by John Aitken
The growth of the church in the past 60 years has been nothing short of phenomenal. God has blessed His work and we see evidence that the Lord is building His Church around the globe. However, much remains to be done and millions have yet to hear of God’s love in Christ. The task of mission is far from complete.
Setting the scene for our lead articles in 2020, this article brings into focus what remains to be done, the opportunities that exist and the continuing call to pray that the Lord will send labourers into His harvest field.
When Echoes International launched two years ago, this was the vision we had: to see new generations of mission workers raised up for service. Through your prayers and support, this is beginning to happen.
For the first time in many years, we have more people involved in FirstServe and in short-term mission. The majority of those serving short-term are not just going for a month or two, but for one or two years. More people are considering long-term service and some for the ‘hard to reach’ places.
Much Still to Do
We are not content. We must push on. The spiritual needs of the world remain enormous. The Joshua Project analyses mission progress and suggests that over 40% of the world’s people groups are still unreached, 3 billion people,1 a concern we considered at an Echoes International conference in Northern Ireland, titled ‘Untold Billions still Untold.’ Reading a recent prayer letter, I learned that 1,099 African languages have no Scripture at all and of the 7,353 languages in the world, only 698 have the whole Bible!2
Analysing the current list of mission partners associated with Echoes International, 90% serve in countries where the Church has been established. This is reflected across mission as a whole. While necessary work is being done in these countries, we are concerned that only 10% of the current mission force are working in unreached areas. As Paul said, ‘It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known’ (Rom. 15:20). This is our vision too.
Taking the challenge of the unreached seriously and having a desire to see the consolidation of the Church where there has been remarkable growth, Echoes International has five strategic priorities for prayer and in mobilising new workers.
Encouraging opportunities to share the gospel with our Muslim friends.
Evangelising Europe, a continent with great spiritual needs.
Reaching unreached people groups.
Taking the gospel to the UK’s ethnic communities.
Sending gifted Bible teachers to the majority world.
In highlighting these five strategic priorities, we are not neglecting traditional fields but seeking to lift our eyes, and those of others,to the harvest fields of today.
…we are concerned that only 10% of the current mission force are working in unreached areas
The Muslim World
Countries in the Middle East and North Africa do not constitute the totality of the Muslim world. Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are the nations with the four largest Muslim populations. Indonesia is home to approximately 225 million Muslim people, representing 12.7% of the world’s Muslim population. Nigeria has almost 100 million Muslim people.
Central Asia, another major Islamic block, includes the former Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, which have a combined population of 78 million people. Across these areas only 0.23% of the population are evangelicals. Ten years ago, these countries were expelling mission workers. In the past two years, the election of new leaders and the need to secure economic and political progress has led to new thinking. This trend is illustrated by the government of Uzbekistan inviting churches to register and start Bible schools and camps, and have community involvement. Former Soviet states are often characterised by societal problems, such as alcoholism, domestic violence and child neglect. Foreigners with a background in agriculture, business, English teaching, medicine or social services can use their skills to help. We aim to make the most of these days of renewed opportunities and mobilise workers for the Muslim world.
The Evangelisation of Europe
Europe has over 700 million people with huge challenges: economic and political uncertainty; migration; and staunch secularism. Millions have ‘religion’ but do not know Christ personally. Despite budget airlines and ease of travel, Christians in the UK are often unfamiliar with many countries in Europe, such as Belarus, Kosovo and Macedonia.
Of the top 30 countries with the smallest percentage of evangelical Christians, 16 are in Europe. Among the most impenetrable are the Balkan states. In these countries, Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity dominate. National identity and culture are tied to religion and evangelicals are often considered a sect or a cult. Of Montenegro’s population of 600,000, evangelical Christians number 250, with only 80 being native Montenegrins. In Slovenia, almost 90% of municipalities lack an evangelical presence.3 These countries are open to the gospel and workers are needed to plant churches. Echoes International, in partnership with GLO, consider Central and Eastern Europe a strategic priority in mission.
Unreached People Groups
When spiritual needs overseas are mentioned, the response in the UK can be, ‘but the need is greater here.’ No doubt our communities are broken, with huge spiritual need. However, the issue is not need but access and resource. The question to be addressed is, ‘in any given context, what access does a person have to the gospel?’
If someone in the UK is so inclined, they can easily find help to understand the gospel; for the Kovol people in Papua New Guinea, it is not that straightforward. No outsider has learned the Kovol language, which only exists in oral form. Someone must learn the language, translate Scripture into it and teach the good news in a way that can be clearly understood.
Similarly, millions of people live in tribal groups whose culture, language and worldview distance them from the gospel. Globally, over 6,000 people groups are currently beyond gospel reach. Hence, in 2019, those who receive the weekly Echoes International Prayer Update have been praying for such groups. Sign up to join the strategic task of praying for workers among unreached people groups.
Globally, over 6,000 people groups are currently beyond gospel reach
Displaced & Migrant People
2016 saw a massive influx of refugees into Europe, with Germany alone welcoming 1 million people. We are aware of short- and long-term opportunities in Greece, Italy and other places to minister to refugees and share the love of Jesus Christ.
The cultural mix of the UK is significant. In Tottenham, London, over 120 languages are spoken. People from other cultures have been resident here for decades, including Italian, Pakistani and, more recently, Somali people. However, such groups often remain isolated from both the wider community and the gospel.
The UK hosts people from many nations on a temporary basis for study or work: students from China; university lecturers; experts in various fields and people with occupational skills, such as Filipino nurses, are all part of the mix.
Echoes International partners with local churches and individuals seeking to reach out cross-culturally to these communities and share the gospel.
Equipping & Training
In recent decades, unprecedented church growth in the Global South has resulted in a shift in Christianity’s centre of gravity. Although there has been significant gospel growth, in many situations, resources are often limited or unavailable. We hear it said that, ‘In some parts of the world, Christianity is a mile wide and an inch deep!’ While we do not completely accept this caricature, where there has been rapid growth there is a need to establish good foundations in biblical understanding and in the application of Scripture to daily living to bring lasting transformation.
This consolidation comes through the discipling of new believers and in establishing churches with elders who can care and teach. The strategic mission priority of training leaders is partly achieved through Bible teachers from the UK. We also supply indigenous elders and teachers with materials to enable them to teach others. Mission partners must be committed to developing indigenous leaders with a view to building strong and independent local churches.
During 2020, let us work together and pray that the Lord will provide workers to serve in these areas, and that the church in the UK will continue to play its part in the Great Commission.