In this edition: Stories & Statistics
- WORLD: Where Do Missionaries Go?
- BANGLADESH: A Flower Jesus Made Bloom
- PAKISTAN: Couple Appeals Death Sentence for Alleged Blasphemy
- IRAN: Virtual Church Faces New Opposition
- MIDDLE EAST: Confessions of a Bible Smuggler
I’m finding it harder and harder to trust any statistics related to COVID-19. To reignite my confidence in stats, I turned to missiologist Justin Long. See below for his article on the nuances of counting how many missionaries work among the unreached.
Justin also mentioned the new UNHCR report on Forcibly Displaced People (refugees, etc.). It has great infographics to help you wrap your head around the data, and the five-minute video at the top of the page is beautifully done.
All these great resources reminded me of this graphic showing how the Bible is a single, great narrative.
Source: Justin Long, June 3, 2020
I frequently teach Lesson 9 of Perspectives [see lesson summary]. Whenever I do, one feature of the session that is often done, either at the beginning or at the middle break, is the “Worldview Demonstration.” This presentation attempts to show people the world’s population, the breakdown of religions, and how many of the world’s missionaries and the world’s mission money goes to the “more reached” vs. the “less reached.”
Inevitably, I often get asked how old the statistics are, and whether they have been updated. And the answer is, “fairly old” and “sort of.”
It takes a significant amount of time and personal relationships to attempt to gather any sort of credible estimate of missionary numbers per country. Maintaining them over time—that is, looking for trends and ebbs and flows in missionary information—is even more difficult. Fortunately, we have two good, recent sources, both from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. One is the 2010 Atlas of Global Christianity and the other is the latest World Christian Encyclopedia.
In the latest WCE, the total number of missionary workers globally is estimated at 425,000 (this includes all traditions).
But the real question we want to get to is “What percentage of these workers are laboring among the unreached?” And that’s where it gets even stickier… [But] here is what you wanted all along:
Globally: 425,000 missionaries
- Total in World A countries: 11,940 (3%)
- Total in World B countries: 87,000 (20%)
- Total in World C countries: 326,060 (77%)
Based on this we can note 77% of the missionary work force is almost certainly not focused on the unreached. 23% of the workforce is in places where “unreached” and “evangelized” peoples are largely found, but the workforce focused on the really difficult, most unreached peoples is probably not more than 3% of all missionaries.
» Read the short essay with regional breakdowns, definition of terms, and explanation of challenges. While there, check out other research and writing from Justin Long.
Source: Bible League International, June 29, 2020
Prodip’s family first arrived in Bangladesh from India in 1970. Today, he’s 43 years old and lives in a tea garden in eastern Bangladesh with his wife and many other migrants from India. For a long time, Prodip spent his time drinking and doing drugs. He notes, “I spent half my money on alcohol and marijuana. It gave me a high when I was depressed.”
Then, a church planter visited Prodip’s family and shared with them about the Good News of Christ.
At first, Prodip ignored the believer, but the more they spoke, the more he was impressed by the pastor’s humility. He talked to Prodip at length about the gospel and the Bible. He says, “I understood that I was a sinner and needed Jesus to rescue me.”
While the pastor was praying, Prodip became emotional and began crying, which surprised him and his wife since he is not very emotional. “I knew that God had touched me deeply. I felt my life was like a flower that Jesus made bloom.”
[Eventually] Prodip confessed his sins to God as well his wife. Now, their relationship is growing better every day. He no longer drinks or uses drugs and has learned to handle life in a better way. “I can see the look of wonder and disbelief on people’s faces when they interact with me. I’m equally surprised to see myself changed and transformed.”
» Also from Bangladesh, read a fun story about The Bangladeshi MacGyver Turning Trash into Robots (Compassion International).
