Every day we read disturbing headlines from around the world: radical factions escalating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from both sides; IS jihadists massacring Christians in Iraq; Islamic terrorists kidnapping school girls in Nigeria; militant Buddhists persecuting Muslims in Myanmar; the government taking down crosses from church buildings in China … and the list goes on.
How do we make sense of what is happening in the world? How should we respond?
Effective response to these crises requires long-term strategies based on an understanding of the histories, cultures, religions, economics, politics, etc. of these unreached nations. The following are principal challenges for the Gospel in our times.
Systemic Poverty & Institutionalized Corruption
They are related root causes of many social ills in the developing world. As a result, frustration, despair and anger are widespread, especially among the youth, who become easy recruits for radical groups.
Urbanization & its Social Costs
Economic migration of the rural poor is driving rapid urbanization in developing countries. While some escape poverty, the social cost of fast growing slums, pollution, disease and crime is heavy. And stories of human trafficking are heart-breaking.
Sophisticated Religions & Cultures
Ironically (please keep this), the 10/40 Window countries represent ancient civilizations with rich religious traditions, deeply entrenched worldviews and sophisticated philosophies. Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Islam have their strongholds in this region. Alarmingly, their recent revivals in some areas are falling captive to radicalism.
Major advances in 20th century missions had taken place mainly in the southern hemisphere — Africa and South America — where cultural and religious systems are less sophisticated. Reaching the 10/40 peoples in the 21st century presents different challenges.
We are familiar with the parable of the sower. Culture is the soil condition that affects the outcome of sowing. Anti-biblical values and worldviews are rocks, weeds and toxic waste that hinder response to the gospel.
In Africa and South America, when tribal chiefs, village elders or shamans come to faith, the masses follow. As in China, most 10/40 Window societies are strongly hierarchical. The power brokers and opinion leaders are the government and business people, intellectuals, professionals and those in media. As strategic influencers shaping values and trends, they must be reached for the Gospel to make deep and lasting impact.
Love-Hate Relationship with the West
Developing countries aspire to the technology and prosperity of the West. Their young people embrace Western pop culture. But many 10/40 people groups also harbor resentment against the West due to the Crusades from centuries ago and colonialism in more recent times. Unfortunately, Christianity is often seen as the “religion of the enemy” and suspect of cultural imperialism or ideological infiltration.
Closed Doors to Missionaries
It is therefore no surprise that “missions” is taboo in these countries. Foreign religious workers may not even be welcome as tourists. For the Gospel of reconciliation to reach the unreached in our time, it will take wisdom, understanding and creativity — new wine in new wine skins. To do so, we need to examine biblical principles and learn some important lessons from missions history.
HOW THE EARLY CHURCH WON THE ROMAN WORLD
“The 1st century world was largely rural. But Paul’s missionary strategy took him from city to city. He spent extended time in the key metropolises of the Roman Empire: 18 months in Corinth, the commercial center; 3 years in Ephesus, the cultural center; and his final years in Rome, the center of political power. Missions for the Early Church was essentially an urban movement.” (Networker, Spring 2014)
Speaking at the 2010 Lausanne Congress in Cape Town on “What is God’s Global Urban Mission”, Tim Keller said:
"Christian mission won the ancient Greco-Roman world because it won the cities. The elites were of course important, but the Christian church did not focus on them alone. Then, as now, cities were filled with the poor, and the urban Christians’ commitment to the poor was visible and striking. Through the cities, Christians changed history and culture by winning the elites as well as identifying deeply with the poor."
- Cities are culturally crucial. In the village, someone might win its one or two lawyers to Christ, but winning the legal profession requires going to the city with the law schools, the law journal publishers, and so on.
- Cities are globally crucial. In the village, someone can win only the single people group living there, but spreading the gospel to ten or twenty new national groups/languages at once requires going to the city, where they can all be reached through the one lingua franca of the place.
- Cities are personally crucial… The countryside and the village are marked by stability and residents are more set in their ways. Because of the diversity and intensity of the cities, urbanites are much more open to new ideas—such as the Gospel!
WHOM JESUS MINISTERED TO
We often think of Jesus’ earthly ministry in terms of his interactions with the needy and the outcast. But Jesus’ enemies criticized him mainly for wining and dining excessively with sinners and tax collectors—the rich and powerful with government and business connections!
