How Can All Peoples Be Reached By The Year 2000?
Excerpted from an Address to the International Society for Frontier Missiology Kansas City, Missouri, Sept 17-19, 1992
This year we celebrated the bicentenary of William Carey who is known as the father of modern day missions. Carey arrived in India in 1792. One hundred years later A.T. Pierson made the statement: "At this centenary of William Carey; God's signals flash like lightning and boom like thunder around the sky. By every mightiest argument and most persuasive appeal; by every motive drawn from a world's need and our opportunity; by every open door and loud cry; by every Scripture prophecy and promise, and by every unfolding of Providence, Christ is just now saying to His Church, 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.'"At the bicentenary of William Carey we can readily say "A Church for Every People and the Gospel for Every Person by the Year 2000." And borrowing from D.L. Moody--who believed the world could be evangelized by the year 1900--we might add, "it can be done, it ought to be done, it must be done."
Perhaps, this has never been quite so clear to me as when standing one month ago amidst more than 12,000 black African ministers of the gospel from more than 2150 African denominations and forty five countries. With hands raised toward heaven they were all praying aloud together.
I. For all peoples to be reached by the year 2000, the biblical priority needs to be affirmed in the mission agencies and among the local churches around the world.
A. Explanation: The highest priority in missions today is not only cross-cultural evangelism but cross-cultural evangelism to the unreached. Let me repeat that. The highest priority in missions today is not only cross- cultural evangelism but cross-cultural evangelism to the unreached. Today's biggest challenge is to reach the unreached. The single most important task is to see that a viable indigenous church be established within each ethno-linguistic group of people.
B. Biblical Evidence: "A world having turned from God," Graham Scroggie wrote in his book The Drama of World Redemption, "He left it and chose a Man through whom He would ultimately by Christ reach the lost." That man was Abraham. The first major act of God following the formation of the different ethno-linguistic peoples and the scattering of the human families of the earth by language groups was the divinely initiated missions mandate for blessing to be experienced among each of these families. The Call of Abraham in Genesis 12 was with the promise of being a blessing to all the families of the earth. As the father of God's people--including Israel and all who believed--you and I as believers were in Abraham and called to be a blessing. Dr. Bruce Waltke, who co-authored the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, assured me that from his perspective both the Old Testament and the New Testament missions mandate have an ethno- linguistic people group focus.
Jesus instructed his followers to disciple panta ta ethne, all the nations, all the ethno-linguistic or people groups. In Matthew 24, the disciples ask Jesus how to recognize the time of His coming and the end of the age. Jesus described to them some of the signs of the end time. He said there would be noise of battles, famines, earthquakes as well as strong persecution among those who follow Him. But then Jesus becomes more specific concerning His return when He says in verse 14, "And this good news about the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a testimony to all peoples and then the end will come."
You can trace the thread of the concept of nations or people groups through the Scriptures all the way to Revelation, the last book in the Bible. They will be there from all languages and peoples. God's eternal concern for the unreached peoples is clearly expressed in: Rev. 7:9 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 in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. Rev. 5:9 And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation."
These unreached peoples have been called by such different labels as hidden peoples, frontier peoples, by-passed peoples, unpenetrated peoples, or unreached peoples, but they represent the target peoples in God's plan.
II. For all peoples to be reached by the year 2000, the reasons for progress towards the goal need to be understood and the do-ability of the task affirmed.
In a survey of Christian leaders around the world, in preparation for the upcoming Global Consultation on World Evangelization by the Year 2000 and Beyond, the question was asked, "How do you know that the world has been reached?" The vast majority of the 1100 respondents from 60 countries said "a viable church among every unreached people group in the world."
There is a growing conviction of the do-ability of the task. Never in the history of the church has the completion of the Great Commission been as feasible as it is today. The number of Great Commission Christians is proportionately higher than ever, and the church is more international than ever, the resources available to us are greater than ever, and our understanding of the task before us is clearer than ever. We no longer talk of 2.4 billion unreached individuals, we now talk of a few thousand unreached people groups.
