Creating a field research plan – part 4

In order to form a people group list for field research, we need to understand that the ultimate goal is to reach people. People are behind barriers that the Gospel message has to get over in order to reach them. Many terms have been used to describe these barriers but one thing is clear. Until that barrier is crossed, those people remain in darkness.

There are many terms being used to describe these barriers and more are being invented as you read: People, People group, People grouping, Ethnic people, Ethnic group, Tribe Tribal Sub-division, Clan, Sub-clans, Caste, Sub-caste, Subgroup, Community, Religious group, Ethnolinguistic group, Ethnocultural group, Ethnosocial group, Ethnic minorities, Exogamous group, Socio-Ethnic people, Unreached people group, Hidden people, Pocket people, Unengaged people, Frontier people, Untouched people, Forgotten people, Unimax people Bridge people, Unreached people group, UPG, Least reached people, Less reached People cluster, Ethne, Ethnos, Geopolitical people, Language group, Tongue, Phratry, Dialect, Variant, Nation, Nationality, Multi-Lingual Ethnic Group, Multi-Ethnic Language Group, Race, and Dark patch.

All people everywhere need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You can call these barriers anything you like as long as you are trying to find where one barrier ends and the other begins. For simplicity, we will stay with the phrase Unreached people group. It is a group of people that is unreached with the Gospel because of some barrier to the flow of the Gospel. They are behind a wall cut off from access for whatever reason and missionaries must climb over that wall to get to them.

There has been significant work done to provide this information to the Christian mission movement. The information on these unreached people groups can be found in several sources. The problem with these sources is that they provide different information needed for sending.

The most important information for missionary sending/placement

Databases of people groups exist from the very simple to the extremely complex. When we talk about what is needed to send a missionary it comes down to a few things:

Where is the people group located?
Is the people group reached or not?

The people group name is given to distinguish it from others but if you just had a map that would be sufficient. Once you place the people group into a document, database, or website a name is needed to distinguish it from others in that list. If you knew where a group of people existed on a map, and you knew that they needed the Gospel, that would be enough.

Actually, the people group name is probably the greatest point of confusion among different people group lists. Giving the people group a unique code has helped a little but not much. The map clarifies all discrepancies with the people group’s name or code or whatever.

Once you reconcile the people groups names the bigger question arises. Is that people group reached or not? Some place a high priority on if that people group has an active missionary effort among them and this is ok. Those are called unengaged people groups. This would be ideal but that information is the hardest to get from those who know about it. It is also hard to maintain once you have it simply because most missionaries abandon the mission field between four and six years. Knowing when the people group becomes unengaged is another problem “if” they did not make disciples.

Most databases (including websites) have other things they provide to us.

People name
Country of residence
Reached status
Language spoken
Bible translation status
Many other things

I highlight two so that you can take a few minutes to think about what you would need to send missionaries to your region or country. If you could only choose two things, what would you choose?

If you think about it long enough, you can see that the people’s name becomes less relevant. if you are working in a specific area using a people name will be OK. However, if you had three things to choose from what would they be? In my list Bible translation status would be a third and this is probably one of the more complex issues here also because of the differing information available.

One thing is clear, ground-level field research is needed. This is being done in several places in the world and this is a good thing. If you were new to this subject it would be easy to say, all we need is to put the information in one place where the missionary candidates could know where they need to go.

The reason for this section and my proposal is that we identify the large groupings of unreached people groups and send field researching missionaries to draw the maps of the unreached.

You the field-researching missionary can create a list in an unreached area and try to communicate with those who have done work if they exist. That would be a good start.

When I began to do field research many years ago in a country with more than 300 people groups. My mentor set me down and looked me in the eyes and told me something I will never forget. “Don’t trust the data, and don’t trust the missionaries. Get the data yourself.”

I have thought about this for a long time and have been part of the mission information community for long enough to know that trusting sources is a problem. I know a man who finally got tired of trying to get reliable information from mission groups and started to travel and get the information for himself.

I basically did the same thing. I was told that there were eleven unreached people groups in the country I live in and over twenty years later I am still looking for that good information. It will take you about 20 years to get good information on about 60 people groups. I have worked with agencies, research groups, local churches, denominations, and field missionaries and I can say that it is not always an issue of trust. Sometimes it is, or it could be an issue of what is considered reached. Many times people think they know and do not. There is only one way to find out and that is to take your feet and start walking.

What it takes to get good information to send or place missionaries

A small list of people groups (considered unreached)
A map or list of habituated places those people groups live in.

You will need to choose a place that has at least ten people groups near one another to start your work. You will need to draw a map or at least have a list of towns or villages where the people group lives. I have worked in a people grouping for many years and here is something you will find interesting. All pre-existing maps are not the same. Some have the town, and others don’t.

Once you start to travel in these towns you will find out. Satellite imagery and mapping systems have advanced tremendously. You can get a pretty good idea of where your populated places are through them. If you list the towns, realize that those town names may not be accurate.

A 3×5 card with the people group’s name, the list of towns they live in, and if they are reached or not becomes your missionary sending/placement list. Once you have a set of cards and you haven’t verified if that group is reached, you have your research plan. You can make it more complicated but this is what we need in all the unreached people groupings around the world. If you have a map that helps. You can buy maps, draw them or make them with complex (GIS) geographical information systems.

In 2002 I was tasked with updating the information on the people groups in Latin America. I traveled to Spain to meet with leaders of the mission movement to talk about how we were going to do it. They did not like my plan when I suggested 3×5 cards. I also suggested that there are two sets of 3×5 cards. One is for those doing the walking and another is in a central office. When the walkers brought in updated information, it is transferred to the cards in the central office. Also, you need to put the cards in a plastic bag. You can just as easily lose a hard drive as you can a shoebox with 3×5 cards. If you want to transfer your data to a computer, no problem.

Computers are broken, damaged, stolen, etc. If your computer is taken by the enemy you could be in trouble. Cloud storage can be hacked by the enemy, security has been an issue that has hindered the global collaboration on people group information but this is another topic. Also in remote areas, computers need to be powered and become a target that you might lose your life over.

Sometimes we want to use technology and we are not thinking about the field researchers. Some have access to technology, some do not. Everyone has access to a pencil and paper. Once you have the information on which people groups unreached, then we can put it into any format.

Start simple and get walking.