Jesus preached to the masses in the open fields. But let us not forget his many dialogues and debates with Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers and scribes, the intellectual elites of his day.
Going through the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ personal encounters with individuals show that he touched people from all strata of society.
In 15 miracles and 3 encounters, we have no information about the individuals’ socioeconomic status, e.g. the paralytic in Lk. 5:17-20.
In 5 miraculous healings and 2 encounters, Jesus ministered to the down and out, e.g. the blind beggar in Jn. 9:1-12.
In 5 miracles and 12 encounters, he reached out to the well-to-do, people of some means, e.g. Zaccheus in Lk. 19:2-10.
God is no respecter of persons. Jesus cared for both the powerless and the elite. One was not more important than the other. But clearly the leaders of his day had Jesus’ attention.
REACHING URBAN INFLUENCERS TODAY
Rural missions is needed for unreached people groups in the countryside, while urban missions is needed for all nations undergoing rapid urbanization. But because city dwellers, compared to the rural population, seem less needy, they can be overlooked in prioritizing missions resources.
The fact is both poor and rich are lost and equally in need of the Gospel. However, if the Gospel is to make lasting impact in the hierarchical societies of 10/40 Window nations, it is strategic that we reach opinion leaders in the cities that are brokering progress and change.
What Is GLS Doing?
We send tentmakers to join the urban church movement in China that is entering mainstream society by influencing the urban workplace, especially the business sector. Working with ministry partners in Greater China, we support research, publication, seminars and conferences on workplace issues and business ethics.
For 20 years, we have also been working with believers in China’s academic sector to change the soil condition of their culture. We focus on Christian faculty development and collaborate with open-minded intellectuals to promote Christian Studies so that our faith will gain respect and influence in scholastic circles. These efforts also help bridge East and West as historical and ideological issues are clarified.
SERVING THE UNDERPRIVILEGED
In the spirit of the Great Commandment to love our neighbors, we are called to care for the “least of these brothers” in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats. But serving the poor and the powerless must go beyond relief and development. In every 10/40 Window nation, we are confronted with systemic poverty rooted in institutionalized corruption and exacerbated by political, ethnic and sectarian conflicts. Relief and change require working with government and business sectors for long-term solutions.
Short of accessing decision makers in high places, one approach that can yield long-term results is to engage the education sector—working with students in their leading universities to impart not only personal faith but also a calling to social responsibility. These bright young people will in time rise to positions of influence. Likewise, reaching international students and scholars, who have come to the West, is also strategic as they too could contribute to social progress upon returning home.
What Is GLS Doing?
For 20 years, we have been sending teachers to serve in China long-term. We also send summer teams for cultural exchange at the country’s top universities. American and Chinese students learn cross-cultural teamwork in community service projects. Engaging the elite to serve the poor together is our strategy to influence these future leaders of China.
Serving the poor also provides common ground for Christians and Communists from which dialogue and mutual understanding become possible. Chinese students observe the lives of American Christians and decide if they like what they see. Friendship and partnership between Chinese and American students lead to authentic witnessing.
On our China Vision Trip, we offer English training to teachers and students at rural high schools. Meeting Christians for the first time, some teachers ask for Bibles. Each of these schools located in a small town serves scores of surrounding villages. Out of hundreds of students, the schools could only pick the best to enroll in our program due to limited resources. So even in our rural education program, we work with those who have potential to make a difference at the grassroots level of society.
BUILDING BRIDGES IN A FRACTIOUS WORLD
What we have been doing in China, we will take to Muslim countries. Just as Jesus, Paul, and the Early Church had no political agenda, our endeavor to bring the Gospel of hope and reconciliation to those who live in despair and strife is apolitical. But we do hope to see social transformation such as decrease in crime and corruption when significant populations experience personal transformation through the power of the Gospel. When men make peace with God, they will have the resources to make peace with others, resulting in greater social harmony.
But even if those we seek to reach do not come to faith quickly, our work of educational and cultural exchange are important for building bridges of friendship and understanding between North America and 10/40 developing countries. Individuals and nations that aspire to leadership in the world should be peacemakers that understand how others see their interests. And peacemaking begins with the meeting of minds when people of diverse cultures, religions and political persuasions find common ground and enter each others' worlds.
The mission of GLS is to “make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God” (Isa. 40:3b) that there may be peace on earth and good will among men.