Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Frontier Missions: Bringing the Light of Christ into the Darkness

Christ’s command to his followers before leaving earth was to make disciples of all nations; however, this mandate is still uncompleted 2000 years later. The word “nation” in anthropology means people group—people with a common history, language, customs, and culture (Nation). The word used in Matthew 28:19 is the Greek word ethnos and is generally translated as people group, often meaning the Jewish people, and in many other Biblical instances meaning non-Jewish people groups (Piper Unreached Peoples). The Joshua Project records that there are 16,349 people groups in the world today, and 6,648 of these are unreached by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Modern missions must have a strategy for reaching the unreached people groups so that the mandate of Jesus can come to completion. This paper will address people groups worldwide, the 10/40 Window, the barriers to the gospel among the unreached, and the strategies that must be implemented within unreached people groups to share the gospel with them.

Frontier missions and pioneer missions are terms to describe planting the church where the church has not hitherto existed. John Piper states that this is what Paul did, as said in Romans 15:20, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.” In other words, frontier missions is taking the message of Christ to unreached people groups.

The Joshua Project defines the terms unreached people group and least-reached people group as “a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group.” The criteria selected to define an unreached people group is a group with less than 2% Evangelical Christian and less than 5% Christian Adherents. “While these percentage figures are somewhat arbitrary, there are some that suggest that the percentage of a population needed to be influenced to impact the whole group is 2%” (Joshua Project Definitions). In the world today, 2.75 billion individuals in 6,648 people groups are classified as unreached, totaling 41% of the world’s population.

Of these 6,648 people groups, 5,184 are in the 10/40 Window.

The 10/40 Window is the rectangular area of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude. The 10/40 Window is often called "The Resistant Belt" and includes the majority of the world's Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. An estimated 4.09 billion individuals residing in approximately 7,026 distinct people groups are in the 10/40 Window. The 10/40 Window is home to some of the largest unreached people groups in the world such as the Shaikh, Yadava, Turks, Moroccan Arabs, Pushtun, Iat, and Burmese (Joshua Project Definitions).

This means that 78% of all unreached people groups are in the 10/40 Window. This is certainly an area of the world that requires the attention of the missions community and the Christian community at large. However, “only 8% of the world's missionaries are sent to countries within the window, and less than one penny out of every dollar we give goes to work within the Window” (CafĂ© 1040). This Window is significant for many reasons. First consider its composition: “There are 1.2 billion people under the influence of Communism, 1.3 billion Muslims, nearly 1 billion Hindus, 350 million Buddhists, and 250 million Tribal Religionists. Eighty percent of the world's poorest people also live here” (Cafe 1040). The area also has great historical and biblical significance.

The Bible begins with the account of Adam and Eve placed by God in the heart of what is now the 10/40 Window. God's plan, expressed in Genesis 1:26, was that mankind should have dominion over the earth, subduing it fully. However, Adam and Eve sinned against God and forfeited their right to rule. Man's sinful behavior increased until God intervened and judged the earth with a cataclysmic flood. Then came man's futile attempt to establish new dominion in the building of the great Tower of Babel. That effort, which also occurred in the heart of the 10/40 Window, was an open defiance against God. Once again, God reached forth His hand in judgment. The result was the introduction of different languages, the scattering of earth's people, and the formation of nations (Joshua Project Definitions).

Most of the Bible takes place within the heart of the 10/40 Window; thus, Christian missions should emphasize sharing the love of the Author of Creation with the people living in such close proximity to where the story of the Bible was written.

There are two main barriers with the transmittance of the gospel: understandability and acceptance. In fact, the term people group can be defined on these bases. The 1983 Lausanne Committee meeting in Chicago defined it this way: "For evangelization purposes, a people group is the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance" (qtd. in Joshua Project Resources). Understandability relates to language, and is possibly the greatest barrier to the spread of the gospel. Therefore, the first strategy for taking the gospel to the unreached is to have materials in their languages. These materials would include translations of the Old and New Testament and Jesus film resources along with missionaries who can learn the language to be equipped to share the gospel and raise up Christian leaders from the people group to continue the Great Commission. According to Wycliffe Bible Translators, “Today about 200 million people do not have the Bible in their own language.” Since understandability is so imperative to sharing the gospel, this would be the place to start in developing a strategy for the unreached.

