December 15, 2011

Some Study Prophecy--Others Help Fulfill It

Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Revelation 7:9a After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

Some people like to study prophecy......others like to fulfill prophecy

Global Recording Network has recorded Christian messages in 6,000 languages

Christian Aid supports missionaries reaching 3,000 tribes

The Jesus Film has been translated into 1,110 languages

Trans World Radio broadcasts Gospel messages in 200 languages

Campus Crusade for Christ shares the Gospel in 191 countries

December 11, 2011

Defining the Goals, Priorities, and Extent of Christian Giving

I've never heard a pastor preach on this verse:

2 Corinthians 8:13-15  "Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: 'The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.'"

I'm sure some have.  I've just never heard it.  In these verses, Paul is encouraging the believers of Achaia to give money to bless the other saints who are in need elsewhere.  The key word here is "equality".  Paul doesn't just ask them to give some.  Paul doesn't just ask them to give whatever they can.  He asks them to give enough so that there will be equality.  In other words, if you have 50 pieces of silver and another brother only has 30, you ought to give him 10 of yours.  Then, at some point in the future, maybe he'll have more pieces of silver and he'll be the one giving to you.  If you think about it, this is a radical message that Paul is preaching--EQUALITY.  He is giving these instructions in the 1st century to a relatively small group of Christians that all live within the Roman Empire.  Ideally, he would like all those who are followers of Jesus to share one another's possessions and maintain equality among one another.  What about today?  There are now 800 million evangelical Christians spread all over the world.  Our incomes range from $100 a year to $500,000,000 a year.  Are we still suppose to have a goal of equality?  Should wealthy Christians in America be sharing half of their wealth with poor Christians in Africa?  Let's examine this...

In Acts 2 and Acts 4, the goal of equality seemed to come naturally.  "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had." (Acts 4:32)  This was among the first believers in Jerusalem.  They saw those in their midst who had needs, so they helped them and they shared everything they had.  When you actually see the people in need, it's fairly easy to help them.

Now, let's skip ahead to Acts 11.  Here, we find that the new believers in Antioch want to help their fellow brothers in Judea, because a famine is about to hit them.  So, they send money to help them.  The giving is not just among the Jerusalem believers anymore.  We now see Christians in different locations sharing with one another.

Continue in your Bible to Romans 15.  Here we find that the believers in these places make donations to help the poor believers in Jerusalem.  "I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it..." (Romans 15:25b-27a)  It's incredible if you think about it.  The believers in Macedonia and Achaia have probably never seen their brethren in Jerusalem.  They did not see pictures of bloated stomachs and ribs showing.  They did not watch a video clip about the hardship of the believers in Jerusalem.  They did not see statistics of unemployment in Jerusalem.  They were simply told that they were going through rough times financially, so they gave willingly.

Let's continue in our discovery of giving in the early church.  In 1 Corinthians 16, we also learn that the Galatian churches have been giving to the needy in Jerusalem as well.

We now have evidence that Christians from 4 different regions gave to the needy among their fellow Christians.  The sharing started with the small group of Christians in Jerusalem.  However, as Christianity spread, they did not cease to share with one another.  From all his travels, Paul indicates that he saw the believers in Jerusalem as the most needy.  As an outward expression of love, Christians from all over the eastern end of the Empire gave to the brethren in Jerusalem.  They did not let language barriers prevent them from sharing.  They did not let regional boundaries prevent them from sharing.  They did not let ethnic barriers prevent them from sharing.  They were one in Christ and shared accordingly.

2,000 years later, my question to you is, at what point did the believers in Achaia stop giving to the believers in Jerusalem?  As Christianity has now spread to millions of people and to all countries of the world, what reason do we have to stop giving to the neediest among us?  Why do we let proximity, political boundaries, language barriers, and ethnic differences prevent us from striving to reach equality?  Are we no longer a family?

Am I really advocating that with such a differential in worldwide incomes that Christians worldwide should strive to reach material equality with one another?  Absolutely, yes!  Am I a crazy Christian Utopian Socialist? Absolutely, no!  I'm a crazy Christian Utilitarian Capitalist. XD

A genius software designer deserves to earn millions of dollars.  He deserves the right to keep it too.  However, as a Christian, he should be willing, out of the goodness of his heart, to give to those in need.  1 John 3:17 says, "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?"  Similarly, Luke 3:11 says, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”  We should strive for equality.  Please don't let the appeasably soft Christian messages about wealth that we hear so often in the West, blind us from the reality of what is written in God's Word.  If love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, then by all means, let's get rid of it, so we can turn that evil into blessings.  Why in the world would you want to hold on to potential evil?  That's kind of like walking around with an old Soviet land mine in your back pocket.  It's cool to have, but it's not helping you any spiritually.  What's worse is that it could go off at any second.  You might have time to repent, but by then you'll only have one leg.

So if equality is the goal, what's the method?  Do we just collect money from the wealthiest and give to the poorest?  No.  If you do it like that, it will bring a lot of chaos, epidemics of greed, dependency, squandering, and welfare.  If I can quote a line from The Barber Shop, "That won't do nothing but make Cadillac number-one dealership in the country."  Anyways, we certainly don't want half the world receiving handouts.  If you study Paul's teaching's elsewhere, you'll clearly see that he believes every man should do his fair share of work.  (2Thessalonians 3:6-15)  To strive for equality and bring people out of poverty, the best strategies seem to involve micro-enterprise, education, sanitary conditions, access to technology and training, etc.

But can we even talk about reaching material equality at this point?  Nope.  We are sooooo far from reaching that point that we can't even begin to talk about material equality.  At this present time, it's a pipe dream.  In fact, given what Jesus said about always having the poor with us, one could argue that it's anti-prophetical.  (Funny side note: Anytime a Christian organization tells me that they are trying to eliminate poverty, I look at them with a serious face and say, "But that's non-Biblical."  And then I bust up laughing as they scramble to find a response.  You should try this sometime.)  Equality is the ultimate goal, but for the present time, we just need to establish our first steps.