Source: Christian Freedom International, June 24, 2020
Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar are two more victims of Pakistan’s unjust blasphemy laws [which outlaw insulting Islam and its founder, Mohammed]. The young Christian couple was accused of sending blasphemous texts to a Muslim cleric in 2014. They were sentenced to death and have spent six years in separate prisons waiting for Pakistan’s High Court to hear their case. Their appeal has been repeatedly postponed and is now set for September 2020.
The illiterate couple have four young children. Shagufta was the sole breadwinner of the family since 2004 when her husband Shafqat became paralyzed following an accident that fractured his spinal cord.
The alleged texts were written in English. But neither Shafqat or Shagufta speak or read English. An investigation revealed that the couple was involved in an argument with their accuser months before the blasphemy accusation was made against them.
» Read full story and pray for this couple and their children.
» You might also be interested in learning how Pakistani churches are pulling together in COVID-19-related relief efforts (MENA Collective, via Mission Network News).
Source: Mission Network News, June 19, 2020
Iran’s latest legal changes target virtual churches and online ministries. According to Article18, new amendments to an existing law expand Iranian authorities’ ability to persecute religious minorities.
“Iran’s latest legislative amendment appears to be, in part, a response to internal uprising and political unrest across the country,” says Mike Ansari of Heart4Iran.
“For a long time, Iran has waged war on its minority population and blamed them for its misfortune. Many feel this is a desperate power-act by Iran to secure its longevity and survival.”
Meanwhile, a spiritual revolution is underway in the Islamic republic. “In the last three months, our call center at Mohabat TV has registered an all-time high of 3,000+ monthly decisions of faith from Iranian Muslims who are converting to Christianity,” Ansari says. “This ten-fold increase, compared to the same period in 2019, is a major indication that the Islamic Republic of Iran is losing a cross-section of its Muslim population to Christianity.”
Source: Open Doors, June 23, 2020
“John” arrived at the airport late in the evening. There was only one more hurdle to get through before he was safely with his contacts, secret Christians who were following Jesus in this Middle Eastern country.
He had to make it through the border.
He went to the customs line at about 9:30 pm. His hope was the customs officers wouldn’t ask to see inside John’s suitcase; he hoped they would just wave him through.
That’s not what happened.
My boss’s boss grew up as a missionary kid in a remote jungle. At a recent online staff meeting he told us, “My job is to navigate the canoe as effectively as I can in the currents in which we find ourselves.”
Are you feeling the currents? Trying to stay on mission? Seeking to adapt to crises and calls for change? Or maybe you’re grieving some losses. This month’s resources may help. I hope you know you’re not alone.
In This Issue:
This new book brings together global scholars and practitioners who share and think broadly about the Church’s mission in a world rife with crises. Rather than harmonizing the voices of the contributors to provide general guidelines for generic crisis response, Practicing Hope allows the reader to hear multiple perspectives on complex issues such as sustainability, empowerment, human rights, biblical principles, and the mission of God.
The 12 essays were written for the Evangelical Missiological Society (EMS) before the struggles we’ve faced in 2020, as the introduction acknowledges, but their release now is certainly timely.
» Learn more or purchase the Kindle edition for US$9.99 or less. A paperback edition will come out July 20 and sell for US$14.99.
» Are missiologists your tribe? Consider attending this year’s EMS national conference coming up October 9-10. It will be online and inexpensive. I’m planning to attend.
Are you or someone you know trying to find a mission agency that fits? The Mission App is a new service that allows users to fill out a single initial application and be matched with appropriate agencies based on criteria the user defines. Twenty agencies are participating at this point.
» Learn more. While you’re there, check out their blog with helpful articles for aspiring missionaries.
» Speaking of mission agencies—if you lead one, the publishers of the North American Mission Handbook could use your help. Fill out a questionnaire to have information about your organization included in the next edition.
Source: Global Frontier Missions
Step In is a free, five-week, small-group study designed to provide Christ-centered education and missional exposure to believers of all ages.
