Resuscitating the sons of peace strategy
Finding the ones prepared by the Lord to introduce us to their circle of influence
I encountered the “son of peace” strategy in Chiang Mai at a church planting training in 2005. How had I missed this son of peace throughout my years of ministry before then? Perhaps I missed him in my reading of the Scriptures, or perhaps I didn’t hear him emphasized by any pastor or missionary.
This son of peace is found in Matthew 10:11–13 and Luke 10:
“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10: 5–9 ESV).
In missionary circles, the son of peace has been highlighted in church planting and disciple-making movements. However, more attention on this is necessary in current church planting strategies amongst missionaries and the local churches.
Has this been unconsciously overlooked or seen as culturally unattainable due to differing cultural values? Jesus clearly asked his disciples to encounter and relate with the son of peace during their mission trips to the towns and villages. In fact, these are the most distinct evangelistic instructions uttered by Jesus.
Male, female, or neutral
The original Greek term huios means “son” (used by Luke), as the ESV has translated it. Other translations use “man” (NASB). Gender-neutral language translations use “person” (CSB), “someone” (NIV), or “those who live there are peaceful” (NLT), deleting the masculine gender as well as pluralizing the singular “son”. The Japanese Shinkaiyaku version uses “子” (ko), a gender-neutral term that conveys the idea of a child, which is a limited meaning.
Interestingly, Jesus used the term “son of peace”, which reflects the patriarchy of Jewish society. Although this term has been translated in our modern context to man, person(s), or someone, we should not ignore the cultural context in which males were seen as the leaders, often the main providers, and the dominant gender in a hierarchical Jewish culture.
Many societies today do recognise the substantial roles played by women in all strata of society. Paul and his team approached a group of women in Philippi, and out of that group, we see Lydia as a woman of peace who set the stage for the growth of the well-loved Philippian church.
A person of peace is basically a person of repute who welcomes or hosts us, who listens to us share the Good News, and who opens their oikos (circles of family and friends) to us (like the centurion who invited Peter to his house). Thus, when a cross-cultural worker encounters a person of peace in a more traditional and collectivistic culture, an appropriate strategy would be to approach the man in a family, since a male person is likely to have more influence and less resistance. Generally, most Asian cultures belong to this category. The book of Acts records how the gospel had spread widely to all regions (Acts 13:48–49, 19:10). More than likely, the son of peace strategy was used by the disciples, Paul, and his teams.
Search or encounter
The criticism of this strategy lies in the belief that Christians are to find that special person of peace, who may be elusive and could keep us from reaching everyone. I think the usage should not be in searching or finding (探す) but rather encounter or connect with. The verb search is not used in the Luke and Matthew passages. When we use the term search or find, our intent is often to find the special one but ignore all the others. This sidetracks us from sowing the seeds widely, leading us to share the gospel discriminately.
In evangelism, there are certain ones who stand out and make contributions that produce 30, 60, 100, or even more new believers. These are the persons of peace! It is not like searching for a needle in a haystack but more like finding a gem in a treasure mine. In dominant patriarchal and collectivistic cultures such as in Japan, it would be an advantageous strategy if persons of peace are males. This can be likened to casting a net for fishing rather than using a rod.
Raised in a Christian home, Shion was introduced by his parents to our youth church when he started university. He turned out to be a person of peace as he subsequently introduced many of his university friends to the youth church and even started another group meeting in Tokyo city amongst working adults. Many got to know Jesus. More than half of the youth church attendees were his friends, and most of them were men.
Eating your way in
Jesus also taught his disciples to use the greeting “Peace be to this house” upon meeting someone. Perhaps there is a need to find an equivalent to the Jewish greeting “shalom” in Japan. This greeting portrays a positive image when translated into Japanese:
この家に平安があるように。 (May the peace be with this house.)
In Japan, greeting one another with “konnichiwa” is common. However, it would not be frowned upon if people were to say “peace be on you” since “平安” (heian) is a well-loved word in Japan and peace is desired by all.
During one of our street ministries, we met a person of peace who introduced us to a home for the elderly. We were warmly welcomed by the supervisor, who allowed us to do monthly events for over a year. We led songs, played games, and shared gospel stories. All these were made possible by this woman of peace, a person of good repute and trust who opened the door to her oikos of colleagues and residents.
According to Jesus, once a connection has been made with the person of peace, the next step is to eat with them, without moving from house to house. Yes, begin with a house-to-house approach, but stop moving once a welcoming person or house of peace has been found. This goes against our training as we are conditioned to move on to cover as many homes or talk to as many people as possible!
Eating together often signifies that friendships have reached a higher level as it breaks down barriers and cements friendships. Spend more money eating with Japanese at homes or in restaurants! Shion’s parents run a house church where they build bonds by spending time in the Word and eating together regularly.
Heal and share
The ministries of healing and sharing the gospel upon meeting a person of peace are the starting points. In our experience, praying for healing is seldom rejected. In Japan, the hope for healing for themselves or for family members drives some people to seek out any deity. This gives Christians an advantage when reaching out to them. When the Lord heals through prayer, there will be an open door to meet other relatives and friends.
Our experiences of praying for people’s health have been positive. A neighbour was subsequently saved and baptized through an initial simple prayer of healing. Another time, a Japanese evangelist and I visited a sick elderly couple, prayed for healing, shared the gospel, and baptized them there and then. We continue to pray for healing as we share the gospel in our ministry to the homeless and the poor in Ikebukuro.
Some may wonder if it is strategic to share the gospel at the first meeting with someone. Jesus clearly taught, “Say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near (Luke 10:9).’” This signifies that the gospel should not be put on the back burner. A mission trip to Utsunomiya in May 2021 brought us to a father of two children with whom we shared the gospel. I explained that his two children have believed in Jesus and asked if he minded if I prayed for his household. He replied affirmatively, and there were smiles when I finished praying. The pastor is following up with this family.
The strategy of encountering the persons of peace is being revived as a key component in reaching the Japanese. There is an exciting work amongst the pastors and Christians in Japan through the Train & Multiply (T&M) training (http://www.oms-japan.org/tm/index.html), which has equipped more than 1,000 pastors and leaders in encountering the persons of peace. The urgent task today is to seek the ones prepared by the Lord who will open his or her oikos to us, possibly leading to mass movements of people encountering Jesus, the Son of God. We just need to resuscitate this strategy again in its fullest form.