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 http://www.bimi.org/worldMag/100A4.php
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 http://www.peoplegroups.org/ ) 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 Should missions dollars be withdrawn from all ministries not directly related to reaching UPGs, as proposed by the pastor mentioned above?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.|
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
and raise funds and speak in churches, it is my duty to speak of the great challenges to the church today, but I at the same time cannot disqualify the value of what God has asked me and others to do.
Is my response perhaps an over-reaction? What if I tell you, that in fact, there are churches that are responding just as the pastor in my class above responded? What if I tell you that there are missions boards that have decided to direct all their missions goals also to reaching the UPGs, and are insistent that all others do likewise. They want to channel all funds towards the stated goal of reaching Unreached People Groups. They have abandoned any mission work being done in the "reached areas". By their definition, that is any area that has more than a 2% Christian population. They have recalled their missionaries from "reached areas" and asked them instead to start over in a new region, culture, and language, where the unreached live. They are moving missionaries as chess pieces on a board, removing them from places of effectiveness, to places where they may feel unsuited, unprepared, or not even called. According to their thinking, there is no need for missionaries in Latin America, no need for missionaries in sub-sahara Africa, no need in Europe, or areas evangelized in Southeast Asia. Infant mortality rates are still high, human trafficking, immorality, and violence are rampant. HIV, and urban social ills are destroying the fabric of society in many of the "reached areas", but these nations are past the 2% mark and no longer need the outside help of missionaries. University campuses in the majority world (or third world) are untouched by the church at-large. Inner cities with their poor shanty towns, and massive poverty and moral dilemmas, struggle for solutions. Where are the workers that are needed? How long will it take to prepare them? How many will continue to suffer? Is it possible God could send help from other well organized and "reached" missions sending nations. Let me make a clear statement, traditional missionaries are still having a tremendous impact, and their help is being well received as they partner and join with national churches in tackling these gigantic needs. Please, do not stop your support of these effective servants of God.
Our nation the Dominican Republic is 9.1% evangelized or evangelical according to the Operation World database, yet there are over 3000 towns and villages in our country with no church. In a recent sectional gathering of 40 or so pastors, I asked how many owned vehicles. Two pastors had cars and two had motorcycles. How will the poor rural areas be reached? We have planted six churches here, we work with two Haitian schools, and with after-school remedial programs for Dominican children. We have taught at three different Bible Institutes and a University. In fact, I am currently teaching. We have pioneered the first Christian School (that is not Catholic) in this city of 220,000 people. But perhaps we should never have come here to this "reached" nation. But it is the Lord of the harvest that we must obey. Where he wants us is where we will be most effective for the Kingdom of God. And blessed is he, who is not offended by our obedience. We may be elsewhere tomorrow, but today this is where we are supposed to be.