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Forming Community to Reach Unreached People

February 4, 2020

Forming Community to Reach Unreached People

February 4, 2020

It was the first Christmas in a new unreached country. Our three missionaries invited all of the other missionaries in town (16 adults and 12 children in total) to join them for food, fellowship and prayer. In that city, on that day, there were more missionaries than Evangelical believers. It was the start of something new.

Radio Station HCJB Christmas Day Program 1931 Our missionaries arrived to establish a new Christian radio station, but they didn’t yet speak the local language. So, if the Gospel was going to go out over this station, they would need to reply on and work with the missionary community already in country. Missionaries from other organizations had already helped us secure the radio license and permissions. Still other missionaries helped with their skills, knowledge and connections, and even helped pay the occasional utility bill.

The country was Ecuador, the year was 1931, and our first missionaries were our founder, Clarence Jones, along with engineer Eric and Ann Williams. But the story could just as easily happen today as we go into creative access countries, in community and partnership with other organizations, to share the Gospel where missionaries may outnumber local believers.

Clarence Jones said, “We cannot do our work alone. We must do it together, and we must do it as colleagues.” This collaborative spirit only works with a humble, selfless attitude. “It’s amazing what can be accomplished if you don’t worry about who gets the credit,” he said.

Some 9,000 miles away and 88 years later, Reach Beyond has formed a new team of missionary workers around reaching an unreached people group. Only instead of radio, the primary tool has been medicine. In this creative access country, it is illegal to proselytize and there are no opportunities to establish Christian radio stations. But, we can demonstrate the love of Christ through medicine and community development. The tool may be different, but the community, cooperation and goal are the same.

So, what does it look like to form an unreached people group (UPG) team in a creative access country today? It starts with an open door.

LAYING THE GROUND WORK

Dr. B* and his wife, N*, spent many years serving in a medical clinic in Ecuador, but the direction was changing in South America. As the local Church was growing and local leaders were rising up, it was time to start transitioning the missionary work from Expats to Ecuadorians. B remembers, “it looked like things were winding down in South America, and I have always been of the strong opinion that a ministry worth doing is a ministry worth growing. What we were doing in South America was transitioning, and there was a certain restlessness to go beyond that.”

Their kids were in college, so as empty nesters, it felt like time to explore something new. “Different people at different times came to us seemingly out of the blue and said we should consider Central Asia,” B said. “So, one thing led to another, and we were introduced to an organization already working in country. We came out in 2010 for 2-3 weeks, evaluated it and came up with a strategic plan.”

The plan got the green light, so in 2012, they were packing their bags and moving to the other side of the world. They went to a country where they would be the only Reach Beyond missionaries, laying new groundwork. They also would have another new language to learn. Just as in the early days of HCJB, as Reach Beyond was originally known, they would have to rely heavily on the partner organization already established in country for visas, community and connections.

“Anytime you go into a new place, there’s a sense of being a pioneer,” B said. “Learning what’s available, learning the processes. It’s the same whether it is a U.S. hospital or a clinic in the field. But, we also felt like a pioneer for our agency. This wasn’t the first effort in the area, but we were the first long-term team. We were able to be informants to the agency about opportunities and support services available. We had to discover those things when we first came here.”

Concerned about creating a viable ministry with growth potential in a creative access country, B and his partner looked at a business as mission model. In 2016, they opened a for-profit family practice clinic with a teaching focus (although in the U.S. it would likely be considered non-profit, since all the money they make is invested back into their work).

“Interestingly enough, the focus of our work is actually not the patients,” he said. “We are a family medicine clinic and we do take care of primary care needs of the patient population, but our primary focus is actually on the local doctors that spend time with us. We are trying to develop them professionally as doctors that practice evidence-based medicine, but we also want them to have an impact spiritually, in terms of the whole person. We want to develop them as leaders, because we recognize we will never be able to do all of the things that we want to do for the future by ourselves.”

