by Jim Reapsome
What’s the only uncontested truth about unreached peoples? (1) They are eterenally lost without Christ, and (2) we are supposed to reach them with the gospel as eagerly as the apostle Paul set his sights on Rome.
What’s the only uncontested truth about unreached peoples? (1) They are eterenally lost without Christ, and (2) we are supposed to reach them with the gospel as eagerly as the apostle Paul set his sights on Rome. All other "truths" about these people — who exactly they are and how we should reach them — are simply the best of our hman diagnostics and prescriptions. Nevertheless, sometimes the missions community resembles a bunch of sea gulls scrapping over a crust of bread as we snipe at each other over statistics, definitions and strategies.
Why scrap when there’s more than enough "bread" (the lost) to go around? Because justifying our various callings fall far short of pure science. One missionary goes to the never reached and one goes to the previously (historically) reached but still unbelieving. One goes to remote people whose names we can’t pronounce, and the other to familiar people in places such as Paris and Vienna. Both are satisfied until someone deduces that the one going to the never reached has the superior strategic insight. Therefore, missionaries and agencies working with the previously reaching feel increasingly threatened by what often appears to be the dogmatism of movements to reach the never reached.
Every day, it seems, we need to be knocked alongside the head with a two-by-four, just to be sure we haven’t forgotten the world’s billions who have not witness, no Bibles, no churches, no Bible conferences, no Bible schools, and no Christian books. Unless the churches and mission agencies force themselves regularly to reexamine their priorities, we won’t make a dent in the bastions of unbelief. We are woefully overbalanced in our allocation of missionaries and money twoard countries that already have churches, and in many cases have had them for a century or more.
If that’s the case, why then are we sometimes irritated with the unreached peoples movement? Because of what often appears to be a disregard for lost people who live in places that have had churches and Christian witness in the past. On the surface, one could easily get the impression that Yes, those people are lost, but they aren’t quite as lost as Pakistan’s Baluchis. Or, to put it another way, on the scales of missions strategy, the Baluchis weigh more than the people of Madrid.
Theologically, of course, there are no degrees of lostness. It doesn’t matter if you’re lost in Marshall Field’s basement or in the Sahara Desert, you are still lost. But your changes of getting found are much greater in Marshall Field’s than in the Sahara Desert. Therefore, strategically, it would seem logical to put more search and rescue teams in Morocco, than in Chicago.
However, the book of Acts, as well as missions history, shows that human logic does not always equal God’s will. The apostle Paul tried that and ran into a brick wall. Logic told him to go to Bithynia, or to Ephesus, but God interrupted his logic with a vision and sent him to Macedonia instead.
No matter how logical a certain strategy may seem — based on our best human judgments — someone usually responds to God’s call with a contrary vision that confounds the accepted wisdom. That’s why we have had such unprecidented mission opportunities and breakthroughs (the former U.S.S.R. for example). Our hopes for winning the never reached must not be pinned entirely on our research and logic, but on the superior wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. He brings life to the unconverted, and also wakes up slumbering churches and mission boards.
The divine impulse for missionary work always has been, and always must be, what we used to call the lands of "heathen darkness." But that doesn’t necessarily mean that our people slugging it out in Europe’s secular darkness are somehow misguided. After we agree on the basicc theological truth about unreached peoples, everything else is subjective analysis and interpretation. Each person, each church, each agency is accountable to God for how it exercises its mission calling. We can argue like Washington bureaucrats and ideologues about definitions, statistics and strategies, but each one of us has to receive and obey God’s vision about where to go and what to do.
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