asia. An example of this is found in one common opposition to the gospel relating to the Buddhist rite of making merit on behalf of family members who have passed away. The person is forced to ask themselves ‘if I become a Christian and stop going to temple, who will make merit for my parents?’.

A Thai church leader gave me an insightful look at how he views evangelism. He used the analogy of an axe being used to chop down trees. We either use the axe head to get the job done quickly; or we use the axe handle to slowly beat the tree down over time.  These represent two evangelism strategies that people adopt: a ‘turn or burn’ approach, where the evangelist wants an answer now! Or the ‘long road of friendship’ method, that hopefully over time we can wear the person down until they give in.

Is there a way of having these two styles come together to make the perfect evangelism “axe” as it were?

Zooming in a little closer, to Thailand in particular, there was some information passed out in our organisation that showed the average missionary is staying on the field for around 6 years. The average Thai person takes around 7 years to come to faith in Christ. The disconnect is evident.

This is where Advance comes in. Going back to the axe analogy, I believe Advance is a great method of creating the evangelism axe. Why? Because it calls us to present the gospel with urgency, the axe head. It also calls us to live in relationship with others and to live a life worthy of the gospel and of being an evangelist, the axe handle. I have had the privilege of leading a few Advance groups over the past few years and there have been some awesome take aways for me.

The first: group contexts in South-East Asia look very different than back home in South Africa where people have a more “Western” mindset. When a question is thrown out in the group back home, everyone is eager to share and add their points-of-view. Over here, not so much. The group is a lot quieter and reserved, but when called upon individually to share, the insights are amazing and eye-opening for me.

Second: the young people that I have been journeying with are desperate to share the gospel with their relatives and friends. I have a friend who is from Hong Kong, his name is Alex, and he has done two advance groups with me. Reflecting on the material, he writes: 

Being able to hear stories of how the Gospel has been shared in different contexts was a great testimony of how God’s working around the world today. I really enjoyed how the materials led us to reflect on not only the ways we share the Gospel, but also the quality of our message and most importantly, how we live out our lives as evangelists.

The reality for many people here in South-East Asia is that Christians are in an overwhelming minority. For many, they are the only believers in their family. Advance is an incredible tool to help everyone begin to share the Gospel with their friends and family, not just those who are in full-time ministry. I think we will see Advance filling a huge gap in the evangelism strategies. Being conversational, group-centric, easy to follow, Advance could be the start of a wider equipping the saints for the work of evangelism. I am excited to see what Jesus will do through His beautiful church this side of the world – watch this space!

Written by Keegan Brady. Keegan has a huge passion for the gospel and seeing those far from God brought near; as well encouraging believers in their faith and walk with the Lord. He is married to his wife Justine and currently lives and serves in Chiang Mai, Thailand, as part of the Global Network of Evangelists and as an Advance Ambassador for South East Asia. He loves Jesus, coffee, sport of any kind, and board games!