In addition to understandability, acceptance is another considerable barrier to sharing the gospel with the unreached. “In other parts of the world, most notably in portions of South Asia, acceptance is a greater barrier than understandability. In these regions, caste, religious tradition, location, and common histories and legends may be used to identify the primary boundary of each people group” (Joshua Project). Within this context, missionaries need to find redemptive analogies that will clarify the message of the gospel to people who have never heard it before. Don Richardson defines a redemptive analogy as some practice or understanding embedded in the culture that can be used to demonstrate the gospel. Finding these analogies is part of the larger process of contextualization, which is a vital component to spreading the gospel anywhere. The missionary must take great care with this process so that it does not morph into syncretism. However, in order for the gospel to be accepted within a people group, contextualization is a necessary part of missions strategy.

An underestimated strategy for reaching the unreached is prayer. Servants of the Most High God have the opportunity to harness the amazing power of communion with God Above in order to spread the glory of God to the unreached places on earth. People can pray for those taking the gospel and those receiving the gospel. The Joshua Project emphasizes this strategy for the unreached, saying, “Prayer obeys Jesus' command to ask the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers. Prayer brings us into God's presence, which changes us. Prayer reveals to us God's plans so we can cooperate with Him in them. Prayer invites God's participation and presence in the process. Prayer removes hindrances to the gospel. Prayer prepares the hearts of unbelievers to hear the good news. Prayer releases resources necessary to accomplish the task. Prayer insures protection for workers and their work. Prayer releases spiritual power to fulfill the call. Prayer exercises divine authority to change situations and people. Prayer IS the battle! Prayer maintains the victory.” Even if a believer is not called to go to a people group to share the message of Jesus Christ with them, he or she can be involved in the missions enterprise through prayer.

The history of missions is helpful is establishing a strategy of missions to the unreached. “The focus of the Christian missions community 200 years ago was for the coastlands of the world. A century later, the success of the coastlands effort motivated a new generation to reach the interior regions of the continents. Within the past several decades, the success of the inland thrust has led to a major focus on people groups. Today, followers of Christ are concentrating their efforts on the unreached peoples of the world, most of which are in the 10/40 Window.” (Joshua Project). As missions focus moves to specific people groups, missionaries need to be going to the places where the church does not yet exist, where Christ has not yet been named.

John Piper perhaps said it best in a sermon preached about the unreached in the world today:

The job is not done in the world that Christ gave us to do, and the mandate is still binding on us today. That’s why we speak of unreached people groups .But the missions is the back-breaking, culture penetrating, darkness shattering initial work to penetrate—plant the church, see it flourish, get its own elders, train its own people, evangelize its own networks! That’s the task of missions; it’s not over…That Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, and the alternative is hell and we have the only means of escape in our heads and in our hearts—Jesus Christ. So count the cost, brothers and sisters. This is not an invitation to an easy life. For 200 years, thousands and thousands of missionaries—the unnamed, no biographies written about them, just unnamed people of whom the world is not worthy, have counted this cost and put their lives at risk and reached the lost with the only message of salvation (Piper I Am Sending).

God is calling people to go to the darkest places of this earth to share the Light of Christ with people living in the shadows. Not only is God calling, He is also equipping so that these missionaries have the necessary strategies to make the gospel understandable and acceptable to the unreached. God also calls people to pray for the unreached and the missionaries who will attempt to plant a church among them. This is the direction the modern missions is moving, so that the task will be completed.