When Donald McGavran reviewed the responsiveness of the people movements in the Punjab with Fred and Margaret Stock, who wrote the book by that name, he developed the need to focus on people groups in his book The Bridges of God. Simultaneously in Guatemala, Cameron Townsend was confronted by the Indian who said, "If your God is so great why can't he speak my language?" Consequently, Wycliffe Bible Translators was started to translate the Word of God in the language of each people.
A watershed in the concept of unreached people groups was at Lausanne I in 1974 when Ralph Winter spoke on the subject of cross-cultural evangelism. Very casually he said "...there are still 2.4 billion people beyond the range of present efforts of any existing church or mission." At the closing session of the 1974 gathering--which Time Magazine called the most formidable forum of Christians ever to gather together--Billy Graham picked up on Ralph's concern when he said, "It is not enough that we witness to our near neighbors, we must cross cultural and linguistic barriers with the Gospel."
All these years the U.S. Center for World Mission has maintained a consistent focus on the unreached peoples, which has significantly influenced the way we look at missions. In his capacity as Chairman of the Strategy Working Group of Lausanne and Director of MARC of World Vision, Ed Dayton continued a strong emphasis on the unreached peoples, incorporating practical strategies in the book Planning Strategies for World Evangelization. David Barrett has contributed significantly with his strong emphasis on the unreached peoples and the least evangelized world. John Robb has traveled extensively throughout the world--giving seminars on unreached peoples. Frank Kaleb Jansen has poured his heart into the Unreached Peoples Map, and so many others have made enormous contributions.
Jack Frizen is finishing up 28 years as the Executive Director of IFMA--an association of North American mission agencies. When he was asked to identify the most significant trend in missions during the last twenty years for the Evangelical Missions Quarterly on its twentieth anniversary, he answered, "My choice is the renewed focus on unreached people groups and penetrating the frontiers still remaining."
There has been some shift within mission agencies to allot more
personnel to unreached areas, while at the same time there have been new agencies formed with a major focus on reaching the unreached.
In their longest article ever devoted to the missionary effort, with a pioneer missionary on the cover, TIME Magazine wrote, "The most important change in Protestant missionary strategy in the past ten years has been to identify and seek to contact some 16,000 tribes and social groups around the world that have been beyond the reach of the Gospel." The Adopt-a-People Clearinghouse was established in March 1989 on the campus of William Carey International University in a gathering of leaders of 48 mission agencies who recognized the need for an independent clearinghouse that would have an exclusive focus on the unreached peoples. The Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse has continued to grow to 75 agencies today. Its commission is threefold: 1) to compile a global database of unreached peoples to track which peoples are unreached, 2) to collect and compile profiles on these peoples and 3) to act as a "marketing agent" on behalf of mission agencies for the unreached peoples.
After two years a list has been compiled of unreached peoples, clusters and ethno-linguistic blocs, as have other lists including a list of two thousand least evangelized peoples by David Barrett and Todd Johnson with Patrick Johnstone. Both Patrick Johnstone and Kaleb Jansen reckon that a high percentage of the larger blocs listed have significant church planting efforts among them. Kaleb suggests that this is as high 80%. We are beginning to have visibility within these groups of the church planting work that is being done among them.
The growth of two thirds world missions to some 50,000 cross-cultural missionaries today, with expectation of that number more than doubling by the year 2000 at the present rate of growth, is full of promise.
Agreement by many on a basic understanding of what an unreached people group is resulted from the work of a sizeable and representative group of people in 1982 who defined the concept of an unreached people group in these words, "A people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group without outside (cross-cultural) assistance."
All kinds of partnerships, cooperative ventures and alliances are taking shape around the world.