So what should be our first steps?  What should we give to first?  What are our priorities?  If we look at the present situation of the world, I believe our priorities, which will dictate the designation of our giving, should be in the order as follows:

1) Every person on earth should be introduced to Jesus in their own heart language.  (world evangelism)
2) Every person on earth should have easy access to God's word in their own language.
3) Every believer on earth should have access to a minimal amount of discipleship materials for spiritual growth.

4) Every person on earth should have access to relatively clean drinking water and adequate food nurishment.
5) Every child should be removed from prostitution and fighting as a soldier.*
6) Every child should be removed from slave labor.*
7) Every person should be removed from slavery/human trafficking.
8) Every person should have basic shelter for living
9) Every person on earth should have access to basic medical care.
10) Every person should be able to live in basic sanitary conditions.
11) Every child should be able to live in a loving family-type atmosphere.
12) Every child should have access to a basic education.

(* Some of the numbered items above are not always projects that you can simply fund with money to fix.  A lot of times it is a governmental, law enforcement, or communal issue.  Other items not listed above would fall into that category even more so, such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech.  Whenever funding can effect change in these situations, we should pursue that course, but it doesn't always, so we need to use our best judgement.)

Items number 1, 2, and to some extent, 3 are non-negotiables.  They have to be our priorities.  What good is it if you feed a man, but he still goes to Hell?  Jesus always placed spiritual needs first.  We should too. In our philosophy, our giving, and our actions, we need to put the spiritual needs of the world before the physical needs of the world.  This is often hard to do, because we have a natural tendency to react to the tangible needs.  Tangible needs are easier to recognize.  However, if we are in-tune with the spiritual state of the world, we will realize the spiritual needs not only outnumber the physical needs, but they are infinitely more important.  (see previous blog) Furthermore, the spiritual problems of the world are often the root of so many physical needs of the world.  If the God touches the heart of a child prostitution brothel owner, he's going to repent of his ways and set them free.  If all of the Taliban got saved, the people of Afghanistan would be able to live, love, and prosper economically.  If corrupt, tyrannical rulers in Africa were softened by the Gospel, their whole countries would be changed for the better, both physically and spiritually.  If animists turn to God, they will realize that they no longer have to sacrifice their best animals to feed the appetites of the gods, while they themselves go hungry.  As the Gospel gets to the masses, people will begin to practice abstinence, which will reduce the amount of new HIV cases and unwanted births.  The list goes on and on.

As a rule of thumb, we should only give to items 1 through 3, the 'spiritual priorities', until those needs are met.  Once those needs are met, we can give toward items 4 through 12, the 'physical priorities'.  (Although, if you are aware of the prophecy in Matthew 24:14, one might think Jesus will return once needs 1 through 3 are met, so perhaps we would never get around to funding items 4 through 12.)  There are some exceptions to this rule, which I will explain in a moment.

Within the physical priorities group, I do not believe that we need to fully meet the needs of the top items before moving on to give towards the subsequent items.  For example, we don't have to fully fund and meet all the needs of item 4, before giving towards items 5 through 12.  Opportunities will present themselves, where it is convenient and cost-effective to meet some of the needs in the lower priorities.  In those instances, we just need to use our best judgement and give towards the most worthwhile projects that have been identified.

There are also going to be situations where giving toward a lower priority item can expedite meeting the needs of a higher priority item.  For example, there might be an instance where meeting the needs of item 10 (sanitary conditions) might increase the availability of clean water and edible food (item 4).  Even though food and water is a higher priority, increasing sanitary conditions first will be the wiser path.  Another example would be how equipping believers with Bibles and discipleship materials (items 2 and 3) can help them reach more people for Christ (item 1).  In the real world, these situations often make themselves obvious.  They are not always obvious, though, which leads me to an exception to the rule of thumb mentioned earlier.

Even though the needs of the spiritual priorities group should be met before we give toward the physical priorities group, there may be instances where giving to the physical priorities group will expedite meeting the needs of the spiritual priorities group.  In that case, it is wise to engage in the lower priority items in order to meet the needs of the higher priority items.  An example of this could be a situation where peoples' hearts are hard and not ready to receive the Gospel message.  This is usually from some prejudice.  Usually, the people just need to experience the love of God in a tangible way and then they will be open to hearing the Gospel message.  I know of a mission organization that has sent missionaries into an area and the ground was completely hard.  No one wanted to hear the message of Jesus.  So, the mission organization changed their strategy.  They decided to open a children's center in that area.  The children received an education, some clothes, a meal each day, medical check-ups, and they learned songs and games.  The poor community loved it and the parents were ever so grateful.  The hearts of the people changed as they saw how these Christians actually loved them.  As a result, they shared the Gospel and multiple churches were planted.  It wasn't just a fluke either.  This ministry has seen the same thing happen in hundreds of locations.  So, though this mission organization has the primary goal of evangelizing the world (item 1), they discovered that in order to do that, we sometimes need to meet the needs of physical priority items first.

If meeting a physical need is the best way to navigate to meeting a spiritual need, then by all means let's do it.  I must clarify an issue here.  Please don't misunderstand this philosophy.  Meeting a physical need is not a 'necessary evil' so that we can meet the spiritual needs.  As Christians, we need to see this as a wonderful opportunity to love people in two different ways at the same time.  I believe that God, in His infinite wisdom, creates situations like this where we have the opportunity to love people both physically and spiritually.  It is an opportunity, not a necessary evil.  In the case of the children's center operated by the missionaries, I'm sure they were thrilled by the opportunity to love the children and community in a tangible way in addition to meeting their spiritual needs.

However, this doesn't mean that in every situation we will need to love people physically first, before they are ready to hear the Gospel.  In most cases, it is not necessary.  Christians shouldn't use this as an excuse to always love people physically first.  There are a lot of Christians in this world that have a strategy of loving people physically and waiting for the people to ask, "Why are you doing this?" before they share the Gospel with them.  Or worse, waiting for the people to actually ask about Jesus, before they share the Gospel with them.  Ummm, show me the numbers on how many people are getting saved that way?  How many church planting movements are started that way?  When Christians do need to meet the physical needs first, they need to always remember what the priorities are.  How many mission stations have started out with passion to disciple the nations, but over the decades have degraded into schools or hospitals that have completely forgotten their initial purpose?  It can even be a slippery slope for an individual in his/her ministry.  A missionary might start out with the intent of reaching lost souls, but over a period of time, he can forget his real purpose and end up spending most of his time just meeting the physical needs of the poor.  We have to be careful and always put things in perspective according to our priorities.

