Dating your field research – part 5

So your task is to get a people grouping list together before you go into the field. You should look at the sources out there taking some things into consideration. There are not many sources of people group information on the internet that have relevant information to missionary sending and placement. Of the five sources available three have the reachedness status of people groups (are they reached or not). This is the most important indicator for any missionary or group. The second most important indicator is the Bible translation status because it gives you other confirmation that your group is totally unreached.

The date on your reachedness status indicator

As I mentioned in the previous article, the three most important parts of any people list used for sending are the map, the reachedness status, and the bible translation status, probably in that order. Even if you only had the maps, or the list of towns of an unreached people group and knew nothing else, you could go get the information. The fourth most important piece of information is the date on the reachedness status. This tells you the last year that someone reported “from the field” that the people group was in this state of reachedness. You can add other pieces of information to your people group but these are the most important. A map can be as simple as latitude-longitude coordinates or a list of towns that people live in.

The sources you consult will have different definitions and ways of scaling reachedness, but they will usually fall into four colors.

  • totally unreached (black)
  • unreached (red)
  • some progress (yellow)
  • reached (green)
  • unknown (clear, transparent)

Below is an example of the status of reachedness’ date. I use the year [2023] in the example which would mean someone verified that the people group is still totally unreached in 2023 by walking into it.

People Name: XYZpeople
Reached status: Totally unreached [2023]
Map 36.434542, 68.138728
List of towns: Town 1, Town 2, Town 3

Why date is so important

  • That the research has been gathered from the field
  • How long ago someone verified from the field the people group was still unreached
  • Tells you when you might need to go back and see if your contact is still viable (man of peace)
  • It also gives your priority when other field researching missionaries of what to do or in the case of field missionaries coming along where to go first
  • Placing a date shows the users of your information that you are transparent and forthcoming
  • The older your information is, the less trustworthy it is
  • Showing a date pressures the field researchers to do their job.

Example: A
People Name: XYZpeople
Reached status: Totally Unreached [2018]

This example above shows you that you probably need to revisit this people group (by walking) to see if there are any believers yet and/or if your contact still exists or is viable. Most of the totally unreached people groups in my country’s list have very recent dates. This helps the missionary effort know that the groups are still in need of workers. If you live in a very remote area, it is more likely that your people group list is going to serve your personal mobilization, training, sending, and placement. There will be an article about this in this section.

The goal is to keep totally unreached updated

I will give you an example of a people grouping list below. Try to think about which groups need to be visited first.

Example: 1
People Name: AYZpeople
Reached status: Totally Unreached [2020]

Example: 2
People Name: BYZpeople
Reached status: Unreached [2015]

Example: 3
People Name: CYZpeople
Reached status: Totally Unreached [2018]

Example: 4
People Name: DYZpeople
Reached status: Reached [2002]

Example: 5
People Name: EYZpeople
Reached status: Some Progress [2012]

Example: 6
People Name: FYZpeople
Reached status: Totally Unreached [2018]

Supposing that have done research in your list of six people groups since 2012. and a few years have gone by. You now need to revisit some of the groups. Which groups need visiting, and in what order?

Field research takes time so date your work

I started researching a people grouping of about 70 groups in 2002. It took about 15 years to get to know the area, and the missionaries working there, and to understand the complexity of the situation. I always went with one or two people on my trips and those young men were being discipled in mission work. Some went on to be field missionaries, some went on to be researchers, and others went back to normal life.

I probably could have done the job in a shorter time had I not had to learn and develop the concepts that you will learn about in this section. I will take more time to write about the details but I wanted you to know that it is a big task. There are about 400 of these people groupings around the world that need someone to come in and learn to live in the area and do the learning and walking.

The other thing I am saying here is that the job is not done until you facilitate field missionaries into all of the totally unreached groups and disciples are made. This is why I date my findings. I know by looking at my list what needs to be done. Others look at the list as well. I am in a network of mission agencies that look at the data. They also are mobilizing and training missionaries.

Several people groups have also been added to my list over the years. I currently have seven trips covering fourteen groups I will have to take to get reachedness status and dates on. The seven trips will cover newly added groups that have a reachedness status of Unknown. A few other trips will be to people groups that have a reachedness status of Some progress that need to be visited. A missionary gave misleading information about them because he did not want other missionaries coming into his area. Those may have some progress and they may not. I have to find out.

I will travel into these groups with two men working with me. They will come with me one at a time, and we will go into these areas not knowing what to expect. Once we come back, we will notify the missionary movement and continue with our missionary discipleship of the new generation who will have to go. This gives you an idea of the kind of work you will be doing after 20 years or so.

How often do you need to visit the group?

We used to put the month and the year e.g. [07.2023] until we figured out that it is very difficult to get information within a one-year time period. There are many reasons for this. It will mainly be because you are trying to visit many other groups. You can only do so much, especially if you are trying to recruit and train new missionaries.

But if you have a good understanding of the area and good contacts, you should try to update the totally unreached every two years. If someone, says that they are interested in working in one, I usually tell them that I will go with them out to the group. This is only to verify that the group is still totally unreached. If missionaries want to go out into the group I will not accompany them. They usually are with their companion and God will open the doors for them. I might change the spiritual dynamic accompanying them into the group that they are going to live in permanently. So I only accompany one or two potential missionaries if they will not go on their own.

I recently had the head of an indigenous denomination and his new field missionary come to us wanting to visit three totally unreached groups. We oversee their field missionaries in the area. The reachedness status date was a few years old on those groups and I told them they should go alone. They sent me the information, the groups were still totally unreached. I have trained them both to do the work and they are serious so I trust them. So many other situations where someone reports to me something I just cannot rely on. It is not necessarily about trust as much as it is about responsibility. God gave me a personal vision for this people grouping so I want to be able to know that field missionaries are getting to where there is no Gospel.

The vision I mention was not like a dream. It is just work that someone has to do and has not done yet. Someone has to do it.

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.

Matthew 21:28-32 (NIV)

I understand that this verse has a specific context, however, I have often considered myself the son who said he would not do the work. Many times I have said, I am not going to do that, and I end up doing it. I am that tax collector and prostitute that has been forgiven much and so I have to return that with actionable love.