Michaela Knippers grabs the bulky virtual reality goggles off the desk and tightens them onto her head. Her husband, Justin, is already strapped in and waving his hand in the air to scroll through different maps he sees through the goggles.
As new International Mission Board missionaries to Osaka, Japan, they’ve been studying Japanese all day, and their brains need a break. For these 20-somethings, that means jumping into the virtual world — a video game simulating reality that, for them, is both relaxing and their place of ministry.
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The couple finds a spot to chill in a virtual backyard that resembles countless real ones — neon tiki lights, Texas-sized mosquitos buzzing around, potted plants and multi-colored flowers. In the back corner, Justin spies some friends around a fire pit and presses his controller forward to walk over. Within minutes, the missionary shares an insight from Scripture.
‘Virtual reality evangelism’
“Virtual reality evangelism isn’t really any different from regular evangelism,” Justin says, explaining how it works. “You find a common point, build a relationship and draw the conversation to the gospel.”
Unlike most video games, VRChat is all about socializing. No one “wins.” The whole point is to connect and talk to people. Michaela adds most in the game are lonely and looking for a solution to their problems, just like she was years ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Virtual reality seemed like the perfect fit for her as an introvert. You can be anything you want online without ever leaving the house. This severe social withdrawal, anxiety and reclusiveness is so common in Japan that there’s even a Japanese word for it — hikikomori.
Justin was the first Christian Michaela met who spoke about Jesus in the virtual world. It didn’t take long to see the solution to her greatest problem — spiritual lostness — was the gospel. The now-married couple teams up to be a steadfast missionary presence through digital innovations. They recognize their unique interests and skills in the gaming world means they might be the only ones to share the gospel with those in the virtual world where they serve.
One of many ministry tools
“Virtual reality is just one of many tools missionaries use to reach out to the lost around them,” Justin says. The missionary points out it is important to find someone “in real life” (IRL) to follow up and disciple the new believers. This is why they study Japanese — so they can relate at a heart level in the tech capital of the world.
Although virtual reality isn’t the real world, Michaela asks that you pray for the real people inside of it who need the gospel.
Ask God to help the Knippers learn Japanese so they may transition relationships from VR to IRL.
Pray for more missionaries who are willing to use the newest innovations and technologies to reach the world for Christ.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Sue Sprenkle and originally published by the International Mission Board.