That vision of the future involves growth. While they did not go into country with a strategy for making it the gateway to the world, they realized there are a number of like-minded healthcare professionals already working in the area. “We see a lot of potential for working with them to have a much bigger impact that we originally thought,” B said. “Our goal is not just our current city, but to have 

satellite clinics throughout the region. Because such a large part of the area uses the same trade language, ultimately, we see our potential for impact from eastern Europe in the west all the way across to the Pacific Ocean, from Central Asia in the south all the way to the Arctic Circle.”

But first, they would need more people.

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

Dr. J* and his wife, C*, knew they wanted to serve in missions. As a pediatrician, J wanted to serve in medical work, specifically in rural areas. “I felt called to reach people with medicine that had little or no access to physicians, or healthcare in general,” he said.
They started researching what different mission organizations had available. “We realized that medical work is quite specialized and many people really didn’t know what it took to practice medicine in the developing world. We narrowed our search to organizations that did medicine and did it well, and that led us to Reach Beyond.” Specifically, the work happening in Ecuador with mobile clinics excited him, so they signed up to join the mobile clinic team in Ecuador, and they began their support-raising.

A year later, they learned that Reach Beyond was transitioning the work in Ecuador. “It was a clear sign that God didn’t want us there. We were 80% supported, but we took a couple months off. The Europe Eurasia Regional Director reached out and asked us if we had considered Central Asia. He invited us to go and start a mobile clinic program there, but we weren’t initially excited. We didn’t see ourselves as pioneers. In fact, when we looked at unreached people groups, we thought, there’s a reason why they are unreached. They are difficult to get to, they are in the hard places, not necessarily safe.”

In the end, J and C looked at all the different areas Reach Beyond was involved and realized Central Asia was where God was calling them. “Even though this country was unreached, it actually looked like a good place to raise a family. There’s a good international school, there’s a team established … so that was exciting for us to see. The opportunity to establish medical caravans brought us there, but knowing we had a teammate and a clinic also excited us. We had a lot of help and someone laid the ground work before us.”

J has an opportunity to serve in the clinic, while also partnering with area churches to bring mobile medical clinics into the outlying villages. In this creative access country, there is a huge distrust of outsiders, and resistance to the Gospel message. However, the medical caravans help to build relationships, trust and openness. J conducts several medical caravans a year throughout the country and is seeing an impact, both for the churches that are trying to build relationships, and for the local people who are getting quality medical care.

CONTINUING TO GROW

Dr. D* and his wife, K*, always knew they wanted to go into full-time missions. “We thought we would go as soon as D finished PA (physicians assistant) school, but we sensed that God was asking us to wait. It wasn’t at all our plan or at all what we wanted to do, but we waited,” said K.

They got jobs, paid off debt, had kids, and then in 2014, they went to the Global Missions Health Care Conference looking for short-term medical opportunities. “I thought, if we aren’t going long-term, what can we do to stay involved? But at the conference, we sensed God opening the door, that it was time,” said K. “We never really had a specific people group or place in mind, but the conference confirmed for us that it was unreached people; that’s where our hearts were.”

At the conference, they connected with Reach Beyond, but it took some time to realize this was where God was calling them. “What had been expressed to us was that they were looking for pioneers to go to these hard places, and we had three babies at that point,” K recalls. “At the season of life we are in with a young family and no long-term experience in the field, we knew we wanted to gain experience under others who had a lot more experience than we did.”

In the end, they trusted that this was where God was leading them. They joined the team in Central Asia last year and have quickly dived into language learning, mentorship and discipleship. D will begin more medical ministry work this year, looking at several different options to bring a different skillset and approach to the team.

“Starting something new isn’t necessarily something I feel I’m gifted in, but coming alongside and partnering with someone going in a certain direction is what I value and see as a strength of ours,” said D. “We feel strongly about coming alongside the local church, local fellowships and deepening those partnerships.”

