Wouldn't it make sense to stop sending westerners and instead send our money and prayers to Christians living near unreached Muslim peoples? After all, native Christians are a lot cheaper to support and already have the language, customs and culture. We could also spare expat families the unnecessary discomfort of adapting to the tough living conditions in some of these places. One of our workers said he used to wake up in the smog of India every day to the sound of birds coughing! Why put our people through that when the local Christians are used to living in those kinds of conditions? Can’t the indigenous church ‘make disciples of all nations’ better and quicker than us westerners?
This idea may sound logical but here are some reasons why it’s not that simple:
When Jesus commanded his disciples to ‘Go and make disciples of all nations,’ he promised to be with them ‘until the end of the age.’ The idea of God’s children travelling all over the world to make disciples doesn’t end until he comes. Sending from every ‘reached people’ to every ‘not reached people’ is ongoing. In God’s grand plan he’s always called some to stay near their places of birth and others to minister in far off places. The Great Commission begins with obedience, not strategy. The purpose of strategy is to improve our effectiveness as we all obey.
When God called Abram in Genesis 12 his plan was to bless his people and for them to become channels of blessing to ‘all the families of the earth’. Being directly involved in the Great Commission brings huge blessing to those who go as well as their supporters and sending churches.
But pioneering also costs lives. The history of the church is littered with stories of those who have laid down their lives for sharing the good news of Jesus. In saying we should only support nearby churches to reach the tough places it’s as if we’re saying, “Let them take the risk; let them lay down their lives! We’ll just keep sending the money.” Surely we’re called to lay down our lives alongside them.
In many places where unreached Muslim peoples and the church co-exist – places like Egypt, India, Nigeria and Indonesia – the nearby Christians have hardly started to reach out; often for understandable reasons:
Prejudice & fear
One of our long-term workers in East Africa observes that local Christians fear Muslims for spiritual and physical reasons: “Most would quietly but firmly say, 'In the name of Jesus' when they walk past a Muslim because they fear their spirits. They often fail to see them as needy humans but as dangerous enemies cooperating with the devil himself. Further, Muslims and Christians never eat meat together because each believes that the other has sacrificed it to an idol.”
Another said that among the thousands of indigenous Christian evangelists in his country, “I cannot find 50 who would turn their hearts to the work of reaching the 180 million Muslims in their country.”
So near and yet so far
We can’t assume that different people living in the same passport country are automatically ‘close’ to each other. In Chad, for example, it would take a great deal for local Christians to witness to their unreached Muslim neighbours. It would mean moving to a different part of the country, learning a new language and culture and overcoming deep seated prejudice.
The good news is that due to foreign workers coming in, the indigenous church is waking up to the urgency of the task and begun sending its people. This has been happening in India too where encouragingly almost all Frontiers teams now have locals who have joined them to reach out to ‘unengaged’ Muslim peoples.
One of the most unique and beautiful things about the church is that it brings together people from all walks of life and all nationalities into one body. Through the diversity of the church coming together God’s manifold wisdom is displayed in the heavenly realms (Eph 3:10). Surely one of the greatest ways God is glorified is when his diverse family comes together to serve him and make his marvellous deeds known among the nations.
So let’s pray for the Lord to raise up many more Brits and Brazilians, Iraqis and Indians, Koreans and Kenyans to come together to serve him in reaching the nations. Obedience requires us all to be involved and we are all to obey God’s call to reach the lost, no matter how inconvenient or hard.