Works Cited
"Nation." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Dec. 2009.
Joshua Project - Unreached Peoples of the World. U.S. Center for World Mission. Web. Dec. 2009. .
Piper, John. ""I Am Sending You Out as Sheep in the Midst of Wolves" :: Desiring God Christian Resource Library." Desiring God :: God-centered resources from the ministry of John Piper. 21 Oct. 2007. Web. Dec. 2009. .
Piper, John. "Unreached Peoples :: Desiring God Christian Resource Library." Desiring God :: God-centered resources from the ministry of John Piper. Desiring God, 1 Jan. 1991. Web. Dec. 2009. .
Richardson, Don. Eternity in Their Hearts. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2005. Print.
What Is the 10/40 Window. Cafe 1040, 2007. Web. Dec. 2009. .
Wycliffe Bible Translators: World Missions for Unreached People Groups. WBT, Inc., 2006. Web. Dec. 2009. .

Believing in the Red Letters

A few days ago, I tweeted a quote from Shane Claiborne that said,
"Only Jesus would be crazy enough to suggest that if you want to become the greatest, you should become the least. Only Jesus would declare God's blessing on the poor rather than on the rich and would insist that it's not enough to just love your friends. I just began to wonder if anybody still believed Jesus meant those things he said."

This quote is from his book, The Irresistible Revolution, and I wanted to talk a little about this quote, because some people are not really understanding the point.

I believe that Jesus meant what he said. I believe that pretty much everything that came out of Jesus’ mouth was controversial. I believe that very few pastors preach sermons from the words of Jesus. I believe that very few people who call themselves Christian—literally meaning “little Christ”—live like they believe the words of Jesus.

For example, Jesus said the greatest among us will be the least, and the least will be the greatest. If we believe that, then we would not strive for wealth and success. We wouldn’t worry about being the best. We would live like the least of these, knowing that we would be the greatest in the kingdom of God where we all get our just rewards. Do we live like Jesus meant what he said?

Jesus said that the meek will inherit the earth. If we really believed that, wouldn’t we lay down our pride, and in humility, pick up our cross? Wouldn’t the ideal job not be the CEO position, but a member of the janitorial staff? Are we living like Jesus meant what he said?

Jesus said to love your neighbor, do good to those who hate you, and bless those who persecute you. If we really believed that Jesus meant this as a command for our lives, it would be impossible to hold a grudge. Revenge would not be an option. Why do I hear Christian people talking about payback? Payback is not an option for a follower of Christ, because he commands us to turn the other cheek. Do we live like we believe he meant that?

Jesus said blessed are the poor. How many middle and upper middle class Christians are there in the United States today? What percentage of the church does that include? If we really believed that Jesus meant that the poor and the oppressed were the blessed ones, would we want to be rich and successful? Would that even matter? Do we live like Jesus meant what he said to his followers?

The Claiborne quote got me thinking about these things. I still believe the words written in red, and I want them to transform my life—even if that means I will be poor, persecuted, humble, and struggling. Sometimes I “wonder if anybody still believed Jesus meant those things he said." It seems to me that the church would look and act a lot differently if we all really ascribed to the words Jesus spoke so many years ago. I am not by any means jaded about the church, I just want to challenge myself and others to really look at the words of Jesus and live like we believe them!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Encounter With Poverty in Oklahoma City

Shane Claiborne has spent his time thinking and writing about poverty. In The Irresistible Revolution, he talks about a survey he gave: "I asked participants who claimed to be ‘strong followers of Jesus’ whether Jesus spent time with the poor. Nearly 80 percent said yes. Later in the survey, I sneaked in another question, I asked this same group of strong followers whether they spent time with the poor, and less than 2 percent said they did. I learned a powerful lesson: We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor." My goal when I began SSP this semester was to get to know the poor. I did this working at OKC Compassion and the Spero Project.