December 10, 2011

Share the Gospel Without Being There


When no missionary or evangelist is available to share the Gospel with people, they can still hear the Gospel message.  Technology is a wonderful thing.  It has allowed for the Gospel to be spread further and faster than if people had to physically walk to an area to share the Gospel.  Radio evangelism, internet evangelism, satellite TV evangelism, the Jesus Film, and DVD distribution are some of the major players in this category.  At this table, there's another seat reserved for audio devices.  These devices can be Talking Bibles or have messages, sermons, teaching, etc.  These have been around for a long time, but they used to be cassette or CD format.  Today, we can pack 100s of hours of audio tracks onto SD cards that fit into these audio devices.  I was doing some research into this area of missions and came across a nice list of advantages of these devices.  I want to share it with you.  It comes from Global Recording Network, a wonderful ministry:

Audio and audio-visual formats will not always be the most effective communications. E.g. A live communicator may be able to better embody or live out the message proclaimed. (He may also undermine it!) However, it is worth noting some of the advantages of audio and audio-visual presentations.
  1. Being recorded creates a more 'permanent' record to guard against modification of the story
  2. The media is not dependent on the presence or the 'endurance' of a live speaker.
  3. The message can be repeated as frequently as desired
  4. The media is accessible to anyone who can hear. They do not need to be able to read.
  5. Pictures (in various formats) can help understanding as well as increase the appeal of the presentation.
  6. The media can be used without the presence of the messenger, which can sometimes adversely affect the process (e.g. some cultures do not allow a public disagreement with a guest so the locals 'agree' with the message not out of conviction but out of politeness.)
  7. The material can be used discreetly in sensitive locations.
  8. The material can be used at loud volume to enable a community to hear and process the information together.
  9. The materials are adaptable. Once a 'user' has become familiar with the presentation they can use it in different ways to suit different audiences or contexts.
  10. In some places a recorded message carries an authority not given to a 'live' speaker.
There are also weaknesses of audio and audio-visual communication, such as limited interactivity and limited ability to respond flexibly to different situations, but the advantages should not be ignored.

If you want to see a review of devices that can be helpful to mission work, take a look at this in depth review.  If you want a quick comparison, scroll down to Section 5.

December 5, 2011

Visual Geographic Image of the Great Commission Travel

If you could see a map of how people had to travel to fulfill the Great Commission, what would it look like?  A couple hundred years ago it looked like missionaries from England and the USA traveling to many different places in the world.  Lately, as we understand that Christianity has already spread to many places of the world, some have tended to think that the Great Commission looks like people traveling from everywhere to everywhere.  It might looks something like this:

I found this screenshot from a video called, "The Great Commission" on Youtube.  In this picture (and if you watch the animation), you can clearly see missionaries coming from many different places and going to many different places.  There doesn't seem to be much of a pattern to the travel.  It is very different from the olden days when you would see the lines coming out of the West and going to all the world.  Today, many Christians worldwide read the same passage in Matthew 28:19, "Go and make disciples of all nations..."  Then, they take that message and apply it to their lives and go to another nation to make disciples.  My suspicion is that these brothers and sisters who are on fire for God take the Great Commission and run with it.  They read those words, make it their own, and go for it.

Is this the visual image we should see for the Great Commission though?  My concern is that they "Go" without taking the time to fully understand the Great Commission.  They read "Go" and so they go, but it might not be to the neediest country.  They might just go to wherever they've heard about, or wherever they 'have a heart for', or wherever they have connections.  Perhaps this explains why I've known of a Filipino missionary working in South Korea, a Jamaican missionary working in the US, and an American missionary working in Kenya, just to name a few.  Should these missionaries be working in countries that are already highly evangelized and Christian?  If the goal of the Great Commission is to make disciples of ALL NATIONS, doesn't it help to first find out which of the nations already have disciples?  If the goal of the Great Commission is to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth, doesn't it help to know what areas His witnesses have already gone?  In regards to countries like South Korea, USA, and Kenya, the Gospel seed has already been planted and grown to a full size tree bearing plenty of fruit.  Why do we want to send missionaries to these countries?  It doesn't seem to help fulfill the Great Commission.

In order to fulfill the Great Commission, we should be aware of the nations that are yet unreached with the Gospel.  If we are indebted to our Lord and Savior, don't we at least owe Him the favor of learning about the task He has given us before we jump into it head first?  I consider the Great Commission to be the 3rd greatest commandment.  In fact, if you think about it, the top 3 greatest commandments are all intricately tied together.  So if the the Great Commission is so important and if hundreds of thousands of Christians are willing to give their lives to God to be missionaries, shouldn't we take the time to learn about the Great Commission?  If we took the time learn about missions, we would find that the "nations" spoken of in Matthew 28 are actually 'people groups'.  It's a group of people with a similar language and culture.  There aren't just 200 nations.  There are actually 17,000 nations.  About 10,000 of them have been reached with the Gospel and there are a healthy amount of disciples in those nations.  7,000 nations still have very few disciples.  If you want to take part in the Great Commission, these are the 7,000 nations upon which you should focus.  And we know exactly which nations these are and where they are located--all 7,000 of them.  We know what language they speak as well.  Wonderful researchers have made this information available to us.  I like the database that Joshua Project has.  So, if this information is so readily available to us, what excuse do missionaries have for claiming to take part in the Great Commission, yet failing to focus on one of these 7,000 unreached people groups?  Certainly, there are admirable activities and causes that we should do among some of the 10,000 reached people groups, but in most cases, these should be of secondary importance.  We need to do a better job of serving our Lord.  We need to do our part in understanding the mission before taking part in it.  What military in the world would send a group of soldiers on a top secret mission without first briefing them?  Likewise, we should be faithful enough to brief ourselves about the mission that we are still trying to accomplish.

