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.

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