Every Tuesday, I would leave class, get in my car, and go to OKC Compassion on Penn Ave. I would say hi to the people sitting outside, go into the kitchen, and put on an apron. Then I would do whatever preparations remained to get the lunch served to nearly one hundred people. At a few minutes ‘til twelve o’clock, we would pray over the food, and as soon as the afternoon devotion ended, we opened up the doors and served a nutritious lunch to low-income and homeless people.

Typically twice a week, I also went to the Spero Project, rounded up kids, and held choir practice. We would start out with a silly song, motions and all, and then work on Christmas music for the four concerts they will have this December.

I encountered two very different impoverished demographics. The one was a group of refugees, pulled out of their dangerous home country, taken with their families and little else away from jobs, homes, and community, from Myanmar, Iraq, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

The other group is from Oklahoma, many Native Americans, who are struggling just to get by. They don’t have jobs; they live off of government checks, which is why the number of people who come for lunch drops off on the first of the month. Many of them live in unsuitable living arrangements; one couple told us how they say a prayer every time they sit down on the toilet because the floor around it is so thin, they worry if it will collapse. Some are abandoned, like the teenagers who came for lunch because they were stranded, trying to make their way to Chicago. Most striking are the addicts who come, worn thin from their addiction, or shaking until they can have their next drink, or smelling like Listerine because they were drinking mouthwash to get a buzz. But there are stories of transformed lives, like Pam who runs most of the programs out of OKC Compassion, now five years sober. There are people on the road to recovery, there are people being made whole, and there are new creations.

The Kingdom of God is coming to life in Oklahoma City; I see it when I see John, who washes dishes—literally hundreds of dishes—everyday at lunch. I see it in Lisa, who says she hates to run out of food and so makes extra so that every one can have their fill, up to seconds and even thirds. I see it in the people who come back to thank the kitchen workers after eating a good meal. I see it as I sort through donations in the clothing room, from people who want to give back in some way. The year of Jubilee is starting right here as people seek to serve God and love people recklessly.

I have been faced with many things that I expected, but also things I would not have predicted. It is interesting to see that the people who volunteer with OKC Compassion are people who have been helped from this ministry in the past. While I anticipated seeing addicts at the church, it was also interesting that everyone smokes. All the people I work with smoke! I think I was the only one who didn’t need a smoke brake.

Poverty may be the problem for these people, but those of us living well above the poverty line have our problems too—and what we need is to get to know the poor. We must begin to understand what leads a person to a place of dire need, and how to end the cycle. Poverty is a cycle. A person cannot will oneself out of poverty. Most of the time, a person cannot even work oneself out of poverty. It is a trap that is desperately difficult to escape from. Jeffrey Sachs said, “I have noted repeatedly that in all corners of the world, the poor face structural challenges that keep them from even getting their first foot on the ladder of development . . . .The world’s remaining challenge is not mainly to overcome laziness and corruption, but rather to take on geographic isolation, disease, vulnerability to climate shocks, and so on, with new systems of political responsibility that can get the job done. “ Many people believe that laziness is the problem, but when we look through Christ’s eyes at the poor, it should be impossible to see anything but love for the person we are looking at.

The way to eliminate poverty is not through charity. OKC Compassion will not solve the problem of poverty; it will assist those trapped in it. The solution to poverty is justice. As Pope Benedict XVI stated, “Works of charity…are in effect a way for the rich to shirk their obligation to work for justice and [are] a means of soothing their consciences while preserving their own status and robbing the poor of their rights.” To end poverty, we must eliminate the systems that breed the injustices that lead to poverty.

When I began the semester, my goals stemmed from this prayer: “Heal my heart and make it clean. Open up my eyes to the things unseen. 
 Show me how to love like you have loved me. Break my heart from what breaks yours. Everything I am for your kingdom’s cause, as I go from nothing to eternity.” God has given me the grace to begin to love others the way he has first loved me. And my heart is broken for the people I have seen, trapped in addiction, desperation, and hopelessness. They may be hungry, and we may feed them a meal, but we do that to lead them to the Bread of Life.