But what about the leading of the Holy Spirit?  We shouldn't just follow the statistics, right?  Don't we need to listen to where God is calling us?  Good point to bring up.  There's currently about 100,000 missionaries serving in a foreign country.  If you ask them, I'm willing to bet that 99% will say they 'felt God calling them to serve in that country'.  However, 90% of foreign missionaries work among already reached people groups (the 10,000).  Only 10% work among unreached people groups (the 7,000).  If 9 out of 10 foreign missionaries are working among people groups that already have a growing Christian presence, I have to conclude that they are not really  hearing God's calling.  Not only that, but up to half of Western foreign missionaries don't return to the mission field after their first term.  Plus, foreign missionaries are only responsible for about 10% of all pioneer mission work. (National missionaries do about 90% of pioneer mission work.)  My guess is that the foreign missionaries did not hear God's audible voice or they did not hear God speak to them in an undeniable way.  Most likely they have combined some feelings of passion, emotion, thoughts, and their affinities towards a particular culture, which makes them believe they have been called to a certain place.  If God speaks to you, it will be known.  It's hard to comprehend how all 100,000 of the foreign missionaries have been called by God if they are going to the wrong places and not seeing fruit.  The research and understanding is necessary, but should also be combined with deeper prayer and fasting. Let's take the Great Commission more seriously and do it.

So, we've now come to the realization that the Great Commission should focus on 7,000 people groups.  These 7,000 people groups tend to live in one big area of the world.  Below are some pictures to give you an idea of where these unreached people groups are.

Red or Orange dot = unreached people group
Green dot = reached people group
Grey dot = unkown

As you can see, the majority of the unreached people groups are in northern Africa, the Middle East, immigrants in Europe, and across the southern belt of Asia.  India alone contains 1/3 of all unreached people groups.  Here's some more images to get an idea of the needy areas for mission work.  Though not focused on people groups per se, they are still helpful to look at.

With all these images, we can get a general idea of the areas upon which we need to focus in order that we can reach the unreached people groups.  In general, it's the 1040 Window that you may have heard about before, plus some additional areas, like Indonesia.  So, going back to our original graphic, we can now assume that the arcs should go from outside the 1040 Window to inside the 1040 Window, right?  Not so fast.

Now that we know who we need to reach with the Gospel, we need to ask ourselves, 'how can we best reach them?'  We can use technology like radio, the Jesus Film, and the internet, but we also need to send missionaries.  Which missionaries can we send to them?  Take a look at the "Christians and the Unevangelized" image again.  Look at China, India, and Indonesia.  You see how there are spots of blue in a sea of grey?  Those are large populations of Christians that already exist in those countries.  These Christians already speak the language and know the culture of those around them.  Many of these Christians are first generation believers that are on fire for Christ.  They are going to be integral in sharing the Gospel to those around them.  When it comes sending missionaries, I subscribe to the school of thought that says, 'let's send the nearest available missionaries!'  In many cases, there are already Christians within or nearby the unreached people groups who can reach them easily.  They can be native missionaries to their own people.  There will be instances where there just aren't enough Christians in an area to reach them, so in that case we can draw missionaries from the next closest area.  For example, if there is not a healthy Christian population of believers in Mali, we should consider sending missionaries there from Ivory Coast.  In very few instances will we need to send missionaries from thousands of miles away to reach people.

So, if we consider the first image at the top of this blog one more time, we don't need the arcs to go in all random directions, they should focus on certain areas with unreached people groups.  Also, we don't need the arcs to travel thousands of miles.  In most cases, the arcs will only travel distances of a hundred miles or so.  The image should look more like the one below.  (Even this image is partly exaggerated, but you get the idea.)

Let's be faithful to our Lord.  Let's do the research.  Let's pray and fast earnestly.  Let's finish the Great Commission.  God bless you.

December 3, 2011

Short-Term Missions to Mexico: Noteworthy Items to Consider

Every year, about 1.5 million Americans participate in short-term mission trips.  They spend $1 billion in the process!  Before Hurricane Katrina, about 1/3 of short-term mission trippers (STMers) would go to Mexico.  The latest figure I've seen is 350,000 go to Mexico each year, but it's possible that the number has dwindled even more because of the rising drug violence and safety concerns.

Of all the 200 countries in the world, why is Mexico the destination of such a huge chunk of short-term mission trips(STMs)?  Here's why: It borders the US, the largest and wealthiest Christian nation in the world.  For millions of Christians in the American Southwest it's within a day's drive.  It is a poor country.  In a lot of churches in the American Southwest, there's gonna be somebody who speaks Spanish, so he/she can be a person to translate and make connections.  There's an established tradition of doing STMs to Mexico.  In terms of poor, non-evangelical countries, there are no other options for a short, inexpensive trip.  With this evidence, I can only conclude that the real reason so many STMers go to Mexico is because of CONVENIENCE.  Perhaps the New American Message translation of the Bible says, "go and make disciples of a nation that's close to you" and "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Tijuana."

Is Mexico a worthwhile destination for missions?  Is it fulfilling the Great Commission mandate that Jesus Christ gave us?  Is it making disciples of all nations and being His witnesses to the ends of the earth?

Mexico is 95% Christian, but only 8% evangelical.  In the last 50 years it has grown from only 2% evangelical to over 8%.  8% might sound small, but there are about 120 countries that are less evangelical than that.  Most of the increase in evangelical faith seems to be a result from native evangelists within the country.  Joshua Project lists Mexico as having 2 unreached people groups, while IMB claims they have 32 unreached people groups.  A big discrepancy, but the majority of those people groups are small with only thousands or tens of thousands of people.  Small groups, but definitely worth reaching out to.  However, they're almost all in southern Mexico, instead of the border regions where STMers tend to go.  According to World Christian Trends, only .2% of Mexico's population is unevangelized.  Compare that to 70% of Afghanistan's population that is unevangelized.

In light of these numbers and in regards to the Great Commission, I would say that Mexico is not the worst country to focus on, but it's definitely not the best.  With the brief research I've done on Mexico, I would say mission efforts in Mexico should be 3-fold: continued translation work, evangelical media increase, and raising up national missionaries.  In my opinion, short-term mission trips to Mexico borderlands should be almost avoided altogether.