Major national initiatives toward the year 2000 continue to break forth. In at least 100 countries of the world today there are spiritual initiatives of Christian leaders in those countries toward the evangelization of their countries by the year 2000 and beyond. Even in a country like Bangladesh, with its great needs, the initiative of the Garos tribe alone has resulted in a church among all of the 20 indigenous unreached tribal peoples of Bangaldesh. The Garos are today almost 100% Christian, and I will never forget their commitment at the 100 year celebration, "A church among each of the peoples of Bangaldesh by the year 2000." And they are doing it.
III. For all peoples to be reached by the year 2000, we need to understand and face the obstacles to be overcome.
A. A disproportionately low percentage of the personnel and financial resources of the body of Christ are being channelled for frontier missions. In fact when you get to the core of the core of those who are both spiritually and materially the poorest of the poor, you find that 2.3 Billion people in 19 countries receive only 6% of the missionary force.
B. Mission agencies and local churches are still not clear on the facts, nor the implications of those facts. In responding to the draft list of 6000 unreached peoples or adoptable peoples published by the Adopt-a-People Clearinghouse, the General Director of one of large denominationally-based mission wrote, "We are working among 25 to 40 unreached people groups around the world. I say, '25 to 40' because one never quite knows if a certain group is classified as 'unreached' or not."
C. While some churches have responded to the challenge, many have not. David Smith, U.S. Director of Mobilization for WEC International, with its long record of missions to unreached peoples, wrote the following response to the list of 6000 unreached groups in a letter dated August 26, 1992, "In the years we have been involved, we have communicated with every church that has shown interest. We have aggressively communicated with them. We have had five that have really adopted… I hope other missions are having more success." Since 1989 only 100 unreached peoples have been adopted.
D. We who are in the data collection, analysis and dissemination process have sometimes confused those we wish to mobilize by the variety of models we have proposed for understanding the state of Christianity. For example, one researcher has given technical meanings to terms such as "Christian" and "evangelized" that run counter to the intuition of most practitioners.
We can all think of some people groups that need no cross-cultural assistance to evangelize their own people and thus are clearly reached. We also know other people groups that just as clearly require cross-cultural assistance and thus are unreached. And we all know yet other groups for which the need for cross-cultural assistance is uncertain and thus we find them difficult to classify.
The sheer number of people that call themselves Christian in a given people group can give a clue to whether a group is reached or not, but is by no means determinative. Dr. Paul Kauffman is an early Pentecostal missionary and the originator of the very fine periodical Asian Outreach. He has developed one of the best and most succinct answers to the question of "When is a people group reached?"
It is reached when the believers in that group have been sufficiently grounded in the Word of God that they can be identified as disciples of Jesus Christ, who will then begin to multiply themselves in their own people group and then into other groups--in obedience to Christ's commands.
Friends of the International Society for Frontier Missiology, here are some suggestions: 1. We must repent from all that has hindered the advance of the gospel to the unreached. 2. We must state clearly the definitions we are using to have a standard of accountabiltiy. 3. We must communicate with clarity in a user- friendly way to bring the light of understanding to the unfinished task. 4. We must understand the differences between our own theological and statistical biases in order to understand where it is that we can work in unity and where we work on separate paths. 5. We must all give a clarion call. It would be sad to be left out of the greatest harvest of all time, of the reaching of the unreached peoples, of penetrating the last vestiges of enemy stronghold on peoples, as the kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdoms of our God and His Christ.
IV. For all peoples to be reached by the year 2000 we must take the steps necessary for the goal to be reached.
Stage 1 -- "Reported" A people group needs to be reported as unreached. Some mission agency or person needs to report that a specific group needs cross-cultural assistance. Minimally this includes a description of the locations where this group can be found, the names it is known by, the sizes reported for it and the languages in which the people communicate with one another and the outside world, including, for example, the trade language, the native language and the school language.
Any list will be dynamic and changing as new groups are discovered and other groups are recognized to be extinct or reached. A single penetration will not necessarily be adequate to reach all the individuals within most of the megapeoples for which we have names. Yet certainly all the people groups within a megapeople will be brought closer by the penetration of one of the groups among them.
