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” (Café 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. .

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