First of all, I'm not a big fan of STMs.  If they are done properly, I'm a huge fan, but about 97% of STMs are done improperly.  I'll write more about my thoughts on STMs later, but in general, they don't help fulfill the Great Commission.  Most often, the primary goal is for the spiritual growth of the one going, rather than to spread the Gospel in areas where it has not yet gone.  Teams are in a location for only a short time, which reduces the chances of long-term impact.  Teams are usually young and immature.  Team members have rarely spent time sharing their faith even in their own home context.  Team members don't usually speak the language.  Team members don't usually understand the cultural differences enough to avoid making mistakes that will offend the locals.  Also, the primary activity is usually some type of social project rather than making disciples.

In regards to STMs to Mexico, so many things have gone wrong and continue to go wrong.  Mexico tends to be a pet project for the American church, just so they can have some type of mission activity.  Often, the Americans won't be briefed properly on the needs of the lands or what should and shouldn't be done.  They often come in with the idea of doing construction projects that they think will be needed.  I've heard examples of one group wanting to build houses with wood, but others will criticize it and say that practically speaking, mud brick works better for the environment.  I heard another example of a church that made it their goal to install blinds for a missionary couples' windows.  However, they didn't really want blinds, because drapes simply worked better.  I've heard of another building project that has been under construction for 5 years and counting.  The construction is going so slow, because teams from the US are doing the construction, many for the first time, and it is a stop and go process.  If local workers (who just might be unemployed by the way) were hired to do the job, they could have it finished in months, and for 50 times less the cost.  I got some of these examples from Mike Brown a pastor of Soma Church in LA and former missionary to Tijuana.  He said that he initially thought he was going to Mexico as a missionary to help the people, but after a while he found that his major role was simply to reduce the negative impact that American mission teams were having in Tijuana.

Another problem created in Mexico is dependency.  Some Mexican pastors will tell you that many of the locals will get lazy in acquiring the things they need, because they know that the Americans will bring those items anyways, so why should they go out out buy what they need?  If you need clothes, school supplies, food, even a house, don't worry about it, the Americans can take care of it since they're so nice.

Sadly, this dependency can even carry over into the realm of ministry.  If you are involved in a partnership with a ministry in Mexico, how confident are you that the man in charge of that ministry is using the assets he receives in the wisest manner?  Your first thought might be, "Our guy would never misuse funds!"  In all honesty though, it happens too often.  In poor lands, there are many who will lie or stretch the truth in order to gain favor with the wealthy foreigners.  It's very likely that there are many 'pastors' or 'missionaries' in Mexico who play the part while the Americans are around, but in reality they are just trying to establish a relationship, so they can benefit from the American dollars that are lavished on them.  I personally know people that have been tricked into thinking they were supporting a missionary in another country.  Later, they realized they were fed lies and he wasn't all he claimed to be.  Orphanages are easy to fake too.  On the day you know the Americans are going to be in town, all you have to do is rent a building for the day and pay every kid in the neighborhood one dollar to come over and play with the Americans.  Boom, instant decoy orphanage.  It works as long is there is a language barrier and lack of oversight.  Some crusade preachers will have 2 or 3 big crusades per year.  At these crusades, they will take wonderful pictures and videos to report to the wealthy Westerners.  The cash will come rolling in and they can sit on their butt for half a year until the next crusade comes around.  These examples that I've heard of come from Asia, but I guarantee you, some of this is happening in Mexico too.  If you support ministries in Mexico, make sure you are working with a group that has a board that handles money.  Make sure there is transparency with how funds are used.  Make sure that individuals are not being paid more than an average salary for the location.  Make sure you communicate multiple times a year and visit the field unannounced sometimes.

Another issue to consider with STMs to Mexico is how well it fits into the Great Commission.  This has been touched upon earlier, but more needs to be said.  It seems that the goal of most of these STMs is some kind of project rather than spreading the Gospel.  While there are still 3 billion people unreached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, should we really focus our mission efforts on building houses in Mexico?  Also, missions shouldn't be done for the spiritual growth of the ones going.  It shouldn't be done so the American can draw closer to God and find their calling.  That is such a selfish reiteration of an activity that should be done with an outward focus.  We call them mission trips, yet the focus too often seems to be on one's own spiritual growth, while the activity is some type of social justice project.  How this relates back to Matthew 28:19 is beyond me.  It's things like this which water down the term 'missions' and leave many Americans confused on the definition of 'missions'.  On the profession side of things, if you are not engaged in evangelism and church planting in an unreached area, you shouldn't be called a missionary.  Call yourself an actionary, a foreign educator, a social justice advocate, or anything but a missionary.  Just because you travel to another country as a Christian, it doesn't make you a missionary.  Please don't contribute to the confusion any further.

If you read the 6 page section on Mexico in Operation World (a missions prayer and reference book), it doesn't mention anything about STMs of Americans visiting Mexico.  Interesting isn't it?  Hundreds of thousands of Americans go to Mexico and believe they are doing their part to fulfill the Great Commission, yet this objective reference book, concerned with reaching the nations, doesn't even mention their impact.  I would take that alone as a sign to question whether or not we should be doing STMs to Mexico.

If you are still considering taking part in STMs, I highly recommend getting ahold of a DVD documentary called, "Missio Docs: Mexico" from APU Mexico Outreach.  I got a copy of this at a conference in San Diego recently.  It's a very good documentary that was created by students and staff.  They ask the tough questions.  You'll learn a lot about STMs to border lands in Mexico.

Finally, Paco the Tijuana Zebra would like to say thank you for reading!!!

November 16, 2011

Miracle in Iran Leads to Faith

Here's a great story from Christian World News and Voice of the Martyrs about a mother and daughter from Iran that come to faith in Christ.

November 15, 2011

Western Missionaries are Needed to Reach the Unreached People Groups?

This post follows closely with my last post. On page 16 of Missions in the Third Millennium by Stan Guthrie, he writes:

Moreover those who wish only to give and not to go need to be reminded that if all ministry were done by Christians of the same ethnic groups as their non-Christian neighbors, some 4,000 sociolinguistic people groups without any Christian witness would remain unreached forever. The fact is, cross-cultural Western missionaries will be needed for the foreseeable future. There is more than enough work for everyone. (16)

There are some major problems with this assumption.

