This is an article from the April-May 1989 issue: Paraclete

“Allied Forces” Converge in Adopt-a-People Clearinghouse

“Allied Forces” Converge in Adopt-a-People Clearinghouse

No one can dispute that a vital factor in the Allied victory in World War II was the ability of Britain, France, the U.S. and other countries to unite in such a way that they overcame a common enemy. This same kind of collaboration could bring great victories for the Kingdom of God in our day.

Signs of a new unity—and of a new movement—among mission agencies in North America emerged last month, with promise of just such “allied forces” potential. Men and women from 43 mission organizations and denominations met March 15-17 for an Adopt-A-People Symposium. To them, the urgently needed factor is a link-up between mission agencies and the local church in order to conquer the powers of Satan over scores of unreached people groups.

The gathering, held at William Carey International University (WCIU) in Pasadena, California, crystalized long-held hopes of mission leaders for establishing a clearinghouse to help match local churches to specific unreached people groups. The event was co-sponsored by Global Mapping International, the Frontier Peoples Committee of the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association, and the Mobilization Division of the U.S. Center for World Mission.

Two prime results of the Symposium are the formation of a clearinghouse to aid in people group adoption and an anticipated greater “ownership” of unreached peoples by local churches. The clearinghouse will act as a comprehensive “tracking station” to enable the Church to see remaining gaps in its forces as it strives to complete the Great Commission by the year 2000.

Opening the Floodgates

Participants in the Adopt-A-People Symposium believe the local church will take on a new, more intimate commitment to unreached people groups. Judging by the pattern of pacesetter churches, the effects can be enormous. For one thing, the lifeblood of daily prayer by the average Christian, as well as in the church prayer meeting, can be infused like never before with a new passion for a specific unreached people group. In effect, the Great Commission will be reduced down to the lowest common denominator—local, hands-on commitment till the job is done.

Wesley Tullis, chairman of the Mobilization Division at the U.S. Center for World Mission, spoke of the “intensity of the present opportunity.” He is convinced local ownership will go miles in releasing personnel, prayers and funds needed for the frontlines.

Just in terms of “prayer fuel” alone, Tullis points out that there are 70 million evangelicals in America. If only one million spent five minutes a day praying for unreached peoples, a dam of over eight years of cumulative prayer per day would break loose. But five minutes of daily prayer adds up to only two percent of the amount of time evangelicals spend watching TV and going shopping every day.

Pioneers to the Movement

One pioneer to the adopt-a-people concept is Malcolm Hunter, an SIM International missionary for 26 years and a veteran worker among nomadic peoples in Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. Malcolm and his wife Jean are currently seconded to the U.S. Center for World Mission.

In the last 12 years, Hunter has helped churches in the United States learn to shoulder the burden not only for a missionary, but for the people group itself in which the missionary labors. “We know this concept works,” he says.

Hunter joins Tullis in his quickness to mention the first prerequisite in the program: “The first platform that a church must establish in trying to reach an unreached people group is a prayer platform. I’ve seen adoptions stand or fall on this basis.”

“The adopt-a-people idea puts the local church back in its primary role,” Hunter adds. “The mission agency is precisely designed to work in partnership with the local church... as a service organization aiding the local church in its task as the sending agent.”

Another mission leader who has seen such linking work is John DeVries, executive director of the World Home Bible League. During one session in the Symposium, he reported “incredible results” in the past six months through the linking of churches in New England with Bible students in India who go out and preach among unreached peoples. DeVries observes, “American churches are very, very eager to adopt people groups. I’ve been thrilled with the prayer and financial responses of sponsoring churches!”

Action Steps Hammered Out

After sharing these kinds of encouraging reports and models, the 80 participants at the symposium concluded their three days together by unanimously approving the establishment of a North American Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse. They agreed that the WCIU campus, with its research strength, would be home to the clearinghouse. In this way, the clearinghouse will be able to work closely with Global Mapping International (GMI), also located on campus, which specializes in computerized mapping and “People Profiles” to aid churches and agencies in planning mission outreach.

In addition, a handful of mission leaders were nominated and approved to serve on an interim steering committee for the clearinghouse. Participants voted, too, that the chief executive officer, or his designate, from each agency or denomination in attendance would constitute the Advisory Council of the clearinghouse.

Mission agencies participating in these proceedings included the Assemblies of God, Campus Crusade for Christ, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Board, Gospel Recordings, India Gospel Outreach, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, WEC International, World by 2000, and others.

Primary Clearinghouse Goals

Primary goals of the Clearinghouse will be to advocate unreached people group adoption by local churches and to aid in the “matching” process. Churches will be directed to work through a mission agency of their choice from a list of Adopt-A-People participating agencies.

The Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse will also serve as a research center to track unreached people groups, coordinate data collection and data networks, publish selected data on “orphaned” or neglected people groups, and serve as a library of published materials available for use by mission organizations.

Start-up Steps Seen as Urgent

WCIU Executive Vice-President Dale Kietzman, who served as moderator at the Symposium, feels a pressing need to get this unique “Pentagon” launched. At press date, a month after the Symposium, he reports that the steering committee has already met.

