Urbana 96 Focused on the Unreached Peoples
AD2000 International Office Staff
Editors Note: Here at the US Center for World Mission we are gratified to see the increased emphasis on unreached peoples at Urbana '96. We hope that this will continue for all the Urbana mission conventions to come.
Urbana 96, the triennial student missions convention, was held Dec. 27-31, 1996. The Urbana Today newspaper article entitled Interest High On Unreached Peoples summed up this theme, "One main goal of Urbana 96 has been to emphasize the need to reach the 1,739 unreached people groups with the gospel....Early on Dan Harrison, Urbana 96 director, shared his dream of trusting God for 1,000 teams to be mobilized from Urbana to these unreached peoples groups."
This is evidence of answered prayer and the hard work of many. Here are some of the things that happened related to unreached peoples and the Joshua Project 2000 (JP 2000) emphasis:
Each one of the 18,000 delegates received a color two-page prayer profile for one of the 1,739 unreached peoples on the JP 2000 list. These profiles listed agencies focusing ministry toward that unreached people. Students were seen carrying their profile into the exhibit halls looking for agencies we had listed.
Each of the 1,800 small groups of 10 students each was assigned a different unreached people group to pray for (61 were repeated). At each of the four seminars I spoke at, I asked delegates to raise their hands if their small group had taken that prayer assignment seriously. Almost all hands were raised. Perhaps during that week more prayer for more different unreached people groups was offered than any other week in the history of the world.
All delegates also received a color map of the Joshua Project 2000 Gateway peoples. This map went along with the Praying Through the Window III prayer calendar that each student received in the book entitled, Next Steps After Urbana.
In each of the three exhibit halls there was an Urbana computer with a sign "Unreached Peoples Information here." These computers held the AD2000 World Wide Web site files with all the unreached peoples listed and which agencies are working among them. If a student was interested, they could go to the several agency exhibits and get all the Web site information on more than 30 mission agencies for free on CDRom. (Thanks Caleb Resources for pulling this together.)
On opening night the arena was filled to capacity and Dan Harrison had 1,739 delegates stand (see photo) who were holding large placards with the names of each of the JP 2000 unreached peoples. (Thanks to Doug Lucas who provided those cards for Urbana to use.) Impressions made as the delegates saw those 1,739 cards set the pace for the rest of the conference. When the AD 2000 staff wanted to explain what JP 2000 is, all we had to do is mention the opening night display of placards and the person would quickly understand what we were talking about.
George Verwer woke up the road-weary students that first night with his radical call to mission (see photo). When he made reference to JP 2000 and unreached peoples, I realized that JP 2000 and the Unreached might-helpfully-be labeled as the "cool" thing at this Urbana. I asked Greg Parsons, USCWM's executive director and veteran of five Urbanas, for his thoughts, and he felt that unreached peoples had been focused upon at this Urbana perhaps more than any other.
George Verwer also invited me to help lead his three seminars on JP 2000 which were attended by a total of 360 students. George showed the JP 2000 video and together we answered students' questions. At one of these presentations, I mentioning the Qashqai nomads of Iran
who are perhaps the least reached of the large groups on the JP 2000 list. An Iranian student came up to me afterwards and said quite emotionally, "I was born in Iran and am a convert from Islam. I wasn't planning on attending Urbana. I didn't even know what this seminar was about, but I saw a line forming so I just got into it. I was given a profile on an unreached people group in Iran. Then when I saw the Iranian Sam Yegnezar on the JP 2000 video I knew God was trying to tell me something. Now I am going to seriously pray about going to Iran as a missionary to an unreached people there. I know that many Iranians are prejudiced against the ethnic minorities in Iran, but God has given me a heart for them."
Koreans, already a force in world missions, were well represented by thousands of Korean Americans. I was asked by the Korean American Center for World Mission to speak about JP 2000 to a special-interest group of 600 Korean American students. They listened attentively as I challenged them to use their bicultural skills that they have learned living in America to join the Korean missionary force to unreached people groups. Dan Harrison along with several other Urbana dignitaries also gave greetings to this group. It was clear that Urbana planners recognized the tremendous potential of this group of 600 Koreans and the larger movement they represented. I was encouraged that the meeting planners chose to make JP 2000 part of the focus of their meeting time.
Many of the 300 exhibits had connections to unreached peoples in their displays. I heard one mission representative exclaim that he had never seen such interest in Muslim peoples than at this event.
InterVarsity staff set-up an unreached peoples adoption center for the Joshua Project unreached peoples. This exhibit was staffed by Doug Lucas and Eric Derry.
At that center, 51 students registered adoptions of unreached peoples, many of which were the ones they were assigned in their small groups. Other delegate responses included: 18 people chose an unreached people for which they want to form a research team to visit; 41 people chose an unreached people to pray for and to try to get others praying for; 7 people chose an unreached people for which they will become an advocate for and try to recruit church planters; 11 people chose an unreached people and stated their intent to seek out an agency to send them as long-term church planters; All total, 3,200 adoption response forms were given to interested students.
In the delegate registration materials JP 2000 was mentioned on the instruction sheet that went with the final response form that all delegates filled out on the second to last night. Option number 8 read "Join or form a team in order to serve in an unreached people group." There were 974 delegates who selected this option and another 7,790 who said they would pray regularly for global evangelism.
The Urbana Today paper summed it up with an illustration from the convention, "AD2000 booth worker Mary Robinson said she met one man from India who became a Christian four years ago. 'He was from an unreached people group,' she enthused. 'He's adopted his own people group, and is becoming an advocate for them!'"
Let's all pray that the 1,000 teams to unreached peoples will be the long lasting fruit of Urbana 96.
Please also pray that many who received the response forms will return them.
Christianity Today highlights De-Westernization
Christianity Today (Feb. 3, '97) reporting on Urbana '96, highlighted the issue of De-Westernization. Here, in part, is its report:
CROWDED HARVEST FIELD: Ralph D. Winter, head of the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, California, told students that Christianity must be taken out of its Western context if the gospel is to reach Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists effectively.
"We're reaching closure in taking the gospel to all the nations," Winter said at one of the more than 200 seminars offered during the week, "but followers of Islam and Hinduism look at Christianity and see sex obsession, drinking, drugs, and family breakdown."
Winter ventured into the minefield of adding cultural context to evangelistic outreach. He reasoned that new breakthroughs will come from within indigenous cultures.
"In Africa, there are about 400 denominations started by Western missionaries," he told students. "But there are 6,000 denominations not started by missionaries, and they run the gamut of everything from total heresy to total orthodoxy."
The key task of the West, Winter maintains, should be taking the Bible to these cultures, allowing them to develop their own distinct kind of Christianity.
"If they're reading the Bible, they will even out and become orthodox," he said. "The Bible will correct more than foreign missionaries."
While some students were intrigued by Winter's talk, others wondered aloud if he was conceding too much. One delegate from Ghana argued that such an approach in a pantheistic culture would just mean adding one more god to the pantheon and devaluing the significance of Christ.
[Additional Note from Ralph Winter: CT reports well. However, please don't think I was saying "The Bible will correct more than missionaries…" my point is that the Bible--carried by missionaries-- becomes the chief factor in the building and refining of indigenous movements. Furthermore, this is not "a minefield." Indigenization is almost universally the goal of missions today. Finally, over the long haul missionaries have discovered that importing a strange name for God--that is, their own name for God--is often more hazardous than allowing the Bible to build meaning into an existing term for a high God, wherever there is such a term. This is actually less likely to "add a God" to an existing pantheon but to elevate the one true God. In any case, saturation in the Bible is the key thing.