Archive for the ‘Reaching the Unreached’ Category
Posted on July 30th, 2015 by David Burnette
Joaquín Guzmán, the billionaire head of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, escaped from a maximum security prison on July 11th of this year, slipping out through a mile-long tunnel outfitted with ventilation, electricity, and a motorcycle on rails.
You may have seen the headlines about “El Chapo,” as Guzmán is known. His second prison escape highlights not only a weak justice system in Mexico, but also the level of corruption that exists in certain parts of Mexico due to influential drug lords . So, in addition to a general desire for justice, why should Christians care about El Chapo and other Mexican criminals?
A Surprising Ranking
Surprisingly, Mexico was ranked fifth on the list of most violent countries for Christians in 2014. This ranking was based on a seventeen-month survey of “persecution incidents” by Open Doors, and the anti-Christian violence can be attributed in part to the criminal organizations and drug cartels that have targeted Christians and churches. These churches are seen as revenue centers, and are therefore targets for extortion. Churches are also targeted, according to Open Doors, because they offer rehab and support services to drug users .
The violence in Mexico appears to be much greater in the southern states, where the traditional laws make it difficult for Christian converts. Those who do not accept the practices of the local community are ostracized and sometimes persecuted. Open Doors’ annual World Watch List, which ranks countries in terms of their persecution of Christians, has Mexico at #38 in 2015. This ranking is based on different types of persecution, including discrimination from the government, social pressure, or outright physical violence.
Closer Than You Think
The persecution of Christians in Mexico is a reminder that intense pressure and physical hostility aren’t just problems over there, far across the ocean on another continent. It happens right in our backyard, in the same country where many Americans choose to vacation. Of course, not every area of Mexico is hostile to followers of Christ, and we shouldn’t mistake the influence of organized crime as the attitude of most Mexicans toward Christians. After all, over 90% of Mexicans self-identify as Roman Catholic. Still, these realities remind us that opposition to Christ comes in many shapes and sizes, and that following him can be costly in many places around the world, even right next door.
Praying for Mexico
As you pray for persecuted believers around the world and for the spread of the gospel, here are some specifics on Mexico:
- Pray for believers to endure and bear witness to Christ in the face of pressure and persecution.
- Pray for the gospel to be proclaimed clearly. The overwhelming majority of Mexicans self-identify as Catholic (around 90%), while only around 8% identify as evangelicals out of a population of over 122 million people.
- Pray for the 32 unreached people groups consisting of over 1.4 million people.
- Pray for the 8 unreached people groups that are still unengaged, i.e., there is no church-planting strategy underway to reach them. This accounts for over 156,000 people.
- Pray for the reduction of organized crime and for criminals to be brought to justice.
Posted on July 28th, 2015 by Jonathan
You may have heard about the suicide bombing that killed 31 people in Turkey last week (Yahoo News). Those attacked were part of an activist group that had gathered to prepare an aid mission to the Syrian city of Kobane, just across the border from where they were in Suruc. The group’s aim was to help rebuild Kobane, war-torn after multiple advances from ISIS. Indicators suggest that the man who carried out the deadly attack had links to ISIS.
Such tragedies merit the attention of the Christian community as we seek to love our neighbors well. But the closing few lines of the Yahoo News article cited above, easy to gloss over, deserve our attention as well:
Suruc, once a centre of silk-making, is home to one of the biggest refugee camps in Turkey housing Syrians who have fled their country’s bloody four-year conflict.
The camp shelters about 35,000 refugees out of a total of more than 1.8 million refugees taken in by Turkey since 2011.
A steady exodus of refugees fleeing a four-year long civil war doesn’t naturally lend itself to headlines, but such numbers are alarming. We’ve talked before about the Syrian refugee crises, but let’s focus in on Turkey for a moment.
In large part due to the Syrian war, Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country in the world, the population still rising. There are over one million Syrians now in Turkey, and, as we’ve discussed, there are 18 unreached people groups in Syria. But this is a case of need on top of need, because, percentage-wise, Turkey is the least reached country in the world.
