Guide to Getting Into an Unreached People Group – part 16

A mission agency sometimes provides you with contacts on the field. They are the people who are waiting for you when you get to the mission field. They might be living near your field and are willing to help you get orientated, but eventually, you will have to go to a remote unreached people group, where there are no other missionaries around. If you decide to get orientated by those near your field, don’t tell them where you are going, and stay anonymous, if possible.

Do Missionaries Need Contacts on The Field?

Recently I was traveling on a very long road into one of the most remote people groups in our country. I took a bus seven hours from the major city and then another bus two more hours into the Copper Canyon, home of the Tarahumara people. The road is paved almost all the way to the missionary training center where I was going. This training center is far from the big city, but not nearly as far as over a hundred thousand Tarahumara people. They live many hours even farther into the canyon, over dirt roads and footpaths. At one time, this people group had no access to the Gospel because the road was not paved. Even now I find it hard to believe that people live that far back into the wilderness. It’s even more difficult to believe that they built a road back into it.

One of the first missionaries to this area is the man who started the training center. I teach in his program from time to time. Many years ago, he rode his motorcycle over very difficult dirt roads to get back into this area. He had no support from his home church and no sending agency. There are an estimated 120,000 Tarahumara people speaking about five known languages, all needing their own New Testament. I call these, “language groupings,” because the linguistic researcher draws a wide circle around several languages hoping that more than one will accept the same Bible translation. They draw these circles wide, primarily for lack of translators. So, according to the linguists, there are five language groupings. Some estimate that there could be as many as twenty languages among the Tarahumara people, each one needing a New Testament. This is an example of large unreached people grouping in an open country that has training near the people groups. He would be considered a field contact that can place missionaries into remote unreached people groups. For instance, you could go back into the Copper Canyon and spend a few years working with this missionary and then disappear into the vast wilderness and settle among a tribe, learn the language and start discipleship. He could help you get a jump-start on many things. The problem with most remote unreached peoples is that there is no missionary or training center near them. Sometimes there is something at the country level, and this could be a good option for you if you can find one that will accept you. The above example is in a fairly open country. In closed countries, remember to not tell them where you are going, and you should not reveal your name and personal information.

If you cannot find a Christian contact or training program in-country, you could learn a bit of the national or regional language at a secular school. You won’t need much of the national language, but it will give you time to adjust to the culture and get other logistical things straightened out. The national language helps you get around in the country, obviously, but you will not need to be fluent in it. Getting fluent is a waste of time; every minute you spend learning the national language, you could have spent learning the language of your people group. I don’t understand why candidates get training at home when they could get it in a country that speaks the national or regional language that they will need to learn? It is much more practical and efficient to get missionary training in the country of your people group. If you get your training on the field, you can learn culture and language as you go along. You might even be able to get some training from those contacts near your people group in countries that are more open.

In closed countries, the government is monitoring those field missionaries and even taking videos of all the people coming and going. You will be flagged. Another option would be getting some training in a similar country that has it. If you are going to Asia, get your training somewhere in Asia. If you are going to Africa, first go to a fairly open country to get training from Christians. You will meet a lot of people who might be from the country you need to get into. I cannot stress enough that you get training under an alias and that you do not let them know which country or people group you are going to. Not many will take this advice, and they will lose their ministry for not heeding it. A country-level or regional-level training center is not going to be able to teach you much about the local culture or language of your people group. They won’t be able to teach you much about missiology either. You should be careful not to take too literally their teaching because remote people groups are so different that you could be in danger following rules of thumb taught at a mission school. What you can get from a training center or mentor near your mission field are all the logistical time savers that you will need to learn. But you probably should not be walking around on the street with your contact. The local government or bad guys will identify you with him or her.

I was once in a remote unreached people group, and my field contact told me to walk into town after him and not associate with him. He did not want to be identified with me. Had I later wanted to live in that town, I would have not wanted to be associated with him. I imagine a field-training program to be located in the backroom of a coffee shop in a fairly large town in which neither the field contact lives nor the missionary candidate lives. They might meet once every few months to discuss the progress of the candidate and go over problems. How do you determine where to meet? Your field contact will have to be waiting in a different back room on the time and date you previously set for the next meeting.