K agrees. “There aren’t many generations of believers here. Three is rare. Most believers are first- and second-generation believers, so there is a lot that believers and the Church itself have to learn about the faith. That’s where my heart is. One of the biggest things for me is just opening our door and having people over. Sometimes that is planned and often times it’s not, so I am just learning the art of that here. There are a lot of opportunities just with hospitality.”

BUILDING COMMUNITY

Living so far from home and working in difficult conditions requires community and support. Just as the first Christmas in Ecuador included families gathering for food, games and fellowship, today’s UPG teams look similar.

D notes that although there is a large Expat community in country, creating their own team DNA is important, especially when everyone is doing different things. “Practically, it’s getting together, sharing meals, sharing what’s going on in the different spheres of life, what’s going on back home with our families. A big part of it is bringing our lives together and intersecting as much as we can. Holiday parties and birthdays, it’s all of that.”

“It takes individuals to come and bring some vulnerability, too. Our team has that,” says C. “We can come and be real and share with one another. We don’t have immediate family here. We have the friends we make here, but you don’t make them until you move here, so it is newer friendships. It isn’t deep, deep friendships like you would have at home, so we have each other and it is like a little family. Because of that, we are able to have good community together.”

B says they also continue to serve as a resource for one another. “Whenever there is a question about something, even something simple like where can you buy tortilla chips, one us knows the answer. You are always discovering things, always sharing. Or, where can I get a rabies shot? One of us will know someone who knows these things.”

THE HARVEST FIELD

In Matthew 9:37-38 (ESV), Jesus tells us, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” The team in Central Asia sees so many opportunities around them, and they are praying for God to send more workers into the harvest field. But, what does it look like to grow the team?

For one, it is expanding beyond just the city where they have started. “I’m concerned that we don’t all just pile up in the capital city,” said B. “We’ve done that in the past in other countries. Too many people wanted to stay in the capital because that’s where the nice opportunities and comfortable life was. But we need to get out into the surrounding areas and surrounding countries. As we bring in new people, we need workers who are both willing and able to get out into the outlying regions. I see my role as out there in the future, as well.”

There is also a desire to bring different pieces together, to holistically reach the community and open new doors. One immediate need is for female medical staff to join the team.

“We had a lecture today on palliative care, and we had a chance to go fairly deep with our residents talking about patients who are dying, and this idea of dying well, and what are the areas physically, emotionally and spiritually where our patients are suffering and how can we help them,” said B. “The difficulty is all of our current residents are women. In this culture, it is not appropriate for men to talk about deep, emotional things with women, so we really are looking for a female colleague to speak into the lives of these residents more than we as men can do.”

Another need is through the international school, which includes 190 students representing 20 different countries. C serves on the board and as a teacher, and D and K also volunteer.

“Not all of our students and teachers are believers. I have about 25 students that I am able to invest in and build up. The students, as well as the teachers and staff, all need attention and love. There is such an opportunity for mentorship,” said C. “There’s a huge need. We are short staffed on teachers, admin and board members. It’s a way to provide people the freedom to do work, but we can’t run the school if we don’t have people to teach the kids.”

In addition, the team notes that being more multifaceted could provide additional opportunities. They need workers who specialize in engineering, teaching, counseling, English learning, and more. The team has brought in short-term teams of water engineers and community development workers with success, but there are opportunities to expand. “It could open the door to other villages, cities and regions, possibly easier than with medicine, or in a different way,” D says. “Broadening ourselves will give us different doors to different places. We can use our current base as a launching pad for different areas, but we need to recruit people willing to step out.”

J agrees. “There’s so much opportunity if someone wants to come. To be a multi-disciplined team would be healthy, and it would make connections with people who aren’t in our normal sphere.”

Almost 90 years later, the teams at Reach Beyond are still echoing Clarence’s words: We cannot do our work alone. We must do it together.

*Only first initials are used to protect our team.

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Pray for our missionaries serving long-term where Jesus is least known. Pray that the unreached would be able to see Jesus through their actions and would come to accept Christ as their Savior. Pray for God to raise up more workers to go into the harvest field, using their skills to proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel in hard-to-reach places.