Here I am! Send me
MANY places left
By Gary Fallesen, founding president, Climbing For Christ
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” — Habakkuk 1:5 (ESV)
In 2000, two respected missiologists wrote: “God’s promise to bless all the ‘families of the earth,’ first given to Abraham 4,000 years ago, is becoming a reality at a pace ‘you would not believe.’ Biblical faith is growing and spreading to the ends of the earth as never before in HIStory.”¹
The late-great Ralph D. Winter and co-writer Bruce A. Koch used Nepal as one of their examples. “In the 1980s,” they wrote, “Nepal was still a staunch Hindu kingdom with only a small persecuted church. Today there are hundreds of thousands of believers and churches have started within each of the more than 100 distinct people groups.”²
Sixteen years later, it is estimated there are anywhere from 400,000 to more than 1.1 million Christ followers in Nepal. The CIA World Factbook reports 1.4 percent of Nepal’s 29 million-plus are Christian – about 406,000. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary claims the Christian population is 3.8 percent (more than 1.1 million found souls). The latter also claims Nepal has the fastest growing church in the world.³ (Of course, we’ve been associated with this growth in stories like NPR’s “Why Nepal Has One Of The World’s Fastest-Growing Christian Populations”4 and Christian Today’s similar “Why does Nepal have one of the fastest growing Churches in the world?”5)
One Nepali pastor has talked about the “many similarities between the church in Nepal and the first century church as described in the Book of Acts — in the religious life of the people, how the church is being persecuted, the excitement of the believers, how the power of God is being demonstrated through healings, exorcisms.”6
This is part of what Winter and Koch call “the amazing progress of the Gospel.” This is God at work.
“We shouldn’t really be surprised to see the thrilling advances of the Gospel all over the world,” they wrote. “This is exactly what Jesus said would take place, ‘And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come’ (Matthew 24:14). A close look at the end of this verse says a lot about what we should watch and work for at the end of the age. Jesus says that as the missionary task is completed, there will be ‘a witness to all the nations.’
“What is needed in every people group is for the Gospel to begin moving throughout the group with such compelling, life-giving power that the resulting churches can themselves finish spreading the Gospel to every person.
“Good but lesser goals may delay or distract us.
“The essential missionary task is to establish a viable indigenous church planting movement that carries the potential to renew whole extended families and transform whole societies.
“We have done our basic mission job when individuals within the society (even those outside of the church) acknowledge that the movement belongs to their society. Only when this level of cultural adaptation is achieved will the dynamic, life-changing love of Jesus become available to move freely throughout the people group. Only in this way will we be able to give everyone in the world a chance to say ‘yes’ to Christ and His Kingdom. Jesus commissioned us to accomplish nothing less. We should settle for nothing less.”7
I know what you’re thinking: there are more than 3 billion — that’s billion with a capital “B” — unreached people lost around this great, big world. The number, the sheer scope of the goal is overwhelming. I spent three days at the 2016 Finishing the Task Conference with a group of ministry and church leaders intent on chipping away at those numbers. We were confronted by 35 single-spaced pages listing 1,371 unengaged unreached people groups. These are groups of people with no Bible, no believers, no body of Christ. Nothing.
But Rick Dunn of the Global Frontiers Project reminded us that the daunting list was “not a faceless name on a page, but a people.” People with faces and names. Fathers and mothers and children. Rick Dunn quoted Paul, who said in Romans 15:20, “and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.”
Heaven or hell?
A global snapshot:
- Total people groups 16,500
- Unreached people groups 6,685
- 40.5% of world’s people groups are unreached
Statistics by Joshua Project
- World population 7.38 billion
- Population of unreached people groups 3.11 billion
- 42.1% of world’s population is unreached
In the 1970s, when more than half of the world’s population lived within unreached people groups (versus 42 percent today), a group of missionaries started a movement called: “A Church for Every People by the Year 2000.” We didn’t make it, did we?
Winter and Koch wrote, “While no one ever predicted that it would be completed by the end of the year 2000, they were confident that it was possible.”8
Climbing For Christ is part of a network of (mostly unknown) ministries focused on engaging every Muslim unengaged unreached people group by 2025. One co-laborer in this effort wrote recently, “We remember the word of God from the book of John in chapter 15. ‘If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you’ (John 15:7, ESV).”
In my humanness I fall short of being able to predict that this network goal will be achieved. But I am confident that it is possible.
“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” — Matthew 19:26 (NIV)
What is needed to get to a destination identified as “No Place Left”?