Says Kietzman, “I have a sense of urgency. If there is to be ‘closure’ by the year 2000, we need to find ways of getting accurate information about these unreached people [groups].” He further explains, “We want to set up a program for graduate students at Christian colleges and seminaries to take on the research task.” Students will be able to conduct research as part of their study programs. Such arrangements will be enhanced by the links between the Clearinghouse and William Carey International University.

The work of the Clearinghouse will help mission agencies determine strategies for outreach in many cases and, Kietzman believes, it will serve to give great encouragement to churches, too, as they adopt specific groups and then receive reports back on tangible progress made.

He hopes the initial start-up steps of the clearinghouse will be completed by September 1 of this year, with a first newsletter published by October.

According to the agreed-upon action steps, the interim steering committee will pound out a number of essential details for the Adopt-A-People program. These details include: deciding minimal standards of responsibility for participating churches and agencies; finalizing clearinghouse goal statements; authorizing preliminary procedures in fund-raising, staffing and office operation procedures; and further defining the working relationship with Global Mapping.

Other topics discussed during the symposium and requiring greater clarification include: confidentiality, where needed, about peoples in sensitive areas; and the degree to which promotion of the Adopt-a-People concept will be handled by the clearinghouse or by participating mission organizations or denominations.

Sized to Fit: One of Many “Marvelous Distinctives”

Malcolm Hunter—as a veteran in implementing link-ups between churches, mission agencies, and people groups—summarized several promising benefits of an expanded Adopt-a-People program made possible by the clearinghouse.

For one, he pointed out, whether one’s church is a small country church or a “mega-church,” a denominational or an independent church, Adopt-a-People provides a model that will work well for direct involvement with an unreached people. In Hunter’s experience, sometimes the very best adopting churches have been the smallest. They can send and support just one couple or individual through partnership with either a sending agency or a larger church.

Hunter enumerated a dozen other “marvelous distinctives” during the symposium, including: the opportunities Adopt-A-People presents to businessmen adept at enterpreneurship and intent on measuring results; the help adoption provides in discovering supernatural leadings from God at the nitty-gritty level; new motivation for primary and secondary research that is immediately relevant—not the kind which gets lost in a file; and the potential for churches to gently pressure mission agencies to target particular groups.

He said churches in the West could “co-adopt” with churches elsewhere in the world, thus pooling their areas of expertise. Hunter and Kietzman both hope that the North American Clearinghouse will become a model for similar adoption agencies in other parts of the globe.

Introducing the “Point Man”

Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board representative David Garrison presented the concept of “non-residential missionaries,” which his board is already employing. These are advocates for particular unreached peoples, whose time is largely spent outside the geographical areas where “their” groups are located but who have a wide scope of influence in seeing prayer and resources generated for these groups.

Garrison drew a distinction between non-residential missionaries and “tentmakers,” observing that a non-residential missionary may spend only a fifth of his time “on location.” He or she surveys the needs and the resources and can then draw together assistance from specific churches, businessmen, and others. The non-residential missionary “acts as the point man,” Garrison explained. “He has an eye for seeing where the opportunity is,” the way to get a foot in the door to a particular unreached people.

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Signs seem to point to the conclusion that the time is ripe for the Adopt-a-People concept to take hold. The Pasadena symposium took place on the heels of the January 1989 “AD 2000” consultation in Singapore, where mission leaders voiced a keenly-felt need for an Adopt-a-People program and where Youth With A Mission international director Floyd McClung lent his support for such an effort in a key address.

But the idea of a coordinated Adopt-a-People program is not a new one. As long ago as 1982, a select group of North American mission strategists met at Chicago's O'Hare Airport to define the common stages in reaching an unreached people. They dreamed of seeing churches link up with and “own” people groups until a viable church-planting movement could be established in their midst.

Based on the definitions drawn up at the 1982 meeting, Ralph Winter, general director of the U.S. Center for World Mission, has recently proposed a timetable that would see all 12,000 remaining unreached people groups adopted by 1991 and then “engaged” (with missionaries on site) by 1995.

A Picture on Every Refrigerator?

Drawing on Winter’s proposal, symposium participant Jay Gary suggests that “every small step among unreached peoples can be a giant leap for the whole Great Commission movement.” Why not, he asks, have a picture of an adopted people group on the refrigerator in every evangelical family’s home?

The Church has not yet succeeded in bringing “closure” to the distinctively-missionary task of penetrating every unreached people group around the world. But this generation could, by God’s grace, do so, aiming directly to finish the Commander-in-Chief’s order by the year 2000. Given the new, explosive potential of the allied forces—both churches and mission agencies—getting into position, who’s to say it can’t happen?

For further information about the North American Adopt-a-People Clearinghouse, write or call Dr. Dale Kietzman, chairman of the interim steering committee, c/o William Carey International University, 1539 E. Howard St., Pasadena, CA 91104, (818) 398-2119.


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