Media and Evangelism in Asia: A Vignette

Asian Christians creatively make use of folk media as well as modern communication technology for evangelization purposes. Evangelism is more than transmission of information, it is also relationship building, giving voice for the voiceless and enabling people to search for their identities.

Folk Media Evangelism
In Thailand, Chiang Mai University students create Thai Dance Presentations of the Prodigal Daughter (adapted from the biblical prodigal son parable of Jesus). It is an effective means to communicate with students who were brought up in the traditional Thai culture and art. Thai dances bring out the symbolic, dramatic and thematic impacts that verbal preaching can not. There is a sense of presence in live musical, dance and drama that electronic media can not achieve.

In Indonesia, Christian artists present shadow plays using cow skin to make vivid characters to communicate the gospel. They also paint tapestries to tell biblical stories and themes in non-linear forms. Their ways of communication are similar to the Australian aboriginal arts, which unfold stories as journeys with multiple time and space on the same canvas. A shadow play can be featured independently or integrated with preaching. This type of folk media is very portable and can be featured in the market, home or other places. Folk media is very effective with rural Asians or those who have strong cultural ties.

In Hong Kong, Christian churches premier traditional Cantonese operas for gospel outreach. They modify traditional lyrics and story lines for evangelistic purposes. Many older adults respond quite positively to this kind of appeal. Cantonese opera is a branch of Chinese opera that was developed in Southern China. The music, lyrics, acting and narrative forms are unique. Adapting these operas for Christian evangelism demands talent and a major group effort.

Contemporary Communication Technologies Evangelism
In Indian cities, Christians produce films targeted for young urban professionals. These films explore life issues, work ethics, goal-setting and spiritual journeys. Most films are followed with group discussions to enable mutual communication.

In Hong Kong, a Christian group called Media Evangelism recently made use of an opportune time for outreach. During the post-SARS period, they featured an evangelistic film on SARS heroes, mostly Christian medical professionals who sacrificed their lives for their patients. They also make evangelistic films on people who are recovering from drug addiction and gambling. The response to these films has been very encouraging in Hong Kong and among ethnic Chinese groups in the diaspora. However, the formula for these films is quite predictable, following a move from human predicament to God's redemption and life changes.

Television as a mass medium is quite effective in promoting social profiles for Christian life stories. A Christian group called Shower of Blessings documents life stories of people who face crises and are converted to Christianity. It is an improvement from talk shows and features the process of conversion in docu-drama. These television series are shown in Asia and North American Chinese communities.

Breakthrough, a Christian group targeting young people, is launching radio, television, film, book, magazine and web ministries. Their television series, Legend of Survival, features Israel's resilience among adversities and its search for identity. The gospel has a national and citywide impact beyond personal appeals. Another television series, Generation 21, features the passions and aspirations of youths in Asian cities. The gospel offers values to youths who are undergoing cultural transitions in post-colonial Asian cities.

Film and video festivals are also organized. One recent theme was “City and Me,” which included university and secondary students who shared their love for the city, for their community and for their family. It is more effective to stimulate Christian values among youths than to talk to them or talk at them. In their search for their identities, issues of belonging, love of neighbor and life goals were explored.

In Hong Kong Christian publications, most of the titles are targeted to Christian education. However, Breakthrough launched three magazines consecutively: Breakthrough Magazine and Breakthrough Junior Magazine (both suspended now) and U+ Magazine, targeted to non-Christian youth and focused on life issues and Christian values for social concern. Magazines are different from books because they capture the agenda of the day. Stories are more current and feature multiple perspectives.

Breakthrough also publishes more than thirty new book titles each year, many of which have won Christian and non-Christian publication awards. Reaching the market place of ideas and the secular playing field for Christ is the goal. In Asia, Christian books are distributed through churches and Christian bookstores. However, Breakthrough books for youths are distributed beyond the Christian channels into main distribution channels such as bookstores, supermarkets and convenience stores. Breakthrough is also one of only three Hong Kong book publishers invited to participate in Beijing book exhibits each year.

Tien Dao Communication, another Christian media group, uses the newspaper to feature successful Christians who have a high profile in society. These features stress the Christian professional's conviction, life story, sense of purpose and faith anchors. This is not direct evangelism, but it focuses on the lives of Christians who are in important positions in society. This creates credibility for the evangelism efforts.

Asian Christians attempt to use traditional folk media as well as contemporary communication for evangelism. Evangelism is more than a transmission of information. It is also relationship building, giving voice to the voiceless, dialoguing with seekers and dealing with social concerns. Media does not best serve as a vehicle for direct evangelism; rather; it is best used for setting agendas, offering parable stories for reflection, offering communication with seekers and giving a voice to the poor.

Dr. Wing Tai Leung is general secretary of Breakthrough, board member of City University of Hong Kong, international advisor of ISACC (Philippines) and youth ministry coordinator of Chinese Coordination Center for World Evangelization (CCCOWE). He was also convener of the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization Issue Group 19 on Media and Technology. The paper produced by this group is available online in pdf format.