Every year a good friend comes to my city to stay a few days while he is teaching in the Perspectives course. I have known him since 1999 when I first joined COMIMEX, the missionary cooperation of Mexico. His name is Jim and he has been the president of COMIMEX as well as the head of the Adopt A People campaign in Mexico. His main contribution to the missionary movement is a course called “Your Church Can Change the World.” (Tu Iglesia Puede Cambiar El Mundo). The course has been taught in hundreds of churches all over Latin America and I believe now in some parts of the world as it has been translated into English. Download it here.
The most important aspect of the course (other than it is a great introductory course on missions) is that you do not need training to teach it. Jim designed it so that you could literally find a copy laying on the street and be teaching it in your Sunday school class the next day. Its simple and this is why it has had so much impact. I remember when people were trying to get him to copyright it and he refused so that it would have more reach. Originally you had to have taken the course and be trained to teach it but he says this did not work well. So he redesigned it to be free and with no requirements. You can even take the COMIMEX logo off and put yours in its place. The course can be taught in a few days. Its purpose is to get the local church warmed up to the idea of sending missionaries to unreached people groups.
My friend and I have developed an unusual relationship over the years. When we get together we always talk about how to save the world. In the past, every time Jim and I got together we would bring large notebooks with the latest articles and clipping about reaching the world, collaboration and UPG’s. We had our own private two-man think tank. For an hour or two we would pretend to be the heads of strategy coordination for the world missionary movement and would go to task on solving problems. As soon as we met together we made copies of the articles the other did not have so that both notebooks were complete.
Yesterday I asked Jim if he brought his notebook, and he said “Neah I don’t think we need them anymore. We’ve done enough theorizing, its time to get to work”. So I guess what he was saying is that after all these years we had finally matured in our thinking and knew what problems needed to be solved. We had also come to a place, at least in our own minds, where we were ready to do the work. So at last we feel we know where we stand on the issues. After all we have been pondering the ideas of some pretty good missiologists for several years. So as much as I will miss the times with our notebooks, I feel its time to go it alone with out our crutch of what other missiologists are thinking on the subject. You don’t find too many articles on unreached peoples and finishing global evangelism anyway.
Have Strategic Coordination Over Coffee
So we had dinner and then took our positions in the living room and began our usual conversation. We talked about the missionary movement and mobilization a little. Then Jim told me of an example of where he is helping a pastor of a 30 church movement in Mexico City. He met with the head of the movement for coffee to warm him up to the idea of unreached peoples. He said that this small denomination is teaching the course in their churches and that he (Jim) wants to nudge them to start a project by helping them pick an unreached people group. He said they can name the project what they want.
We were closing in on a new idea and then it started to happen. Once you get down to making decisions or completing work, a dark spiritual cloud floats gently down over your head and some how it’s meeting over, its break time, the subject is changed, the distractions takes us away. But last night, we pressed through and focused on the new ideas.
Jim also had the idea to create a list of all the small denominations and visit them for coffee. I recently read that there are about 47,000 denominations worldwide. That is a good idea. Jim is no longer the head of adopt a people campaign in Mexico but doesn’t need to be to go do the work. There aren’t any mobilization police that I know of.
The courses are taught in as many churches as possible and you then you need to get a consensus of where they want to go. I call this the filter. You could send out a little survey to the churches that took the course. But everyone interested has to go through the filter, (filtro in Spanish). You could also get a consensus by simply asking people to raise their hand. It doesn’t matter. There are no hard rules. Just get them into the filter.
The top of the filter says, choose a religion. Next it says choose a country. Then you choose a people group. Next is a very important key, get training. The last part says IR, which means going to the people group. So at last you come out of the filter on the ground in an unreached people group.
The filter is not a new idea. The idea that everyone gets into the filter is a new idea. I have recently been asked to be the director of the adopt a people campaign in Latin America. I told them yes as long as I was allowed to bring new ideas. In Latin America they call it Alcance Una Etnia which means Reach A People Group. The decision to change from adopt to reach was made a long time ago. I am glad they did. I think the reach a people value should permeate all mobilization and not be a program with a set of steps.
Everyone has to pass through the filter, be they large mission agencies, denominations or individuals, everyone jumps in. It would be good if the filter become as well know as the 10/40 window and unreached people groups. You jump in with faith and begin falling into a process that will take you on a long ride down until you are finally on the ground making disciples in a people group (ethnê).
For those readers that don’t know, “Eth-nê is the Greek word Jesus used for “nation”—a word which means tribe, ethnic group or people. Our world today has 6.4 billion individuals living in 234 geo-political nations but over 16,000 ethnê, or people groups, by country. Of those ethnê, more than 6,900 groups remain least-reached. This simply means they are a people group lacking an indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize their own people group. This means 1 in 4 people still remain without reasonable access to the gospel—the Forgotten One Fourth World.” Taken from the Ethne to Ethne website.
