Malcolm Hunter and the Adopt-A-People Concept
MF: Why are you here at the U.S. Center working with the Adopt-A-People program?
Hunter: The easy answer is to respond that the Mission Board with whom my wife, Jean, and I have been serving for the last 25 years assigned us here, much to our surprise, about a year and a half ago.
We now realise that the real answer has more to do with the fact that the Adopt-A-People concept has been on our hearts and shaping our ministry for most of the last 20 years.
MF: Where did it all begin?
Hunter: I suppose that the first germ of the idea was born in the deserts and rugged mountains of Southern Ethiopia.
I was a young missionary engineer coming to the end of my first term. I had begun to taste some of the joys of teaching the word of God in Bible schools and church conferences in between the building and water projects for which I thought God had brought me to Ethiopia in the first place.
In one of these Bible Schools, 55 men responded to the challenge I gave to go out for the two-month rainy season vacation and obey Gods command to be His witnesses to the end of the age.
I had time to do nothing more than give that list of names to the church leaders of that tribe. I had to take off within the hourliterallyto begin my first furlough in England. I had no idea what God could do with those few ideas and 55 willing workers.
The church leaders paired off the students with 55 other men who had never studied in Bible School but who were known to have the gift of evangelism. These pairs then were sent out to every corner or valley of their own tribe where the kingdom of God had not yet been established.
There was no missionary around to organize this or to take credit for what happened. Over the next six months more than 10,000 people came to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Many of the student preachers were so thrilled at the joy of their service that they failed to return for the opening of the new term of the Bible School.
In the neighboring Gamu tribe, a one-week elders course led to more than 2000 new converts in places where the gospel had never before penetrated. In both of these situations the most exciting result came when the church leaders said, Now we can truly say that we have a Christian witness established for all our people. Now we are ready to go with you to those other unevangelized people just beyond our mountains which you have been telling us about.
This was the fulfillment of a personal vision and the beginning of a partnership between church and missions which has been the abiding goal of our lives.
MF: How does this Adopt-A-People concept transfer to Western churches?
Hunter: Made to order, Id say. As one pastor said recently: How come weve never thought of such a simple and powerfully motivating tool for our churches before?
Our first experiments in trying out the concept in North America came in 1977 when we were obliged to leave Ethiopia at the height of the Marxist Revolution. We were assigned by the SIM to work with InterVarsity Missions as student mobilizers for the Northwest.
Jean and I had a great year learning to appreciate the enthusiasm and potential for missions of an American church. Nobody had ever heard of Adopt-A-People at that time, eleven years ago, but we were trying out what we called Target Area Strategy to focus attention on one particular area of unreached peoples in West Africa.
We had lots of interest, and individuals were starting to pray and prepare, when suddenly everything came to a grinding halt. The church we were working with happened to belong to a large mainline denomination with its own strong foreign missions program. In our naivet we had never foreseen the problem that an innovative approach would engender.
Out of the 17 members who had been interested in preparing to go to the unreached, only one couple finally got through Seminary and overseas with the denominational program.
Subsequent furloughs in Wisconsin gave us further opportunities to try this Target Area Strategy in three churches of more independent position and very differing sizes: from 5000-plus to fewer than 50 members.
We made plenty of mistakes in the process, but one striking example has gone right ahead into an exceedingly difficult Muslim country, usually regarded as closed.
After some excellent groundwork and prayer preparation, one church of about 1000 members has sent and supported their own team in a situation where no mission agency would be able to operate. They have maintained a team of around 10 people for about 4 years now and are beginning to see the real fruit of their commitment.
This model is the exception to the ideal as no mission agency is working with them. They tried hard to find ways to get the benefit of working with an experienced agency, but in the end they were obliged to form what amounted to their own mission agency within the local church.
MF: Where do you think this idea of Adopt-A-People came from?
Hunter: I am not claiming any sort of original authorship for this concept of Adopt-A-People, as I am sure God is the author of every good idea His church has ever stumbled upon.
I am equally sure that He has been birthing this principle in the minds of many other church and mission leaders who have been striving to find some intelligent answers to the challenge of so many unreached people groups.
I know that there have been several other experiments and examples under various titles, but in our own experience we have learned some great lessons in churches of several different sizes and flavors in North America.
I hope to explore these in more detail in later issues of MF. But suffice it for now to say that size does not seem to be the determining factor in the success of a church adopting a people.
In fact, the smallest church may provide the best model. When all fifty members of a church commit themselves to pray, prepare, send and support one of their own young couples to go to an unreached people group, then that concentration of prayer and purpose will be powerfully felt throughout the whole body.
Where the attempt to adopt a people has had the most problems is in the larger churches where the vital foundation of prayer has not been laid before the inevitable urge to do something becomes irresistible.
MF: Could you give us some principles that you have learned from your experience with adopting peoples?
Hunter: Lets begin with a simple definition. Adopt-A-People is not a project or a program. It is a concept to help the Christian Church see what remains to be done in Gods world and to get on with the job in bite-sized pieces.
In its simplest form, the Adopt-A-People concept means that a mission-minded church anywhere in the world accepts responsibility for one of the identified and targeted people groups where no church exists. They commit themselves to pray as intelligently as possible for that people group until a church has been established within that group which can take up the task of evangelizing their own people.
There may well be other functions of giving, training and sending that the adopting church will want to do later, but we believe that nothing is more important than intelligent, informed praying.
In order to get the fullest possible information and the most intelligent understanding of the needs of the people being adopted, it is clearly most advantageous to work through an established and experienced mission agency which has already targeted the people group the church wants to adopt.
There is, of course, a vital need for adopting those people groups which are not accessible directly by any traditional mission agency. In these situations we can only pray that God will break through the man-made barriers and, if necessary, show us fresh strategies that will enable His word to enter by non-traditional means.
Let us never forget that the success of our missionary programs does not depend on our clever strategies and structures. When our goal is to give some unreached people group a chance to hear the gospel of His Son, then we are in tune with the heartbeat of the Sovereign Lord of Heaven and earth and He will move both to help us fulfill that purpose . . . His purpose.