- Step One: Discover Your Purpose (God’s heart for his glory)
- Step Two: Develop Your Perspective (the mission of God)
- Step Three: Assess Your Place (the task remaining)
- Step Four: Shift Your Paradigm (the gospel and culture)
- Step Five: Modify Your Position (everyone is a disciple maker)
Each lesson is pithy, practical, and can be taught via Zoom.
Registration required to access materials. Looks like they’re also trying to build up and equip a network of regional facilitators, so you can indicate your interest in that there, too.
Like to learn by listening? Here are two interesting episodes from podcasts we’ve highlighted before, plus two podcasts that are relatively new.Leaving Your Host Country During a Pandemic
Source: Taking Route Podcast
Alicia Boyce describes her family’s decision to leave Indonesia and evacuate to US, how they came to that decision, and the lessons she’s learning through it. Alicia’s story will help those who stayed abroad to better understand the realities of friends who left and will encourage fellow evacuees facing the ups and downs of repatriating during a pandemic.
» Listen to the episode and others.How COVID-19 Is Impacting Global Missions
Source: Global Missions Podcast
Ted Esler of Missio Nexus shares a high-level view of how COVID-19 is affecting evangelism, discipleship, and church-planting—and how those areas might be affected in the future. Episode also includes discussion of the death of George Floyd and diversity in missions.
» Listen to the episode and others.Fundraising in a COVID-19 Era
Source: The Mission Matters Podcast, Missio Nexus and Sixteen:Fifteen
This new podcast was launched May 1 to engage church and agency mission leaders. The podcast is also available in video format (YouTube). The first episode includes three guests from the worlds of finance and foundations looking at giving patterns in this season.
» Listen to the episode or episode two, in which All Nations’ Pam Arlund shares about martyrdom and risk. Very thought provoking.What to Do When the World Is Unraveling
Source: Brand New Day Podcast, One Way Ministries
Are you overwhelmed by all that’s happening in the world right now? Are you depressed, immobilized, or fatigued? God promises us we can stay rooted even when the world feels like it’s unraveling. Host Michael Thompson of OneWay Ministries—the creators of PrayerCast—gives us a simple answer in this episode of the (brand new) Brand New Day podcast.
» Listen to the episode (and others).
Source: SEND International
SEND asked all their missionaries to summarize the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the responses reflected distress: Exhausting, overwhelming, frustrating, stressful, lonely. Can you relate? If so, perhaps it’s time to open your heart before the Lord in lament. Unrecognized grief can come out in many ways, and we don’t realize all our losses until we start to list them out.
Source: Missions Catalyst Events Calendar
July 1, Mobilizing the Next Generation: Helping Young People Bend Their Trajectories Towards Missions (online). Webinar from Missio Nexus and Sixteen:Fifteen, with Jeff Lewis.
July 6-25, Beautiful Feet Boot Camp (Choctaw, OK, USA). Missionary training institute (held annually). Note change in dates/length this year.
July 6-17, Summer Institute for Islamic Studies (online). Evangel University. Previously scheduled for Springfield, MO, now a virtual event. A new institute for Buddhist studies has been pushed back a year.
July 6 to November 6, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement (online). New classes start regularly.
July 8, Thought Leader Briefing: Self Care for CEOs (online). Event from Missio Nexus (previously scheduled for June), with Roy King.
July 9-11, The National African-American Mission Conference (online). An annual event; previously scheduled for Virginia in June. Free this year.
July 12-17, ABIDE re-entry debriefing for global workers (Joplin, MO, USA). Held several times a year.
July 13-17, Gather (online). A virtual event for women ministering overseas, provided by Thrive.
July 15, Mobilizing People of Color (online). Webinar from Sixteen:Fifteen.
July 18-24, New Wilmington Mission Conference (online). Annual multi-generational mission conference; a tradition for more than 100 years. Meeting virtually in 2020.
July 20 to August 15, COMPASS (Palmer Lake, CO, USA). Language and culture acquisition provided by Mission Training International. Courses held throughout the year.