As Jim and I talked on into the night, we refined the strategy. We need keep mobilizing or what ever you call it; intentionally, gradually nudging people toward an unreached people group. After all, they call it Reach A People. You, reach A people. One. You personally take responsibility to reach the one. So its not so much a program as it is a core value that needs to be discipled into everyone in mobilization and the missionary movement. We also need to nudge the candidates toward specialized training. Reaching an unreached people group will in almost all cases require language learning and translating scriptures be it audio or what ever.
As we nudge them, we need be there to answer questions and serve. How are we going to do that? This might be where the adopt a people national coordinator comes in. I am not too fond of the idea of having national coordinators, but I’ll roll with it. Actually he or she need to disciple many others to mobilize. The fact that we have a national coordinator may take away the initiative for others to do the work. Everyone in missionary mobilization needs to be looking for candidates and discipling them toward the mission field. So we need to work together and as much as possible mesh the projects Alcance Una Etnia and Tu Iglesia Puede Cambiar El Mundo Entero. If you happen to work with a movement of churches, do a little survey at the end of your courses and ask the people to jump into a filter. This will help them pick a people group to go to. When I think about this I am always imagining the person in the church who picks the people group. After all they are the one who has to go. Churches don’t reach people groups, missionaries do.
We need to be thinking that someone somewhere needs to raise their hand and say, “We’ll I guess I’ll go if no one else will.”
Small People Group Focus
The unhighlighted and unclassified people groups are the smallest people groups. They are under 25,000 in population. This is another concept I would like to interject into the new adopt a people campaign. Everyone picks a small people group to reach. The smaller the better.
We also must pick the people groups with no access. No access is the heart of the unreached people movement. Unreached, no access call it what you want. The Hebrew word for nations is goyyim, or “heathen” and carries with it a religious connotation rather than political connotation. People that are not reached are separated spiritually from God. They are far from God. Sin has removed them from God. Once you jump over the hurdle of geography, politics, caste, worldview and language, you will still need to lead them back to the Father. You, the missionary can be communicating perfectly in the context of the people and all that and still not get them saved.
Paul Eshelman and the Finishing the Task movement call these UUPG’s; unreached and unengaged people groups. No one is getting them saved. No one is even working among them. They have no access, or no way back to the Father. They just don’t know about Jesus. They probably don’t even know a Christian. So Paul is right. We can no longer send missionaries into people groups that have anything at all going on. The smaller the people group, the less likely that there is anything going on.
If you query the major world people databases, 5,800 of the estimated 10,000 known people groups (across country) are under 25,000 in population. What is more astonishing is that 3,700 of the worlds people groups are under 5,000 in population. One third of all people groups world wide are under 5,000 in people population. This might not be the best time to be promoting people clusters. It’s time to be going into smaller people groups. They might seem small by human standards. You put 5,000 world leaders into a room in Cape Town and it’s called the largest gathering of mission leaders in the history of Christianity. These 3,700 people groups under 5,000 in population in the world people list have been forgotten because of their population.
Jesus had the kind of heart that would leave all his sheep in open danger to go look for one that had strayed. I think we need to be highlighting these small groups. I remember once when Duane F. and I were working on Etnopedia and came to a people profile with one person in Brazil. Population 1. We made the profile. The people in the mobilization need to have a clear vision for no access unreached peoples, no matter their size. These are people, or in this case a person. What if you were that person in Brazil? Call them people groups or any host of other fancy terms. They are people, in need of Christ, without hope in this world. The little missionary candidate who is contemplating going to them is their only hope. Below is an illustration to help understand more clearly no access people groups. Their percentage of Christians is zero, nada, nothing. Should we send missionaries to low percentage groups when there are thousands of groups who haven’t had their first opportunity to hear?
Some movements or campaigns have steered us away from the small groups with the idea that we are saving more souls in large populations. This has some truth to it but, the larger groups are more likely to have something going on, we just don’t know it. The data may show that a group over 1,000,000 for example has nothing going on. It may not. However it is more unlikely that the large group has nothing, especially those groups that have been highlighted and promoted and profiled for years. It is quite possible that can actually reach more souls (or prevent millions of souls from perishing) by bringing the end more quickly.
1 Corinthians 15 New International Version (NIV) 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
If you want to eliviate human suffering, the more quickly we bring an end to this age by reaching all the ethnê, the fewer people will suffer injustice, be sold into slavery, kill their parents to become child soldiers, die in tsunamis, fall pray to the snares of Islam etc, etc. Someone said that I don’t care about disaster relief. I do care. I care more than anyone I know. I want Jesus to come back and put the real enemy under His feet, the enemy death. Death is our real enemy here. The more quickly Jesus comes the fewer people will suffer death from disasters. Missiology has to take into consideration small people groups in all areas of strategic planning. They are the majority. Eventually someone needs to take the Gospel to them.
Pray, Choose, Go
We need to change the way we think about prayer in the adopt a people movement. Many years ago, a man came to preach in chapel at our college. He had a jacket made out of a world map. You may know who I’m talking about. He said, “Don’t ever pray a prayer you are not willing to fulfill yourself.” Those words sunk straight down into my heart. They remain there today. Thousands and thousands of hours of prayer have gone up to heaven on behalf of the unreached peoples, even specific unreached peoples who are still in complete darkness. I will not presume to judge why this is. All I know is that they are still unreached. Is God hearing these prayers? Is he honoring them? I don’t know. But I do know that I want to change what we pray for in the adopt a people campaign. People are still going to pray for the unreached peoples and not do any more about it. To me it is obvious that every Christian should be praying for them, intently and specifically. Every Christian should not have to be told that this is a part of our normal Christian lives. We shouldn’t need a prayer plan or an app to remind us to pray for unreached peoples. What we need is a monthly World Go Digest.
So something must change. In the new adopt a people campaign in Latin America, if you are going to pray, you are going to go. This is not a new idea. Does anyone remember Keith Green? If you pray, you pray to choose your people group you are going to. The catch phrase is, Pray, Choose, Go. You shouldn’t even get involved in the prayer plan if you do not intend to go. If you pray with no intention of going, you are gaining more knowledge of unreached peoples that you might have to give an account for one day. What I just wrote above has gotten me into trouble these past few years but strangely it resonates with they young people.
I also feel that we need to point the adopt a people campaign toward a much younger audience. They are the ones that have time to prepare for mission work. I try to spend as much time with young people and I get the sense that they want to hear this. See Discipling Young Leaders. Young people do not want to hear that they have three options in missions, pray, or give, or go. What ever happened to the concept of obligation in mission? They want to hear someone tell them GO, just like Jesus told the disciples to go. We usually take Matthew 28 as a command. So lets command people go GO in the name of Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV) We have forgotten that we as Christians are allowed to rebuke along scriptural lines. Definition: re·buke/ri’byo?ok/ Verb: Express sharp disapproval or criticism of (someone) because of their behavior or actions.
Prayer is the absolute easiest thing you can do for an unreached people group. It is a little harder to give a percentage of your salary toward missions or support a missionary monthly. I wonder about all the prayer going up for unreached peoples? Again, Is God hearing us? Or is He honoring our prayers? God loves a cheerful giver and a goful prayer. Ralph Winter was right 30 years ago. “Mission means a change of geography.” If the Christian movement had just extended into the unreached parts of the world and then made disciples, we might not be in the crisis we are in today loosing the battle against the expansion of Islam and world population explosion. Adopt a people cannot mean sending missionary candidates into the masses to evangelize. This will not bring the return of Christ. We must go into the ethnê. Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations (ethnê), and then the end will come.
Squabble over my missiology if you want. Think of the dark unreacehd areas of the world where they have never had the chance to hear of Jesus even for the first time, I think God’s heart goes out to them, even more than those stricken with poverty, more than those who are mass murdered by corrupt governments, more than those hit by tsunamis and earthquakes. At least those have had a chance to hear. The best thing we can do to alleviate and end all the suffering and injustice in the world is go into all the ethnê making disciples as fast as we can. The more quickly He returns the fewer people will be born into darkness and parish.
When you adopt a child, you don’t leave them behind the glass at the adoption agency and go home and pray for them. You don’t send money to the agency to pay for milk. You don’t pray that the agency takes care of the baby you adopted? You take the child home and raise him and help him become a reproducing responsible adult. You don’t leave him to his own way after four or five years. You stay with him as long as it takes to see him become a mature self-sufficient adult. That’s adoption. The Old Testament considers adoption a more serious commitment than fathers have to their natural sons. Maybe there are some pastors reading this that adopted a people group a long time ago and never followed through. It’s never too late to get started.
We need to mobilize people, helping them pass through some kind of filter where by they pray to choose a small people group to go to. Then they need to be intentionally nudged toward highly specialized training; Bible translation. Call it old fashioned but Bible translation gives the people group what they deserve, the Word of God in their language. It forces the missionary to learn the language and get involved in the development of discipleship materials. It keeps the missionary on the field LONG term. And according to the data, it almost always results in establishing stronger church movement. Missionaries are coming home, not because of lack of finances, but because they did not have the training to make an impact. Finally the missionary needs to make disciples in those unreached – no access people groups. Regardless of what we do, there will be many others who will go into the masses, or into low access peoples, reaching a temporal need in areas that already have workers. So what will it hurt if we nudge as many as we can in the other direction?
By David M.
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