An unreached people group doesn't mean there are zero Christians. According to most systems, a people group can be up to 2% evangelical before it is considered 'reached'. So, if there is an unreached people group of 1 million people, they might actually have up to 20,000 evangelical Christians. Proportionally, they are a small amount, but these are individuals that will be sharing the Gospel with their unevangelized neighbors. There will also be dozens from this small group of Christians that would like to be missionaries. If they can be sent, they will be native missionaries reaching an unreached people group. Yes, native missionaries can reach unreached people groups. Did I just blow your mind? So, even a group of people that is technically labeled 'unreached' can still be reached from within. It only takes a spark to ignite a bonfire, agreed?

But what about a people group that truly has no native Christians? Good point. There are thousands of these people groups that fit this category. I believe this is primarily what Guthrie was getting at with the 4,000 number (although, if he was using the number for unengaged unreached people groups, even they can have some Christians that act as the spark to reach the rest). If a people group has absolutely no Christians, here are some ways they will likely be reached.

God can use dreams/visions/visitations to reach them. There's an astonishing number of reports of people living in closed lands where there are no other Christian witnesses who have a dream or vision of Jesus Christ or an angel. Feeling the presence and love of the Almighty allows them to see the truth. In 2004, I met a man from Ethiopian and heard his story of how he became a follower of Jesus Christ. When he was a young man, he had a vision of a man carrying a cross in a field. He didn't know much about it or what it meant, but he was challenged to follow the man and be like the man. In time, he realized it was Jesus. Though this Ethiopian man had never even seen a Bible before, he began to follow Jesus and lead other people to salvation. In the Muslim world, a huge number of conversions are occurring as a result of dreams and visions. A Fuller Theological Seminary faculty testifies that out of a collection of 650 testimonies he's collected, about 1/3 of them “mention dreams as a factor.” (Guthrie, 220). A wonderful DVD documentary about this subject is More Than Dreams. I highly recommend everyone to watch those testimonies. They are the most incredible I have ever watched.

God can use migration from the unreached people group to reach them. It's too simplistic a thing to believe that all people groups stay within their own territorial region and never leave and never allow outsiders to come in. There are many different people groups living in the same area and interacting with one another. A lot can be exchanged through the highways and byways of human movement. We are accustomed to goods being exchanged among neighboring peoples and even across distances of thousands of miles. Such activity has been going on for thousands of years. What is to prevent ideas, such as the Gospel message, from being spread in similar ways? Nothing. Of course, sharing the message of salvation will take more time than a 30 second trade of some spices, but God can make it happen. The Ethiopian eunich had a heart that was seeking God and he was led to the Lord in one conversation. Of course, to engage in adequate discipleship, it takes time, but that can be overcome. Here's some examples of how the Gospel has been spread through regular human movement.

The human population is becoming increasingly urbanized. Even among poor people of the world, many are leaving their villages in order to find work in the big cities. How many different people groups do you think we can find in cities like Delhi, Jakarta, Bangkok, London, or Los Angeles? Two or three? I'm guessing there's likely over 100 different people groups in each of those cities. Many of those people groups are unreached. In the case of smaller tribes that live out in the middle of nowhere, I'm guessing you will find handfuls of them migrating to the nearest population center that has some semblance of a city. While these unreached people are visiting or working in these urban areas, it is a wonderful opportunity for Christians in the area to reach out to them and share God's love. Once they believe in Jesus, they will be able to go back and share the message with the rest of their people. A Nepalese man named Prem Pradhan was away from home and serving in the Indian Army when he heard about Jesus for the first time. He returned to his home nation and had a big role in discipling that nation.

Continuing with Pradhan's story, he found himself in prison many times for sharing his faith about Jesus. In the prisons of Nepal where men from all the different people groups. As Pradhan led people to Christ and discipled them, they went back to their own unreached people groups and planted churches. Prisons are just another example of migrations and dislocationing of people that can result in the message of God being taken to a new people group.

A lucky few young men and women from unreached people groups are able to leave home and go to college. While at college, whether it is in a city 20 miles away or 10,000 miles away in another country, it can be an opportunity for them to hear the message of Jesus. God can put a passion in their hearts to go back and reach their own people.  Often, these people are influential in their communities.

Visions, cities, migratory work, prisons, and universities are some examples of how God can reach completely unreached people groups without sending foreign missionaries to reach them. However, I'm not suggesting that we wait until these chance opportunities arise. When people groups are reached organically like this, it is a wonderful thing, but we should be no means make it our practice to sit idly by and wait for such things to happen. First of all, we can make believers worldwide aware of such opportunities. We need to be on the lookout for opportunities to meet and bless the immigrants among us. This should be a challenge to all believers, regardless of the country in which you live. Secondly, we can do a few things to proactively reach out to these unreached people groups.

Radio is one of those ways to proactively reach the unreached people groups. Just like the other methods, God is using Christian radio broadcasts to reach completely unreached people groups. According to Operation World, 99% of earth's population is accessible by radio. (Johnstone and Mandryk, 2006 printing, pg 7) (The Jesus Film is the only other medium of communication that can match that ability, if it was taken to all the people.)  Print, TV, and internet don't have as broad a reach as radio. Even though most Westerners haven't put much emphasis on radio since we started watching TV, we have to realize that radio is still king for billions of people around the world. It is possible to broadcast Biblical messages all over the world in the primary languages of the unreached people groups. If you take a look at Joshua Project's website, you'll notice that not every unreached people group has its own language. They often share a primary language with multiple different people groups. As long as there are brothers and sisters who speak that language, they can send a message over the radio waves to share the good news of Jesus into completely unreached people groups. Gospel for Asia, one of the largest Gospel radio broadcasters has received reports of churches being planted in towns and villages where a Christian missionary has not even visited. They were simple people that listened to the message with an open heart and responded. They began to meet together, pray, and do church.

