FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — When viewed through the otherworldly lens of “Pokémon Go,” Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is home to three “gyms,” or virtual meeting places, and nearly three dozen “Pokéstops,” or landmarks.
Thus, numerous Pokémon “trainers,” or participants — enthusiasts who wouldn’t otherwise trek to a seminary campus — have made their way to Southwestern as they play the game.
Realizing the unique opportunity for outreach, seminary students and faculty hosted a “lure party” at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus July 19.
Southwestern set off 80 Pokémon “lures” over a two-hour period, drawing roughly 200 people from the community, reflecting Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 4:19 that His followers be “fishers of men.” Southwesterners engaged the lost with the Gospel and, as a result, six Pokémon players professed faith in Christ.
“Unlike any other time that we have done outreach in either the community or any type of mission trip, this was the rare opportunity where we didn’t have to go find people, but they were coming to us,” said Joshua Clayton, a master of divinity student who organized the event “to seize the moment and strategically utilize the game for evangelism.”
Jonathan Baldwin, Southwestern’s housing coordinator, was among the evangelists, and he personally saw two high school students turn to Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
“The conversation started about the game, then transitioned into school and future college plans,” Baldwin recounted. “I took this time to share how God had saved me during my senior year of college, and I boasted in the Lord at how amazing this new life with Him is.” For Baldwin, “It is always exciting to see God save people and always refreshing to retell His story.”
A Gospel tract produced specifically for the event by Southwestern stated, “Hello, Pokémon trainers! You think hunting for Pokémon is exciting? What if you were to find out that you may have just stumbled upon the greatest treasure ever known?”
With water stations placed at key locations around campus, servers offered passersby not just physical water but “living water” akin to Jesus’ words in John 4.
M.Div. student Joy Arulogun had a fruitful discussion with a group of young students at one of the stations that resulted in two professions of faith and one rededication.
At a water station on the opposite side of campus, master’s degree students Heather Mentz in music and Mark Becker in biblical counseling and Ph.D. student Jessica Wan spoke with three young men, Angel, Fransisco and Kevin. Upon hearing the Gospel message, Angel prayed to receive the Lord. Though Fransisco did not respond to the invitation, he nevertheless heard the Gospel while Kevin, who is already a professing Christian, was encouraged by the evangelists to continue in his faith and find a church home.
The Pokémon tract served as a foundational element in Angel’s salvation. When Mentz learned that Angel and his two friends had already received and read the Gospel tract, she discerned a perfect time to engage them in spiritual conversation.
Alongside Angel’s responsiveness, Fransisco listened to everything while “his other friend Kevin [who was already a Christian] was excited to hear someone give a Gospel presentation,” Mentz recounted. “He said he had tried before with Angel but always gotten stuck.
“So not only did one person come to know the Lord [Angel], but another was encouraged to continue in his faith and find a church home [Kevin] and another heard a Gospel presentation and experienced the joy and excitement we all had [Fransisco].”
Mentz then enlisted the aid of Becker, since he keeps Bibles in his car to give away. When Becker met up with the group, he brought several Bibles, “which was perfect,” Mentz said, “because it meant that Fransisco and Kevin could have Bibles as well.”
Becker proceeded to begin the early stages of discipleship with Angel as Fransisco and Kevin listened. Becker told them about the parable of the treasure in the field from Matthew 13:44 in which a man sold all he had in order to buy a field containing buried treasure, “because what he was getting was so much better.”
Becker compared it to trading an entire Pokémon deck for a Magikarp — a rare Pokémon — to show that what is lost is nothing compared to what is gained, Mentz said. “He told them that [the apostle] Paul said everything was rubbish compared to knowing Christ, and I think they could tell by our excitement and expressions when talking that we meant everything we were saying.”
Evangelism instructor Brandon Kiesling, who coordinated Southwestern’s evangelism teams, noted, “When there are so many people involved with something like [Pokémon], you can’t miss the opportunity to use it for good in some way especially when the people come to us. Why wouldn’t you [seize that opportunity]?”
Watch a video recap of Southwestern’s Pokémon outreach: