For many years, churches have sent out missionaries to bring the Gospel to people living in spiritual darkness. The sending churches have nurtured, loved, and "adopted" their missionaries. The apostle Paul was often encouraged and supported by a sending Church. The heart of God seeks to bless His people, yet He also wants to reach out to those who are not yet His people.
There is now in America a great groundswell on the part of God's people to go one step beyond that 'missionary mindedness' to being truly "mission minded."
A mission minded church is concerned not only with the missionary involved, but with the larger goal of fulfilling the Commission to take the Gospel to all nations.
Channels are now beginning to open for local churches to actually "adopt" a Hidden People group, working through a mission agency to win a culture for Christ.
This bold new concept was discussed at the Congress on World Evangelism in Pattaya, Thailand, and the Strategy Working Group of the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization.
Linking mission agencies and local churches in frontier outreach was already established as a goal of the USCWM'S "Year of Vision" program. The "Adopt A Hidden People" program will be further discussed at the World Consultation on Frontier Missions in Edinburgh.
Although this program is still in its formative stages of development, we at the USCWM believe that having local churches pledge finances and personnel for specific cultural groups is the kind of thrust that will bring into reality the vision of reaching 16,750 Hidden People groups by the year 2000.
The 'Adopt A People" proposal can be likened to a family adopting a child. For an orphan to be assured of a secure home, parents considering adoption must be willing to care for, take responsibility for, and love the prospective child.
In turn, some information about the baby's parentage, background, and health must be made available. Then the adoption agency brings the two parties together, acting for a time as a resource for the newlyformed family.
Hidden people are like spiritual orphans. Local churches, with their wealth of spiritual and material resources, are the best qualified to take responsibility for carrying the Gospel to these orphans. Mission agencies can provide the experience and personnel training necessary for cross cultural ministry.
The local church and the mission agency are like a "marriage" of prospective parents who can adopt a Hidden People group.
The United States Center for World Mission can act as one of the clearinghouses to help match the people groups and local churches with the most appropriate mission agency.
Three crucial steps are necessary to bring about a successful adoption:
Validation of the people group An accurate pool of information is necessary for a task of this kind. Such a data base depends on sophisticated information systems that are already in place in various organizations today. The data must then be made available to other agencies for collation.
Information has already been cross indexed at the USCWM from the Unreached Peoples files of MARC (3,000 people groups), the Ethnologue of Wyciffe (10,000 languages and dialects) , and the Language List of Gospel Recordings (4,070 languages and dialects).
Then, appropriate strategies for evangelism can be designed by the Institute of Chinese Studies, Institute of Hindu Studies, Institute of Tribal Studies, and the Samuel Zwemer Institute, all located at the United States Center for World Mission.
With the compilation of information and development of strategy, there must be an assessment of priority of need, and evaluation of the relative receptivity of each people group.
Agency decision to initiate action At some point in this process, the mission agency enters the picture. The agency must be fully informed concerning potential strategies and required resources (budgets, personnel, support services) necessary to initiate action. Then, the agency would screen and select candidates.
It is encouraging that churches are increasingly willing to take on more responsibility in the recruiting and nurturing on potential candidates. Potential candidates are being prepared by the Institute for International Studies at the USCWM which provides accredited perspective¬building courses for college students.
The agency would then alert its churches and constituency about the Hidden People project. The USCWM would assist in this peomotion, make initial contact with churches, and serve as facilitator for the adoption process.
The agency world naturally make a commitment to supporting churches, groups, and individuals, providing regular reports and enabling them to follow the progress made in penetrating the Hidden People. The agency's decision to initiate action will assure churches of its willingness to move into new fields as soon as sufficient funds and personnel are pledged.
- Church adoption of the Hidden People. The local congregation's adoption of a Hidden People would involve long range concern, including prayer, information, research, awareness, love, financial contribution, provision of personnel, etc. The USCWM has developed a 'Year of Vision" program (see September 1980 of Mission Frontiers) involving a variety of pioneer missions renewal resources and awareness seminars to help educate the church and to help lay the groundwork necessary for intelligent involvement in reaching a Hidden People. Films, books, periodicals, and other materials from individual agencies would also contribute to a church's informed participation.Churches could select and back specific Hidden People projects according to agency, or according to their interest in a particular cultural bloc.
Adoption would probably need to be on a partnership or "shared" basis because of the costs involved. That is, each participating church could assume one or more $1,000 yearly shares in the total projected cost for reaching the Hidden People. A church would make a 5 year faith commitment to stand behind the mission agency's faith initiative.
Even if the missionary couple(s) or team involved were to change, the church's adoption of the unreached people would be secure. Progress reports, training, field visits, etc. would fuel prayer, concern and awareness.
Results could be monitored and reported. An adequate monitoring and reporting mechanism is being developed by the Strategy Division of the USCWM in consultation with MARC, the Strategy Working Group, and others.
Such a plan can actually provide a conceptual and practical framework for the great task of reaching the Hidden People with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is exciting to think that God may use one particular local church (maybe yours!) to help bring the Gospel to a particular Hidden People!
As more and more churches catch the vision of fulfilling God's Commission, there will be fewer and fewer Hidden People groups!
There is a Light at the end of the tunnel.