God is using and will continue to use the above mentioned methods to reach the people groups which have no Christians. Yet despite all of these methods, Guthrie and other missiologists often say that they will remain unreached. He also jumps to the conclusion that Western missionaries are still needed for the task of reaching those groups with no Christians. Why do we have to send Christians from the West? Aren't there other Christians nearby? There may not be other Christians from the same people group, but aren't there Christians from a similar people group nearby who can be missionaries to the unreached people group? Or perhaps there are missionaries from the same country who can reach them, even if it's a different culture. I don't understand why one needs to jump to the conclusion that the only solution is to send good ole boys from America. That's tantamount to me needing some salt and the 7Eleven next door is all out, but instead of going to the grocery store half a mile away, I decide to order some fancy salt from Israel. It takes weeks for it to get here and it costs ten times as much because of the shipping, handling, and fancy packaging. It doesn't make any sense.

When there is a people groups that doesn't have any native missionaries to be trained and sent, we should seek to send the nearest available missionaries. When I say 'nearest', I am speaking of both physical proximity as well as cultural identity. These are usually going to be national missionaries. National missionaries are those who are reaching out to their own countrymen, whether from the same ethnicity or different. By financially and prayerfully supporting these brothers, we can empower them to reach the completely unreached people groups around them. These national missionaries are going to have the biggest part in reaching those 4,000 sociolinguistic people groups mentioned by Guthrie.

Guthrie also mentions that "there is more than enough work for everyone."  While this is true, we also have to recognize the fact that right now there is not enough funds available for all who wish to be missionaries.  If every faithful missionary was able to be fully supported, then fine, let's send everyone willing.  However, as best I can tell, finances are the limiting reactant right now when it comes to missions.  With such financial constraints, we have to be faithful to God and make the responsible decisions of who to support.  Should we support one American missionary family or 35 national missionaries who have less barriers?  Native missionary agencies have identified literally tens of thousands of native missionaries who can be sent ASAP.  Let's support them.

In conclusion, all people groups of the world can and will be reached with the message of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 24:14) If there are any Christians within a people group, they can be the spark that ignites a firestorm of worship towards the one true God. If there are people groups without any Christians, some of them will be reached through dreams and visions. Some will be reached as a result of normal human interactions and migrations. Others will be reached by more deliberate actions, such as radio broadcasts or the work of national missionaries. Some will even be reached by Western missionaries, but that will often be the exception.

October 27, 2011

What's the Biggest Problem in the World?

From the Christian perspective, what do you think is the biggest problem in the world? Here's a list of some big problems. Am I missing anything? 

Worldwide, there are currently:

300,000 child soldiers
1.25 million who die each year from malaria
2 million child prostitutes
6 million children in slave labor
8 million who die each year from hunger or hunger-related problems
40 million people with AIDS
165 million child laborers
210 million orphans
250 million children without access to school
1 billion people without access to clean drinking water
1.4 billion living below the poverty line
1.6 billion unevangelized (never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ)
2.7 billion unreached (live among people who rarely if ever hear the Gospel)
5 billion not saved (Just a guess. Only God knows who's written in the Book of Life)

I think the numbers are pretty clear.

Strive to look beyond the physical problems of the world to also consider the spiritual problems of the world.

October 20, 2011

Does Financial Support for Native Missionaries Lead to Laziness?

A few years ago, a pastor from Australia was visiting our house. We got to talking about missions. I began to tell him about what I do to support native missionaries. He began to tell me of a ministry that he knew that supported native pastors in China. He mentioned how as they increased their funding for the Chinese mission efforts, the more stagnant they became. Giving money to the Chinese missionaries didn't help them spread the Gospel more. Instead, they became satisfied and just sat on the money. They became lazy like Jabba the Hut.  I don't know all the circumstances with that particular ministry. I don't think this Australian pastor did either. However, as I look back on the discussion, I think he was using this as evidence to support his belief that it's not usually a good idea to support native missionaries. He's not alone. Many in the mission world have similar views.

If I was in the situation again, I would have told him to not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Just supporting native mission work at random and not having a set of standards can absolutely be harmful. If you just throw money at the situation, that's never going to work. I'm not surprised that the Chinese ministry slowed down. It certainly happens. However, let's not generalize an area of missions, namely supporting native missionaries, as a pass or fail. If done the wrong way and if God's not in it, it will fail. If done the right way and God is in it, it will pass with flying colors. Like I've spoken about before, if you have certain standards in place, there is a very good chance that supporting native missionaries will work.

Here are the standards you need when supporting native missionaries in third world countries: 1) make sure the missionary candidates are passionate and called by God to reach their own people 2) give them training that reflects the hardships of the mission field, so they know what to expect 3) pay them only an average income compared to the people of the area (plus necessary ministry expenses) 4) have them go self-supporting once enough churches have been planted 5) have a system of accountability in place so there is some semblance of a spiritual authority over them for guidance and counseling and to ensure they don't just go out and become lazy. If you have those standards in place, I think native missionary efforts will be very healthy and growth will increase, not decrease.

October 15, 2011

2 Opinions of National Workers

 A few years ago, I was attending a mission conference in the Los Angeles area. In one of the smaller sessions, a group of us began to discuss and debate one of the most important topics in missions today, 'foreign missionary vs national missionary'. A number of folks there were likely foreign missionaries themselves and it seemed that the majority of the people in the room seemed to favor sending foreign missionaries. 4 or 5 people spoke up and gave their 2 cents about their take on the subject, and I, of course, did what I could to give a voice to the voiceless in the room (the national missionaries who do about 90% of all pioneer evangelism). From there, the debate turned heated and we ended up hurling random pens and staplers at one another. Just kidding. The discussion lasted a brief time, but was healthy and done in good will.

During my drive home, I reflected on the issues raised and the problems that some of them had with supporting national missionaries. I then realized that some of us in the room were speaking past one another to some degree, like two ships sailing by one another in the night.  While I was focused on supporting national missionaries in a format similar to Gospel for Asia, where they require financing at first, but go self-supporting once they have planted a few churches, they were thinking about national pastors who are often hired to take over churches that have been planted by foreign missionaries. In many cases, these national pastors will never go self-supporting. They simply maintain the ministry and activities that were active while the foreign missionaries were there. This just goes to prove that our opinions are shaped by our experiences. In regards to mission work, the opinions of the national workers is largely going to be defined by one's prior experiences with them. This results in some positive opinions of the national wokers and some negative opinions of the national workers.

