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"The Greek word for go, means go": Canon J John on evangelism, hope and lifting roofs

by Gabriel Ong // July 24, 2018, 6:52 pm

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“None of us have got it together, but together, we’ve got it,” Canon J John declared with a smile as he took the stage. Sensing the crowd’s amusement at the witty line, he then proceeded to have everyone repeat it after him.

The international evangelist, whose real name is John Ioannou, was preaching on unity and evangelism at the Celebration of Hope (COH) Pastors and Leaders Gathering on July 24, 2018.

In commemoration of 40 years since the Billy Graham Crusade in 1978 and Singapore’s 200th year since our founding, COH culminates in 3 days of rallies at the National Stadium next year.

“One of the great things about this vision and initiative is that it brings us together,” said the 60-year-old Canon, who brought well-known preacher Christine Caine to Christ in her younger years.

“No one monopolises God’s truth. Now we think we do, but there is no one church here that monopolises God’s truth. For the sake of the lost and for evangelism, we are happy to work together.

“We’re not focusing on our differences, we’re focusing on what we have in common, and what we have in common is good news – the Lord Jesus Christ who offers us our hope for the future.”

Canon J John at the National Stadium, where Celebration of Hope will be held

He then posed a question to the few hundred Singaporean pastors and church leaders seated in Saint Andrew Cathedral‘s New Sanctuary: What are we?

Then came the answer: “We are global Christians with a global mission, because we have a global God.” Canon John then turned to Matthew 28 and read out the Great Commission. In particular, he zoomed in on the word “go”.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

“I’m Greek, I’m bilingual — I read the Bible in Greek. And lots of people like to get up and say, ‘In its original Greek, (this verse) means this’ — and it usually doesn’t,” he said to a burst of laughter from the audience.

Then, serious again: “The Greek word for go, means go. We need to go!

“Many of our churches encourage people to go on a missions trip. I do too: I say walk next door – it’s cheaper. You don’t have to spend a year fund raising. Walk. Next. Door. That’s the best mission trip any of us can go on. Why? Because people are lost.”

Young people praying for each other

Canon John then recounted a story about his son: “Killy and I, we have 3 sons. When our eldest son was just 2, we lost him in a department store. We looked everywhere for him, but he had disappeared!

“What a terrible feeling to lose your child. And we’d only just seen him 30 seconds ago.”

In his story, Canon John explained that he’d rushed to the reception to ask for the shopping centre’s microphone, and when the lady in charge hesitated on letting him use it, he’d jumped over the counter to get to it.

When we’ve seen the Cross, the love of Christ compels us.

“I couldn’t care less what people thought of me,” he remarked. “My son was lost! Did it matter to me what they thought? No! My son was lost and I would do whatever I could to find him.

That’s the analogy we find in Scripture that encourages us to seek and save the lost,” he said.

Once again with a twinkle in his eye, he continued with a play on words: “A missionary is not someone who crosses the sea, a missionary is someone who sees the Cross.

“When we’ve seen the Cross, the love of Christ compels us.”

Canon J John preaching at the COH Pastors and Leaders Gathering

Turning to Acts 1:8, Canon John explained that when we receive Jesus, we receive His Holy Spirit which empowers us to be witnesses.

“The Greek word for witness is marturia, from which we get the word ‘martyr’,” he said solemnly. “Many of our brothers and sisters have been martyred, so it’s not going to be easy to witness – you’re giving your life.”

In underlining the need to do whatever it takes to get people to Jesus, Canon John then referred to Mark 2:1-12: “I love the story of the four men who took their friend on a stretcher to see Jesus Christ.”

Let’s lift the roof of our thinking to get people to Jesus.

In the well-known account, the house was so full that the men couldn’t get in through the door. Canon John pointed out how incredible it really was the cripple’s friends to then climb the roof, open a hole large enough in that roof, and lower a full-grown man on a stretcher down to Jesus.

“How did they do that?” he exclaimed. “Listen: Let’s lift the roof of our thinking to get people to Jesus.”

“God uses every way —prophecy, prayer, praise, proclamation — to reach the lost. So we too must do everything that we possibly can to get people to Jesus.”

Youth gathering to worship

Canon John then spoke on the importance of having evangelism as a mindset, quoting 2 Timothy 4:5: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

“Do the work of an evangelist,” he repeated. “He didn’t say stop doing the work of a church leader and become an evangelist.

“What he said in the original Greek is to lead the church as if you are an evangelist.

He didn’t say stop doing the work of a church leader and become an evangelist – lead the church as if you are an evangelist.

“We’ve got to think like an evangelist. So that your whole DNA and your church’s DNA is all about the people who don’t come – as well as the people who do come.”

Canon John continued, “I’ve been in the ministry for 39 years and my conclusion is this: Evangelism is the practice of praying, caring and sharing. These are things we need to do anyway. We are a church who prays, cares and shares!

Praying together at a worship event

“I want you to start in the place of your greatest failure. Where is that for you? For your congregations?

Then, he said, “Cultivate your web of relationships. To reach the world, you have to first reach your world.

“I know some people have been called to bypass ‘Samaria’ and ‘Judea’,” he qualified. “But these are the 2%.”

98% of us have been called to reach the world by reaching our world. That’s what we need to do as leaders and encourage the congregation to do!”

To reach the world, you have to first reach your world.

“You know, 500 years ago a theologian called Erasmus translated John’s gospel,” he shared.

“This is how he translated John 1:1: ‘In the beginning, was the conversation.’ I really like that. All we are doing, is keeping the conversation going.

“We’re praying that God will help us to share the good news, to articulate it — to keep the conversation going.”

In closing, Canon John addressed the heart behind the coming year of evangelism. “Before somebody becomes a Christian, they’re in negative territory. The negative territory goes all the way back to -100.”

Canon John said that as we pray for them, care for them and meet felt needs, that number changes for the better: “I know God can take a -100, and take them like that. But he often doesn’t. He woos them.

“And we each have a part to play in helping people on their journey to faith.”

One National Stadium, 50,000 in seating, 3 nights of proclaiming the Good News.

“That’s 27,500 Christians every night,” Canon John said knowingly. “Each one bringing one friend.”


Canon J John will share the Gospel at the Celebration of Hope on 17 to 19 May 2019, National Stadium. COH is a united initiative by the National Council of Churches of Singapore, Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore and LoveSingapore. Visit celebrationofhope.sg for updates.
Photos of youth were taken at FOPx Worship Night 2018.

About the author

Gabriel Ong

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.