Stage 2 -- "Evaluated" The reported group needs to be verified by a reliable source. Several important items should be assessed at this time: 1) The existence of the group 2) the classification of the group as a macropeople, megapeople or people group 3) four key elements reported: primary or representative locations, common names, varying estimates of size and the languages they are known to use 4) the religion and/or belief system 5) is there a multiplication of churches? 6) is there an indigenous trained leadership capable of leading the group? 7) are there adequate resources to reach their own group such as the Word of God in their language and available, etc.? 8) Do they have a missionary movement reaching out from their midst?
Stage 3 -- "Preparation for Adoption" Adequate research must be completed to permit interested Christians outside this group to make a decision to reach it.
Stage 4 -- "Adoption" The people group needs to be adopted. The U.S. is no longer alone in desiring to adopt and reach the unreached peoples. In Latin America, COMIBAM is sponsoring a meeting next month (Oct. 92) to consider national and continental strategies for the adoption of unreached peoples and to equip key Latin American researchers to coordinate the establishment of "permanent national research functions" in every country in Latin America.
Costa Rica has taken major steps toward becoming a full partner in reaching the unreached peoples. They went through a process of determining that 50 people groups was their "fair share" as the church in Costa Rica, based on a proportionate approach to the number of evangelicals in the continent of Latin American and the number of unreached peoples in the world.
The Latin American Federation of Evangelical Missions, FEDEMEC, representing over 30 denominations and Christian organizations, started in 1986 with a goal of establishing a church planting movement of disciples of Jesus Christ in at least 50 unreached people groups by sending 500 church planting missionaries by the year 2000. In February they reported that adoptions were already up to 100. A series of meetings with denominational leaders, involving prayer and research, has taken them through a pre-adoption process. At this point the pre-adopted peoples were presented to the national assemblies of the different denominations who assessed and approved adoptions which then took place at a subsequent national level meeting. They are engaged in exploratory trips, local church missions mobilization, missions training, and I fully expect that, at the current pace, they will meet their goals.
Africa is seeking to send out 10,000 cross-cultural missionaries by the year 2000. There is a heavy burden among Africans for the people groups of North Africa.
One of the most hopeful elements in the adoption process is the growing burden among God's people. Intercessory prayer by the local church for the unreached peoples at this stage will release enormous spiritual power and raise up workers for the harvest field.
Stage 5 -- "Church Planting" Initial field work needs to begin with the intent of establishing an evangelizing culturally indigenous church. The question is whether there is anyone there working with church planting as the primary goal?
Stage 6 -- "Exposure" We need to make the claims of Christ widely known among the target people group to the extent that we can be sure that the gospel has been adequately presented (50% of the people are being exposed).
Here are some factors to consider in determining the extent to which a group has been "exposed": • Radio broadcasts • Jesus film • Christian literature distribution • Surveys to determine the extent of knowledge and understanding of the Christian message It is also essential to determine the extent to which the Word of God has been translated and the extent to which it is available to the individuals within the people group.
Stage 7 -- "Church Planting Movement" This is the recognizable indicator that a group may no longer need cross-cultural assistance, and may be reached.
1) Is there an evangelizing church? The group needs to have an indigenous community of believers with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize the remainder of the group with little or no outside (cross-cultural) assistance.
2) Is there an adequate core of effectively trained church leadership? Without this, the movement cannot last.
Stage 8 -- "Cross-Cultural Mission Movement" To return to Kauffman's grand summary, this is the true indicator that a group is really no longer unreached.
Thomas Wang, founder of the AD2000 Movement, has said, "Sometimes when I close my eyes, it is as if I hear a bell ringing in heaven, and God says, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, time is up! You have been procrastinating long enough. It is time to finish the job.'"
For all peoples to be reached by the year 2000 the biblical priority needs to be affirmed among mission agencies and local churches around the world.
We must make this our top priority. We must realize that this is what God is waiting for. We must make ourselves fully available to Christ for His purpose. And we must be careful not be be sidetracked, but keep in view God's deepest passion: Reaching the Unreached!