July 23, Hostile Interrogation Management Workshop (Auburn, AL, USA). Provided by Crisis Consulting International.
July 26 to August 7, Second Language Acquisition (Union Mills, NC, USA). Provided by the Center for Intercultural Training.
» View complete calendar. Submissions and corrections welcome. We will continue to make updates about canceled and postponed events.
“God does His deepest work in our darkest hours,” said A.W. Tozer. This edition of News Briefs includes glimpses of how people of faith are responding to some of the challenges in today’s world. Image: Nigerian Christians in prayer, via World Watch Monitor.
Source: INcontext, June 17, 2020
On Saturday June 13, in Nigeria’s volatile northeast Borno state, about 20 soldiers and more than 40 civilians were killed, and many injured, in twin Islamist attacks. These attacks overwhelmed the local hospital, forcing some of those injured to lie waiting for assistance outside the facility.
The militants burned down the United Nations humanitarian aid office in the area and set fire to the police station. Jihadist fighters handed out letters to residents, in the local Hausa language, warning them, “not to work with the military, white Christian Westerners or other ‘non-believers’ and humanitarian aid agencies.”
Just a few days earlier, at least 81 people were killed in an attack on another village in Borno state. Around the same time, nine Christians were killed in a gun and machete attack, and seven others were kidnapped in North-central Nigeria. The latest attack follows similar Fulani herdsmen attacks on predominantly Christian communities.
» Read full story with prayer points and another INcontext article, Escalating Jihadist Violence in Africa’s Sahel Region.
» For more about the violence in Nigeria, including a discussion of its sources, read Incessant Killing More Dangerous than Coronavirus (World Watch Monitor).
Source: Preemptive Love, June 4, 2020
Ihsan Ibraheem grew up under the authoritarian rule of Saddam Hussein. He lived through the US invasion of his country, the sectarian war that followed, and the rise of ISIS. He has put his life on the line to serve those of every background. He writes:
“My friends, I’m very sorry to see what is happening in the US. I have been watching and following from my home in Iraq since the beginning of the events that led to this, and I’m really sad and worried.
“Maybe because we are not so far from this. In the last several months, violence hit Iraq really bad. We still haven’t recovered from it. Not to mention all that’s happened in the past 15 years—from the sectarian war to ISIS.
“You may think that what happened in Iraq was because of many things, any of which could be true. But I believe two of the main things that led to this are sectarianism and nationalism.
“Everywhere else, we all know it as racism.”
“It is a virus within our systems, communities, people, and ourselves—more dangerous than any other virus in the world.”
» Also from the Middle East, read about how believers in Yemen are responding to the COVID-19 crisis and “turning fears into prayers” (Open Doors).
Source: OMF USA, June 8, 2020
“No way. That’s crazy!”
I was shocked. I’ve studied missiology. I have an advanced degree in cross-cultural ministry. All the research I could think of said the same thing: Near cultures can reach the unreached with the gospel more effectively and efficiently than far cultures. For someone from a far culture it just makes sense. Near cultures have language, similar cultural values, and a relatively short distance to travel.
But my friends of Southeast Asian heritage were challenging one of the core tenets in my philosophy of missions. When I asked if it would be easier for them to reach a certain people group in Southeast Asia, they said “No way. That’s crazy. It would be much easier for you to reach them than us.”
I’m a white male from Midwestern US. I don’t speak any Asian languages and I know next to nothing about the culture. Both of their families came from a minority people group nearby the majority people group I was praying would be reached.
Here’s what I missed: Racism. Tribalism. Ethnocentrism. Classism. History of oppression. History of power struggles. History of cultural clashes. Generations of stories that passed on prejudice like hand-me-down clothes.
I thought racism was primarily an American problem. Turns out it’s a human problem. And these ingrained prejudices can be bigger barriers to the gospel than language or culture or distance.