In Reformation in Foreign Missions, Bob Finley describes how simply hiring national pastors can be a problem area. The reason it can often become a problem is because the foreign missionaries have first come and established a church that is highly Westernized. It has all the bells and whistles of a church one might see in the heartland of America. There will be pews, a pipe organ, nice dress, a stage, a foyer, a steeple, offering plates, communion paraphinalia, programs and classes for each age group, etc. When the foreign missionaries prepare to leave, they select a local believer to take over the ministry. Here's the problem: that new pastor is now expected to continue an elaborate ministry that cannot possibly be kept alive on the meager earnings of the local believers. In order to maintain all the bells and whistles and continue doing ministry in the same manner as the wealthy foreign missionaries, the church will forever be dependent upon the foreigners who have all the money. (This is a reason missionaries are now beginning to understand that the form of Christianity that should be brought to a new people, should be stripped of all excessive cultural traditions, so that the pure gospel can spread unhindered in a way that can be multiplied many times over.)

There can also be instances where the national pastors are just not the right caliber. They don't have the will to plant new churches. They don't want to go self-supporting, because quite frankly, it's easier to rely on support from the wealthy Americans. They've been receiving a very generous pay and for them to rely on the tithes of the locals would be a drastic decline in their income.  In this case, I would argue that the mistake was made in the beginning when the foreign missionaries selected a national who was not up for the challenge.

So as you can see, a situation like this can get quite messy. Just hiring the local pastors can be a problematic area. So, if someone's experience with national workers is similar to these circumstances, it's obvious to see why the opinions of supporting national workers will be negative.

However, there is another method of supporting national workers. Gospel forAsia and Empart are two of the best examples of this form of missions. They support national missionaries, not national pastors. From the very beginning, the nationals are expected to go out and plant churches and go self-supporting. They are interviewed, vetted, trained, and sent out. The ministry leaders make sure the trainees are individuals desiring to reach their own people. During the whole process, the nationals are made aware that they will be going out to plant churches and go self-supporting. In these situations, there are no cumbersome bells, whistles, and cultural traditions that the national missionaries will have to carry with them to each church they plant. They don't even have to build a church building for each church they plant. They stick to the basics that can be multiplied everywhere – Bible, prayer, worship, outreach. It's often as simple as that. And you know what, when missionaries start out on this path, there is little resistance when the time comes for them to go self-supporting. It was expected of them all along and they did it. This is how agencies like Gospel for Asia and Empart operate.

Unlike those who have the experience of supporting national pastors indefinitely, those who have the experience of supporting national missionaries for a temporary time, generally have a very favorable opinion of it. Thus, there is going to be a discrepency in opinions when it comes to supporting national workers. The method you are familiar with will often dictate your opinion. This is why I have learned that when speaking on the subject of supporting nationals, it is very important to define precisely what method is being used and what are the parameters of the ministry.

This topic is discussed on pages 14 and 15 of Missions in the Third Millenium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century by Stan Guthrie.

October 10, 2011

Get the Big Picture of the World Harvest

On page 14 of Missions in the Third millennium by Stan Guthrie in a chapter about national workers, he is quoting Lewis Codington of CLC International to point out a problem of national workers.
"For one thing, local workers have a different perspective. 'The most serious problem we encounter is a lack of world vision ... When people are going back and forth to work in their own country and their entire world consists of what they see on their trip back and forth to work, they can lose sight of the bigger picture, and we find that there is a lack of awareness of the world harvest, which foreign missionaries tend to see much more clearly.'"
I'm glad this point was brought up, because it is a very valid point. Unfortunately, most Christians, even those involved in ministry, do lack a horizon that gives them an understanding of God's global plan. Let's say there is a pastor of a church in south India and he notices that only about half of his congregants have a Bible of their own. He may want to request more Bibles for them, because he sees the need. However, little does he know, there's a similar church in China that only has 3 Bibles for all 100 congregants. This pastor also requests the extra Bibles. Who do you think the Bibles should go to? Now, the pastor in south India was only doing what he knew was right, because all he knew was that in the area he was ministering, he saw a need. Hopefully, if he was told about the need in China, he would gracefully revoke his request, because his horizon would be expanded.
It would be a wonderful world if when Christians are made aware of all the needs in the world, they are willing to adjust their own needs to meet the biggest needs worldwide. 2 Corinthians 8:14 "At the present time your plenty will supply what they need so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality." Also, Acts 4:35 "and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need." This concept doesn't only apply to money distribution, but worker distribution.
I recently heard an American missionary report to his home church about his work in Tanzania. I would say that he did a good job of doing research ahead of time and finding an unreached area. He proceeded to reach out in that area and plant a small church there. Wonderful. Now he has his eye set on a few surrounding villages. Good as well. But then, he was asking at his home church that if anyone was wanting to get involved in missions, this is a great opportunity to come to the mission field and help reach out to these other villages. Problem. First of all, he should be making disciples of the new converts. Perhaps some of them could be trained to go as missionaries. Or, he could hook up with other ministries in the area that have national missionaries ready to go reach them. But even if those options weren't available, the missionary recruit from the home church probably shouldn't pack up and move to Africa. Chances are, there's a more needy location elsewhere in the world where the missionary recruit could go. In Tanzania the ratio for the original missionary to unreached villages would be 1 missionary for 3 unreached villages. That's not a bad ratio.  Perhaps it could be a good training ground for the missionary recruit, but for the long term, the new recruit would be better off going to a place where there's 20 unreached villages he can reach out to. Although, again, in that situation, you need to assess to see if there are national believers that can reach out to them.
Ayy, missions can get a little complicated and formulaic can't it?
One last good point I wanted to bring up was a story I heard of an American woman who is in Nigeria, not as a missionary, but as a teacher of the Perspectives course. Nigeria has a strong Christian population with the ability to do great things in the Great Commission. So, she's over there teaching leaders and missionaries to have a better perspective on God's global plan. After the course, they will surely have a better world vision if they didn't already have it. They will be more ready than ever to reach out to the Muslim tribes of northern Nigeria and nearby lands as well.
If you are involved in missions or even ministry in any capacity, please, take the horse blinders off.