Blazing New Paths to the Unreached
"One of the keenest of the new, younger, frontier-emphasizing missions is Pioneers. I have known its founders and many of its missionaries and deem theirs to be a first rate, vital contribution in this present "Countdown" of world history as the Global Unfinished Task nears completion."-- Ralph Winter
This young mission agency, founded by Ted Fletcher and currently led by his son John, is presently working in all five cultural blocks of unreached peoples (Muslim, Tribal, Hindu Chinese, Buddhist) and is experiencing remarkable growth. Since June of 1989 the mission has more than doubled its personnel to 235. What is the story behind this remarkable new agency called Pioneers?
Ted Fletcher, along with his wife Peggy founder of Pioneers, had no thought at first of starting a new mission agency. During the Korean War he was just another U.S. Marine on assignment to the battlefront in Korea. But there, in Korea, he met Christ in a Billy Graham Crusade. And there he also began thinking about God's concern for all peoples. Surely the joy and peace he had found Christ wanted all to know. Even that early on, he began to pray that someday he might have a part in reaching people of other cultures with the Gospel. And as a promise of things to come, there, in Korea, God gave him the verse of Scripture that in later years led him to launch this new mission agency aimed at the unreached people groups of the world. That verse was Psalm 2:8: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession."
But twenty-seven years elapsed before that dream came true--years full of study, of immersion and success in the business world, and of deepening spiritual life. In those years he received a degree in Business Administration, and went on to eventually rise to the position of National Sales Manager with the Wall Street Journal. It was an exciting and fulfilling life, one that was envied by others.
In 1979, Ted and Peggy traveled to Africa, Asia and the South Pacific. They returned with an even greater burden for those peoples who were still beyond the reach of existing evangelistic efforts.
On returning home, Ted resigned his job with the Wall Street Journal in 1979 to found a new mission agency--Pioneers. Some of his friends, and certainly his business associates, thought he was crazy. But not only Peggy but his entire family was behind him in this move. Several children went on to become missionaries themselves, going under the new agency he founded to some of the most difficult mission fields in the world. Pioneers was formed to pioneer--and to Ted and Peggy, that meant unreached peoples, perhaps even resistant peoples, and sometimes it would require living under very primitive conditions.
The task Ted chose for his new mission, however, was consistent with his life: go for the hard places; leave the easy things for someone else to do.
A Path Less Traveled
Adopting the motto of the Edinburgh 1980 Conference, "A Church For Every People By The Year 2000," the new agency named Pioneers set out at once to reach cultures where evangelism had never been attempted or had produced little results. At first there were not mnay volunteers. But within a few years, many churches, especially in the Eastern part of the U.S., threw their support to the new agency.
Since then, Pioneers' ministries have multiplied rapidly with a commitment to plant churches among dozens of unreached people groups in over 20 countries in Asia, the Middle East, South America, Europe, Africa and the South Pacific.
In a pattern which is both old and new, Pioneers sends its missionaries out as teams. Because Ted believes that Christians of all nationalities must join hands if the world is to be reached, the agency he founded tends to emphasize international teams, made up of Western and non-Western missionaries working closely together. These teams now number 235 missionaries from North America working jointly with 100 others from around the world. Often these are believers from neighboring, more-evangelized groups who join the foreigners from the U.S. to help in planting the church of Jesus Christ among a still-unreached people.
The Cutting Edge
Why has this young mission agency grown so rapidly? That is a question which is often asked.
- As with Frontiers, another new, quickly growing agency, Pioneers has touched a responsive chord in the hearts of young recruits when it emphasizes going where no one has ever gone. Young people today, alive with a passion for missions, are not challenged by simply maintaining what has been happening a long time. Nor do they even respond readily to the very essential nurturing role of helping the church to grow where it is well established. "Shouldn't the national church be doing that?" they ask, understandably.
- But give them a challenge that is big, and they are ready to go. With Pioneers, they are committed exclusively to evangelizing the unreached people groups in all five major blocs: Muslims, Tribals, Hindus, Chinese, and Buddhists.
- Then, also, as a mission, Pioneers is people-group oriented rather than geographically oriented. Individual missionaries of all missions have always focused on a particular people, but the missions back home often tended to think in terms of the political entity, and spoke of the "Church of India", for example. Young people today, often acquainted with Dr. Donald McGavran's emphasis on the so-called homogeneous unit principle through their studies in Perspectives classes or in Bible School or seminary, think instead of the cultural pockets of overlooked peoples, the ethne of which Christ spoke. And they want to go to them. As a result, their strategy can be uniquely tailored to each particular unreached people group.
- Some have commented that they appreciate Pioneer's spirit of flexibility and creativity, allowing them to both be aware of what is being tried elsewhere and to try something new in their own particular situation. And with the difficulty of getting residence visas in certain situations, the candidates have been able to try bi- vocational or tentmaking strategies, utilizing any marketable skill-- such as teaching English, agricultural engineering, community health development, or business.
- From its beginning, Ted Fletcher decided that Pioneer's singular goal would be that of planting churches. He recognized, as do those who follow him, that the proclamation of the Gospel among the unreached must go hand in hand with the practical demonstration of Christ's love, and that young churches have a host of practical needs. Yet, as pioneers, he felt that church planting had to take priority.
- The team concept is also a drawing card since it encourages individuals who share a common burden and have complementary gifts to work as ministry partners in close fellowship. The Fletchers feel that this type of teamwork provides for greater encouragement and accountability among their young recruits and ensures optimum use of members' individual gifts. This can be very important in the many remote and spiritually oppressed fields where Pioneers is at work. In each, the task is formidable and the opposition strong. By working together as people who may already be well acquainted, the team hopefully can achieve more within a short time.
Yet, pioneering anywhere is not easy, as the organization Pioneers is the first to admit. The forces of evil are especially arrrayed against those who try to bring the Gospel to a people Satan has long considered his own. And yet, in a very special way, Jesus is with them, as he promised in Matt. 28:18-19.
Pace - Summer Program
This summer, Pioneers will be sending out a number of summer and short-term teams under their program, PACE (Pioneers Active in Cross- cultural Evangelism). After living, even for a short time, with national and missionary families and immersing themselves in the culture and language of the people to whom they try to communicate the Gospel, not surprisingly, a high percentage of these young people subsequently volunteer as career missionaries to the churchless peoples of the world.
Charting a Course for the Future
In 1988, because of serious health problems, Ted Fletcher turned the role of General Director over to his son John, a Pioneers missionary in Papua New Guinea. Ted remains active in the new role of General Director Emeritus, and is still involved in mobilizing the church at home, counseling the outgoing teams and generally acting as a consultant at many levels of the mission. He and Peggy are delighted that all four of their children are missionaries with the mission they founded. What better inheritance can a couple leave to their children than the determination to serve God in the tough places with all their hearts? Can Wall Street compare with that?