“In Romans 15:23 Paul says there is ‘no place left’ for him in the region,” Stan Parks wrote in the May/June 2016 issue of Mission Frontiers.9 “Why is that? Another translation quotes Paul as saying ‘I have finished my work in these regions’ (NLT).
“The Vision of No Place Left is ‘a movement of movements aimed at getting to no place left where Christ is not made known in our generation — no people group, ethnic group, city or segment (Romans 15:23). We do that through reproducing disciples and churches among the lost until there is no place left’ (quoting noplaceleft.net).”
Climbing For Christ is part of this movement. We are called to reach places where others cannot or will not GO. Without Climbing For Christ, the people in those unreached places will not hear.
“What would it take to see No Place Left in our generation?” Parks continued. “What will it take to accomplish the ‘pioneer’ work of bringing the gospel into every place where Jesus is not yet known and worshipped?
“Paul gives us a clue earlier in this Romans 15 passage: ‘I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done — by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God’ (Romans 15:18-19a).”10
I shared this and other insights in a May 2, 2016 staff update entitled, “Getting to No Place Left.”
What will it take? For starters, let’s read Acts 2:42-47…
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (NIV)“No Place Left is about vision: finish the Great Commission among every tribe,” James Harvey wrote.11 “The starting place for everyone making disciples is the Father’s heart. What is the Father’s heart? He ‘wants everyone to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4, NIV).
“The people we have reached understand that they are our family, our brothers and sisters, and we are committed to them for life.”
As I read this I thought of our brothers and sisters in places like Nepal, where we tell them we are always with them and praying for them. I was blessed to share this again as we dedicated the church at Simikot, the first church to be built in Nepal’s Far West district of Humla, during Mission: Nepal 2016, Part 2.
Rick Woods, the editor of Mission Frontiers, wrote in his May/June 2016 editorial: “It’s not enough just to go to every people group and plant a Western-style church that does not make disciples and does not establish new churches.”12
He points out several key “attitudes and ideas,” which are (I believe) signatures of Climbing For Christ:
1. “Church [as we have seen in Climbing For Christ’s fruit-producing countries] is a training center where followers of Jesus are equipped to share their faith and the Gospel with their relational network of family and friends.”Woods talks about “sacrificial giving,” but this is problematic. This is something we wrestle with constantly, particularly when we become ensnared in “money pits” while trying to maintain our primary purpose (“to GO and deliver the Gospel in the mountains of the world, where other missionaries cannot or will not go”).
2. We GO “as humble learners to see how these discipleship movements are actually fostered and developed.” We GO to support and encourage, not to tell them how to do ministry.
3. “When it comes to fostering movements of discipleship among unreached peoples, outside money is more a hindrance than a help.”
I did have a revelation during all of this: Our Kurdish friends in Turkey were disappointed we were not coming in 2016 (due to the Turkish vs. Kurdish vs. IS fighting); they were looking forward to seeing us again. It was not because we bring them anything or provide anything (we don’t). But because they are friends. It was the same way with our Tibetan friends in The Valley in China. Our visits were considered gifts.
In the book Hastening (No Place Left), Steve Smith writes: “There will be a last generation. Why not us? [William] Carey suggested his generation speed up the Great Commission by going. I ask why can’t we hasten finishing this task. By God’s grace I will lay down my life to see it completed. Perhaps God’s plan all along has been to raise up this generation as His vehicle for finishing the task before he sends Jesus on the day appointed from the foundation of this world.”13
I’m not predicting it. But I am confident it is possible if we do our part.
1 “Finishing the Task: The Unreached Peoples Challenge” by Ralph D. Winter and Bruce A. Koch, Mission Frontiers magazine, May-June 2000. (Note: Ralph Winter introduced the idea of targeting people groups, not political boundaries during a presentation at the International Congress on World Evangelization at Lausanne in 1974.)
6 Rev. Manoj Shrestha quoted in “Church in Nepal is growing rapidly” by Joe Mohan, Chimes newspaper, Calvin College, March 12, 2014. Online at http://www.calvin.edu/chimes/2014/03/12/church-in-nepal-is-growing-rapidly/
7 Winter and Koch, “Finishing the Task: The Unreached Peoples Challenge.”
9 “What Will It Take To See No Place Left” by Stan Parks, Mission Frontiers magazine, May-June 2016.
11 “A U.S. Perspective on the No Place Left Coalition” by James Harvey, Missions Frontier magazine, May-June 2016.
12 “Getting to No Place Left: It’s all about Movements now” by Rick Wood, Missions Frontier magazine, May-June 2016.
13 Hastening: Book One in the No Place Left saga by Stan Smith (2414 Ventures).