Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pitfalls of the Unreached People Groups (UPGs) Bandwagon

Sitting in a classroom full of missionaries and pastors in a Doctoral class on Missions Theology, I could not believe what was unfolding before me.  The pastor of a large church was boasting about how his churches missions dollars were only going to support missionaries working in Unreached People Groups (UPG) areas of the world.  The impassioned logical appeal of the professor had prompted this response from him.  The idea was being presented that all missions funds need to be channeled towards this purpose.  This was the final frontier of the church. Suddenly, I felt my ministry was being re-classified as unnecessary, or at best, of secondary importance.  The ramifications of this type of thinking could adversely affect the support of thousands of missionaries.

UPGs, or Unreached People Groups represent 1/3 of the world's population today. Most of these 4000 plus ethnic or language groups are located in areas (100 countries) where traditional Christian missionaries are not even allowed.   See, BIMI World Magazine Online, Volume 1, 2000

The validity of my ministry, and the ministry of any missionary working in nations where more than two percent of the population was considered Christian, was being questioned. The two percent mark has been decided by organizations dedicated to "frontier missions" as the point when a missionary could say that their nation or people group had been reached.  (See )   In other words, once the 2% was reached, the national church itself could go on and evangelize the rest of the nation, and the foreign missionaries work was no longer needed there.

This creates some serious discussion. Should missions dollars be withdrawn from all ministries not directly related to reaching UPGs, as proposed by the pastor mentioned above?  Since UPGs were considered to be the final and ultimate unfinished task of the church, how important could anything else be? This was the implication.  The country I work in was reported by Operation World as being  9.1 % evangelized/evangelical.  I work with a great team of missionaries involved in helping to fill church needs, and to train local Christians to evangelize their own nation.  We help in Bible Institutes, since very few of the pastors have advanced degrees in Theology.  We help provide training for Christian teachers and administrators in Christian schools, and have been instrumental at starting Christian schools in different areas of the country.  We help churches to train their own leaders and develop discipleship programs for their adolescents and youth.  We are on the ground floor in fostering the sending out of Dominican missionaries to the needy areas of the world.  Together we are contributing to the acceleration of the growth of the church in the Dominican Republic.  And we do it because God has called us here, and not to a specific Unreached People Group.  I respect and highly admire those who have indeed responded to a call to reach out to the UPGs, but our real value as missionaries is not based on where we go, but rather on our obedience to our call wherever the Lord might lead.
Spending charts show very little missions funds are currently being spent on reaching UPG groups.  Is this a sign of the need for a drastic shift in missions funding to these areas? Also, there were pie charts showing how few missionaries are working in the less than 2% evangelized area of the world, represented by the UPGs. This would seemingly support the great need for finances and man-power to these areas.  However these figures can be misleading as the vast majority of the UPG's are actually in nations that are closed to traditional full-time missionaries. This would certainly contribute to the picture of a great financial chasm between the two.  Since there are so many nations that do not allow traditional missionaries and their projects, it would be normal for less money to go towards support of on-going efforts into those countries. The fact that traditional missionaries are not allowed, can also explain why there are fewer missionaries working in these areas. Again I must
The red area (where most UPGs are located) is largely  where traditional missionaries face closed doors.
reiterate, that I certainly want to encourage support of UPG missions efforts, however not at the expense of the good work being done in the rest of the world by dedicated traditional Christian missionaries.

That missionaries have successfully crossed the 2% number barrier and are still working effectively and fruitfully in their respective nations seemed to have been overlooked in class that day.  The vast majority of these missionaries feel that God has asked them to work where they are, this call factor seems to have been forgotten in the discussion.  I want you to understand that as a missionary and a missions teacher, I am committed to present the plight of the UPG's and to challenge young people to go, but not at the expense of the valuable work being done by traditional missionaries. When I travel