New book by NWC alum explores relationship evangelism
BY SHELLY BARSUHN
It has been years since Ken Lottis ’56 lived and worked in the Brazilian university city of Curitiba, but what he learned there informs fresh, relevant missions today.
Five decades ago, in 1964, and his friend Jim Petersen ’53 helped The Navigators pioneer cross-cultural Christian outreach to Brazilian university students. They arrived in Brazil with their wives at the height of anti-American sentiment. Students were politically oriented, suspicious of the U.S. and contemptuous of spiritual matters.
"Being amateurs," he said, "we thought we could get around that."
But when The Navigators Bible study materials did not work with Brazilians, Ken and Jim got a crash course in contextualization. They set about creating new materials and focused on developing genuine friendships. Once relationships blossomed, they invited students to get together and read the Bible as a historical document about the life and person of Jesus Christ.
This was cutting-edge ministry—nontraditional and ahead of its time. Living in the city with his wife Carol (Bauer ’57), Ken didn’t talk, look or act like a missionary. One way of connecting with others during those initial years was teaching conversational English. “In many places in the world,” said Ken, “that provides a major vehicle toward getting into the country and building relationships with students.”
Little by little, student by student, people came to faith. They would, in turn, draw in friends, family and others in their network of acquaintances.
In 1973, Ken and Carol were reassigned to work with students who had graduated and settled in Rio and São Paulo, cities of more than eight million each. The success of their relationship-based ministry demonstrated that the approach worked among educated urban dwellers in some of the biggest cities in the world.
Ken recently chronicled his experiences in a book published by NavPress: Will This Rock in Rio? Finding God in an Urban Culture. “The book’s title,” explained Ken, “is another way of asking a fundamental missiological question, ‘Is this indigenous?’”
Here or Abroad, Relationship Is Key
When the Lottises returned to the U.S. in 1987 they saw that the lessons learned overseas were applicable in America, too. Ken said the key was developing long-term relationships to allow people to observe how Christians responded to everyday life and then being willing to patiently engage in discussion.
Relationship means that Christians must be able to build friendships without any ulterior motives—with “no intent to convert or proselytize, but just to understand who this person is.” That might mean sitting in a coffee shop and having a conversation. It could be the start of true urban outreach.
Will This Rock in Rio?
Finding God in an Urban Culture
Written by Ken Lottis, with contributions by Jim Petersen, this book shares how two families persevered through difficult times and mapped out new paths for thriving cross-cultural ministry. Available from NavPress.