The weight of need in Turkey grows with each new refugee that’s registered there. Meanwhile, ISIS continues its advance along the Turkish border. Might it be that God is at work in the hearts of people there, using their sense of physical peril to open their eyes to the imperiled state of their eternal soul? In Acts 17, Paul says of the nations that God has “determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him” (vv. 16-27). God is sovereignly orchestrating the migration of people groups that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Many of them are now in Turkey; who there will tell them what they’re looking for?
As Syrian refugees in Turkey lose their homes and their sense of safety, who will tell them of the divine comforter? As Turkish nationals anxiously peer into Syria, the rumblings the terror now at their doorstep, who will tell them about the reigning Prince of Peace? As ISIS militants visit the Turkish border, will they see anyone bearing witness to the God who is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26)?
At the bottom of it all, the question is this: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom 10:14)
According to the 2015 World Watch List, Syria is the fourth most hostile country in the world for Christians living there, in large part because of the growing presence and control of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Christians are among those most marginalized and endangered, but between the Islamic State’s harsh implementation of sharia law and the ongoing violence of civil war, they aren’t the only only ones suffering. This is evidenced by the astounding number of Syrians forced to flee from their homes.
Some 6.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced, while around 4 million have been displaced to surrounding countries, and some still beyond. Numbers like these are so big that they can actually be ineffective. Rather than helping us feel the tragic weight of human suffering, we’re left to grapple with an intangible statistic. In reality, these numbers represent individual people. Most are lost, and many are unreached – without access to the gospel.
Of the over 20 million people in Syria (the vast majority of whom are Muslim), nearly 7.5 million are unreached. These unreached people span across 18 distinct people groups, people groups who may now be found in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, and Europe.
All of this has a few huge implications for missions:
- Those hardest to reach with the good news remain in Syria. With the Islamic State taking over, people who remain are either silently hurting at their hands or complicit. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15), so to sinners we must go.
- Whether in Syria or abroad, Christians are being persecuted. The Islamic State violently opposes all who don’t agree with their religious convictions, especially Christians. Believers still in Syria are likely to be on the run, anxiously hiding, or suffering abuse. Believers who have fled Syria are often homeless, unemployed, lacking basic needs, separated from family, and still religiously restricted… unfortunately, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan (the top destinations of Syrian exiles) are all also on the World Watch List. As fellow members of the body of Christ, we suffer when they do. Our love for them is evidence of our love for God and a testimony to the gospel for a watching world (1 Jn 4:7, Jn 13:35).
- Those displaced are uniquely situated to hear the gospel. For displaced unbelievers, not only are they more accessible than they would have been in Syria, but they’re also potentially more receptive to the message of Christ. They may be disenchanted with Islam (Daniel Abraham explained this clearly today on Tim Challies’ blog), the might be thinking more about eternity, and their awareness of their need for a Savior may be heightened.
As is often the case, the church hurts worst in the world’s darkest spots. As we look to Syria and see our believing brothers and sisters suffering and fleeing, let’s not be guilty of indifference. Let’s pray for them, support them, and advocate on their behalf, knowing that helping the Syrian church continue to shine brightly is one of the greatest services we can do for the dark world around it. Syrians today need the light of Jesus more than ever. So let’s also bring the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation to those who presently oppose God.
The people of Syria are in dire need. May we rise to the occasion.
Posted on June 23rd, 2015 by Radical
This message was delivered by David Platt at CROSS 2015. In it, he shares his own personal longing to go to the unreached while urging all believers to give their lives for the spread of the gospel among the unreached. Below are his three main points:
- Surrender to Christ regardless of the cost.
- Abide in Christ and follow where He leads.
- Trust in Christ, for He is the great reward.
Summer vacations are not the only trips in view when the last school bell rings and the neighborhood pool opens. For many of you, these things also mean that your summer mission trip is just around the bend. It’s good that you begin thinking about it now. You’d be well served not to wait until the week (or night) before to begin preparing for it.