As I have watched the American, and particularly the white American church struggle with how to respond to both conscious and unconscious, individual and systemic racial oppression in our country over the past several years, I’ve become convinced that we need to incorporate a gospel-saturated response to racism in our cross-cultural training.
» See also 10 Encouraging Trends of Global Christianity in 2020 (LifeWay) and Missions in a COVID Crisis: Diversity Implications (World Evangelical Alliance).
Source: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, June 9, 2020
Indonesia is home to some 6.8 million Minangkabau. They are the fourth largest ethnic group in Indonesia and the dominant ethnic group in West Sumatra. They are 99.72 percent Muslim and 0.26 percent Christian.
On June 3, Indonesia’s Communication and Information Minister removed a Bible app, “Kitab Suci Injil Minangkabau” [The Bible in Minangkabau language] from the Google Play Store at the request of West Sumatra governor, Irwan Prayitno. Backed by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI, Indonesia’s top body of Islamic clerics), Irwan insisted that the Bible app is offensive to the Minangkabau, whose culture is based on Sharia and the Quran, not the Bible.
The action sets a precedent and has triggered fierce debate on religious freedom both in West Sumatra and across Indonesia. Please pray.
Also from the Jakarta Post: Indonesia has said its citizens will not be allowed to participate in the haj pilgrimage this year, even if Saudi Arabia reopens Mecca and Medina in time.
Source: God Reports, June 3, 2020
[Rahil Patel] was raised in England in a Hindu family and hungered for whoever God was.
“Hinduism is a canvas of hundreds of religions with different doctrines and ideas and philosophies… I was so desperate to search for God.”
His drive to find God led him to travel to India, his parents’ homeland [where he trained to become a Hindu priest]. After only one month, however, a small voice spoke in his left ear: “Have you made the right choice?”
It was the first seed of doubt.
» Read full story or a related 2017 article, Found By Love: A Hindu Priest Encounters the One True God (BillyGraham.org.uk). I encourage you to watch Rahil Patel’s eight-minute video testimony (BillyGraham.org) or listen watch him share it at a 2018 conference in Chennai (The Witness). He also paints a picture of what it’s like to grow up as a Gujarati Hindu in London.
with Felicia Follum
How are you dealing with things? These are unusual days, aren’t they? My oldest daughter recently said, “When I complained a week ago about only talking about corona, I had no idea we’d only be talking about racism now!”
I suppose if you or someone close to you has COVID-19, that’s still a pretty relevant topic of conversation. Much grace and renewed health to you. And maybe you’re already weary of race talk. Can you bear with me for a few more words?
I’m wondering what God may be saying to you and me, to people like us:
- We are people who love Jesus.
- We are people who believe God created the races, colors, and cultures of the world for his glory.
- We are overwhelmingly White.
If you are not White and read Missions Catalyst, thank you so much. I value your experience and would welcome whatever input you have time and inclination to give on this meager offering.
As for me, I grew up in about as bucolic a Midwest American setting as you could imagine. If my dad had shaved only his mustache, our family could have modeled for the covers of soon-to-come Amish Christian fiction. It was homogeneous, parochial, and safe, if a little boring.
I cut my cross-cultural teeth under the influence of Steve Hawthorne’s missiology which emphasized asking questions and taking the time to listen well. I’ve often challenged others to cultivate curiosity about peoples and cultures and to delay judgement, that is, don’t assume you’ve got things all figured out too early.
Maybe, like me, you feel you haven’t got this whole racial injustice thing figured out. I’d like to share with you some insights from a friend of mine.Meet Felicia
Meet Felicia Follum. She’s an accomplished artist, helps lead her church’s mission efforts, holds two masters degrees, and was crushed on by more than one African migrant guy when we were on a short-term mission trip to care for Muslim refugees in Sicily a few years ago.
Felicia says, “Blackness isn’t my first identity, but it is an identity.” It deeply shapes who she is.
Leaving his restaurant one night, her biological father was murdered by the KKK. Just to be clear, she’s not 80 years old, recalling events from days long gone. Felicia is in her early thirties.