So here are some simple ways to get ready, between now and the airport terminal.
Begin Praying Now. This should go without saying, but prayer must undergird any sort of ministry in which you engage. Why? Because you can’t change people; only God gives new birth. Your dependence on him for this should be evident in your prayer life. If you aren’t praying, not only may your missions goals be too low, but your trust may be misplaced.
Know Your Team. This may already be happening, but if you aren’t meeting with your team before you leave, try to get together with them soon. While praying together and planing together have enough merit on their own, meeting with your team will also help you discern personalities and roles. One of the greatest opponents to your effectiveness as a team is disunity, and spending some time together before you find yourselves in an unfamiliar and/or stressful context may help to prevent any potential quarreling.
Rehearse the Gospel. I was privileged to spend a summer on mission in East Africa. I had been warned that on-the-spot introductions to speak were common. As it turns out, that couldn’t have been more dead on. At one point I was actually handed a megaphone in a crowded market. Thankfully, part of that warning came with an encouragement to prepare a gospel presentation. I would encourage the same. Even if you’re not going to a culture where impromptu sermons and megaphone preaching is common, it would be still wise to prepare a clear and concise statement of the gospel that you could share at a moment’s notice.
Look to Local Partners. I doubt you are unacquainted with the mission of your local parters, but if you are, get to know their vision before you get there. Little could be more encouraging to a long-term missionary than showing genuine care for the ministry they’ve devoted their lives to. But more than this, doing your homework will also tell you how to best come alongside them in their work. On a short-term trip, your time is best spent serving the long-term partner since they’ll be there long after you leave. So take a back seat, follow their lead, and see what will actually serve them longterm (not just give your team the best experience). And as a side note, you can begin serving them before you go by asking them if there is anything you can bring them from home – like care packages from loved ones, books, and even snacks they cannot get in their local country.
Be Ready to Grow. Don’t substitute your personal walk with Lord for serving him on a mission trip. It’s incredibly easy to place all your focus on your team, the work you’re doing, the travel plans, and all the sights to see. In doing so, you neglect communion with the source of your power. You must proactively combat this tendency to forgo your daily devotions on the trip. So before you leave, come up with a basic plan for reading your Bible and prayer. Also, expect to learn and grow a lot through what you do and experience; it would be prudent to have some sort of journal in which to process your thoughts.
Plan for Change. Though flexibility is key on the mission field, being flexible is different than not having a plan. In fact, flexibility often requires more planning. When your in-country transportation is running two hours late, have a section of Scripture ready to begin (or continue) memorizing. If the ministry plans fall through for a day, have some sort of backup plan in place to encourage your teammates and/or local partners. If a more pressing need arises, don’t be so married to your original itinerary that you can’t adjust. Humbly serve according to the advice of trusted local leadership even if it diverges from your preconceived notion of service. And if something strange is placed on the dinner plate before you, it’s time for you to expand your palette.
Posted on May 7th, 2015 by Jonathan
With the death toll at well over 7,000 people and climbing, the tragic scale of the earthquake in Nepal is hard to put into words. Perhaps the sadness is more effectively captured in this vivid account of the continually blazing Katmandu funeral pyres than it is in a quantitative catalogue of casualties. Here’s a heartbreaking excerpt:
The family of Usha Shrestha gathered along the banks of the Bagmati River on Monday to bear her body down to the funeral pyres.
They carried her on a stretcher fashioned from green bamboo, her body wrapped in a lavender flowered sheet, a red-and-gold sari and a marigold cloth written with God’s name.
They dusted her with red powder and placed small, crumpled bills atop her chest. They laid her jewelry over her heart, roughly two days after it stopped beating.
A professional body burner stacked logs of sal wood, a teak-like timber, onto a small platform and laid packets of ghee, a clarified butter, amid the timbers to ensure the flames would take light. One by one, her three sons prostrated themselves at her feet, their weeping uncontained by the surgical masks stretched across their faces.
Then the eldest son performed the ultimate filial duty, laying a flaming stick upon his mother’s lips.
As the flames spread across her chest, the body burner heaped straw atop her corpse, sending bluish smoke billowing into the sky over the white stupas of the Pashupatinath temple.
Since Saturday evening, when the 45-year-old widow was crushed in her home by Nepal’s massive 7.8 earthquake, Hindu funeral pyres have been burning here almost around the clock. As of mid-Monday, nearly 300 bodies had been cremated, authorities at the temple said, more than six times the normal rate of roughly 15 to 20 per day. (The Chicago Tribune)
The report goes on to relate the perspective of a professional body burner in Katmandu. Though devastatingly sad, you should read the rest of it. And as you read it, be reminded of what is really going on as the funeral pyres smoke and smolder. David Platt was reminded of it during a visit there a couple of years ago:
I stood at the Bagmati River in South Asia where every day funerals are held and bodies are burned. It is the custom among these Hindu people when family or friends die to take their bodies within twenty-four hours to the river, where they lay them on funeral pyres and set the pyres ablaze. In so doing, they believe they are helping their friend of family member in the cycle of reincarnation. As I saw this scene before me, I stood in overwhelmed silence. For as I watched these flames overtake the bodies, I knew based on Scripture that I was witnessing at that moment a physical reflection of an eternal reality. Tears streamed down my face as I realized that most if not all of the people I was watching burn had died without ever hearing the good news of how they could have lived forever with God. (Counter Culture, 248-249)
As we look to Nepal, may we bear in mind the eternal state of souls who die without Christ. To only meet their needs with water, shelter, and medical attention is a travesty of a remedy. Without the gospel, the flames of funeral pyres are not the only fires that Nepal’s dead will face.
Hear David Platt address the current situation in Nepal on the latest Radical Together podcast episode: A Christ-Compelled Response to Nepal.
How does the gospel get to the ends of the earth?
If your answer to that question is missionaries – those who are trained, supported, and sent out to other cultures by churches and missions entities here in the U.S. – then, of course, you’re right. Our missionaries have been and continue to be critical to the advance of the gospel, which is why we must continue to support them with our prayers and our giving.
However, the work of getting the gospel to all nations is also happening in ways that may not be on your radar. Consider three of these ways below, and think about how you might support the following missions efforts by praying, giving, or by your own participation:
1. Translation work
While it’s true that someone can hear and believe the gospel without having written resources in their own language, such resources are critical to the long-term spiritual health of individuals and churches. That’s why we have translation teams, or sometimes just individuals, who do the hard work of translating the Bible and Bible-based resources into other languages. Getting these resources to pastors and church leaders is an especially important first step. How else will believers be nourished, if not by the Word of life?
2. International immigration
We often think about going to the nations, but the nations continue to come to us. Sometimes they even live in our own neighborhoods. Whether it’s the Chinese student at a nearby college, the Sudanese family on your street that has immigrated to the U.S. for economic or safety reasons, or any number of scenarios, there are opportunities to reach the nations without boarding a plane. Simply opening up your home is a great way to minister to those who who face social and economic challenges. In some cases, these individuals may even come from unreached people groups, so your witness may be more strategic than you know.
3. Missionaries who are international
The United States isn’t the only country with Christians in it, which also means that it’s not the only country that sends out missionaries. Churches across the globe send missionaries across the globe. We should pray that God would continue to raise up men and women from other countries, countries that may even have better access than we do to certain people groups.
Can you think of some other ways the gospel is going forth that we don’t normally think about when we talk about missions?
Posted on February 3rd, 2015 by Jonathan
If you didn’t catch our previous announcement, Vietnam is our Secret Church 15 prayer focus. Why are we highlighting this area? Two reasons, both of which you’ll hear more about in the coming months on the Secret Church blog. Make sure you go there for regular posts and updates.
- Unreached People Groups – Vietnam has 74 unique people groups comprised of 93,530,125 individuals. Of those, 71 are unreached. Of those unreached groups, 23 are unengaged. Only three people groups in the country are reached with the gospel.