Sharing some of her personal experience, Felicia recounted a doctor’s visit for a sore tummy. The physician told her, “Given your demographic, statistically, you probably have STDs.” When Felicia insisted she hadn’t been sleeping around, the doctor replied, “It’s probably your husband then.”
Widening the circle, Felicia said, “I can’t think of one person of color who hasn’t been mistreated by police at least once.”
I asked her what White people might miss or not understand about their own situation. She said White privilege doesn’t necessarily mean you get more stuff or that your life is trouble free. “You still have trouble and deal with hard things. What White privilege does mean is that you don’t have blackness to deal with as well.”What Can We Do?
Knowing how asinine it sounded, I asked, “So what is the solution to all this, Felicia?”
“First off, we’ve got to find a way to address problems starting young. 50% of Black babies are aborted. 70-80% of Black babies who are born begin life in single parent households. 90% of Black kids have more ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) than my White husband, Jim.”
“There are also actions White people can take now. And these would really work, if they’d do them.”1. Learn
Felicia asks, “Can you name ten African Americans from US history and say one or two things about what they did? They’re there!” (For starters, check out Maggie Walker and the first missionary sent out from the US, former African slave George Liele.)
Why is it that the average American can only name three to seven? I don’t know about you, but I have a lot to learn.
Toward that end, I’ve started reading a couple of books. You can find many lists of books curated by smarter people than me, but here are mine. If you have read these or have already, I’d welcome a chat about them.
- White Awake, An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White, by Daniel Hill (IVP Books, 2017).
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown (Convergent Books, 2018; a memoir).
I think it’s also good to ask questions of your Black friends, if you have any. I have one. Of course, this is dicey and will not always work. Some Black people understandably don’t relish the newfound role of enlightening the light-skinned masses. Some, like my friend Felicia, are kind beyond words.2. Listen
At lunch recently a couple of colleagues were discussing the protests, the riots and looting, the “abolish the police” ideas, and the assumed spike in crime that would follow. I kept mostly quiet, not sure what to say and accurately assessing that I lack the intellectual resources to poke a stick in that hornet’s nest.
While on the one hand I agree that people shouldn’t burn someone’s business or trash the car of someone who’s just trying to get home to her family. On the other hand, I can’t help wondering, “What motivates people to do things like that?” What is the “why” behind the action? Or maybe the “why” two or three layers deep behind the behavior?
Is it possible that I’ve only listened to people like me for so long I’ve concluded there is no reasonable motivation? There’s no valid claim for injustice. This is America, after all. Anyone and everyone can make good choices, if they just will.
Or maybe not.
Felicia says she currently has 40 text conversations underway with White people whose minds are being changed, who are seeing sin they hadn’t been aware of, people who feel like they haven’t listened to others. Yay for them and yay for Felicia. (No, I won’t give you her mobile number, because I’m selfishly angling for number 41!)3. Engage
Felicia encouraged me and you, “Go to protests. You might not feel comfortable carrying some of the common signs nor espousing some of the sentiments. But most Christians would be okay with a sign that says, ‘do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.’ (A brilliant mantra for these days. Thank you, Micah!)
“Go beyond the sign and connect with some people. Ask good questions. For instance, ‘What are your beliefs?’ ‘What caused you to choose that sign?’ Say, ’I’m making a list of people to pray for. How can I pray for you?’ Then do it. Build the habit of asking lots of people how you can pray for them.”Conclusion
What’s God saying to you about this? I feel mostly like I need to listen and maybe somehow validate other people’s experiences in a new way, perhaps only in my mind.
As far as action goes, I don’t know yet. Jesus set the bar pretty high when he told the synagogue that Isaiah 61:1 had been fulfilled in their midst and proceeded to confirm it by putting his very life on the line.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this, particularly what you’re reading, who you’re listening to and what God seems to be saying to you and us. Please respond on our website or social media, or just reply to this email.