- Persecution – According to Open Doors’ World Watch List, Vietnam is the 16th worst country for Christians to live in, in terms of persecution. Much of the opposition comes from communist authorities. However, in a country that is overrun with various mixtures of Buddhism and animism, Christianity isn’t exactly welcomed by the friends and family members of believers.
As we’ve learned, persecution accompanies witness because the goal of persecution is to silence witness. This means we cannot simply pray for suffering Christians to endure and persecution to end; we must also pray for the gospel to increase and the number of UPGs to decrease.
On behalf the persecuted Christians and their persecutors, and on behalf of the unreached peoples and those trying to reach them, won’t you join us in praying for Vietnam?
Posted on January 27th, 2015 by David Burnette
Imagine being so motivated by your faith that you are willing to leave the comforts of home in order to travel over land and sea, all so that people will be converted. You refuse to be silent about what you believe, even if it means making a sacrifice. Then imagine your reaction when Jesus comes to you and, in light of all your efforts, calls you a child of hell.
This is exactly what happened to some first-century missionaries – you may know them as the scribes and Pharisees. Here’s how Jesus responded to their disciple-making efforts:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Matt 23:15)
The scribes and Pharisees illustrate for us why zeal, in and of itself, is not enough. They were willing to get a passport and jump on a plane, so to speak, but in the process they were making people “twice as much a child of hell” as they were (Matt 23:15). These hypocrites were zealous, but for the wrong, gospel-denying reasons.
Religious groups that deny the gospel are still willing to travel across the world to make converts in our day. The Mormons are one of the more obvious examples. Admittedly, we can respect the commitment and the willingness of such groups to make sacrifices for what they believe, especially when they know their message won’t be well received. After all, we too should be zealous in our service to the Lord. But we don’t want to have the testimony of Israel in Paul’s day: “They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom 10:2). All the sincerity and passion in the world are not enough if we are not fueled by the truth.
As Christians, our zeal has a very specific foundation, and it’s not simply a positive attitude or even a selfless desire to help others. No, our zeal is based on the gospel. It’s a Spirit-prompted response to God’s mercy in Christ, a response that includes submission, gratefulness, and a strong desire to obey. It’s what Paul meant when he said, “For the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor 5:14).
Just to be clear: making sure that our zeal is motivated by the gospel is not a call to temper our excitement about Jesus. Rather, it’s a reminder to feed our affections for him by reflecting on his glories as revealed in Scripture. This helps us to obey Paul’s command, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom 12:11).
So regardless of whether or not our service to the Lord requires traveling over land and sea, let’s make sure we have have the right kind of zeal – a zeal based on truth.
Posted on January 8th, 2015 by Jonathan
It may seem like we’re splitting hairs to differentiate between “lost” and “unreached,” but we aren’t.
In a previous post, we discussed unreached peoples, who they are, and what it practically means to be unreached. The definition we gave for unreached was: “people groups among whom there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to engage the people group with church planting.” In describing what it would mean to be in an unreached people group (UPG), David Platt illuminates the one factor that makes a UPG different than merely being lost:
You don’t have access to the gospel. And this is key; this is why we don’t say, Well, I don’t know why we talk about unreached people around the world when there are unreached people who work at my office. Not true. Those people aren’t unreached. Why? Because they have access to the gospel. You are their access to the gospel!
The people who don’t know Christ at your office are lost. For the salvation of their souls, they must respond to the gospel with repentance and faith. But because you are in their life (and, presumably, so are other Christians), they are not unreached.
While an individual can’t be more or less lost (you either know Jesus or you don’t), an individual can have more or less access to the gospel. For this reason, we talk about UPGs a lot.
We should always be sensitive to the lost, having eternity in our eyes and the good news on our lips. But when there are over 6,500 UPGSs comprised of at least 2 billion individual people… it’s safe to say that the unreached deserve our urgent attention.
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