We have a friend who is now in Afghanistan as a field missionary. She arrived there with a field contact and was working with them in the beginning in their house. I honestly cannot imagine that this was good for our friend the new missionary candidate, nor for the people who were working with her. I don’t have all the answers for you, but you need to be creative and stay off the grid. Terrorists know how to avoid detection, and we should learn how to avoid it as well.

The missionary training center I mentioned that is in the Copper Canyon will train you to work among the Tarahumara people while living there. You take twelve classes that last one week each, and on weekends you live in remote villages. It’s all in Spanish, no English. Again, Mexico is not a closed country, according to the law, so if you happen to be going to unreached people groups in an open country, by all means, get that training nearest to the people group you will be working in. Get it, and then disappear into the mountains and lose all contact with your missionary trainers and other missionary friends you met. That includes all those doing medical work or short-term teams. Lose all contact with them in case the government changes its policy or the local drug traffickers change their attitude toward missionaries. We debated for months about putting sensitive data on our website. Sensitive information includes the missionary agencies’ info, field training centers, networks, and other data such as the missionary’s photos and names. I finally decided against any sensitive information that could put the mission work or the people group at risk.

Latin America is relatively open to missionary activity according to national laws. The rest of the world is closing to missionary activity so we assumed that Latin America would be safe, but I just couldn’t get peace about it. A few years later Venezuela’s government changed its stance and began throwing out all the evangelical missionaries. Some missionaries were not caught. Can you guess which ones? Those who stayed off the grid. Those who were not connected to field agencies, field training centers, large mission agencies, or churches. Those without missionary visas. The ones who were able to stay did not get identified during field training and they disconnected from the grid after training. They were not hanging out with all their missionary buddies every time they came into town. They were not on the missionary agency website, nor were they on maps in the mission base office. I can’t believe some agencies publish the missionary’s full names and cities where they work on the Internet. Some even display photos. This is not a good idea, even in countries that are currently open.

Get training at the field level if you can

To sum it up, there are some training centers, courses, and mentors that live near the unreached people groups that you can get orientation and training from. They are recommended only in countries currently open to missionaries. If you can, get trained anonymously. Then, once you have finished your training or orientation, disappear and don’t make contact with them again. If I were going to a closed country, I personally would not make contact with other missionaries even if they offer training or orientation, but that’s me. The government is watching them and getting your information when you are around them. You will eventually learn on your own what they could have taught you, so avoid them, lay low, and keep your head down. They will only jeopardize your ministry if you are hanging around with them.

What is a closed country? It is a country where the majority religion is something other than Christianity. They also have laws that protect their national religion. Normally, there are laws that prohibit you from proselytizing and preaching. Sometimes, a few authorized Christian gatherings are allowed. They use these to identify all new incoming missionaries and their own people who have illegally converted. They have sophisticated technical equipment that they use to capture email and telephone conversations. They also have cameras monitoring all places where other religions meet or hang out. Soon, they will have digital facial-recognition capability. Let’s say you are going to a remote unreached people group in a closed country. I would not make contact for one minute with local missionaries working there. Nor would I become friends with them ever, especially on social networks or in local gatherings. If they are put in jail and questioned, they are likely to reveal your whereabouts, particularly if they are tortured. Many will say I am exaggerating this point, but I am writing to young people who will be life-term Bible-translating missionaries who cannot afford to lose their place on the mission field. If you are translating the Bible and generating New Testament audio, you cannot risk your ministry. You can’t say “Oh well if I’m kicked out I will just start all over learning the language in some other people group.” You cannot afford to lose four or five years you spent learning the language, nor can the unreached people group afford to lose four or five more years waiting on another missionary who will start learning their language from scratch. If you get kicked out, that people group is probably being watched and it will be harder for someone else to come in after you. Most sending agencies are going to want you to connect with people in the field. This is not recommended. This is another reason to not be sent by an agency.

If you go to a closed country and want to learn from the missionaries who have been there for a long time, there is no doubt you will learn a lot. But know that you might be identified, followed, and monitored. The bad guys are the local or national police, or worse: they are murderous, black market organ sellers and kidnappers. They are the devil incarnate and will use the law to their advantage. In a country closed to missionary activity, they use the law to their benefit, because they are looking to extort you or those who would pay your ransom. It could even be as simple as someone wanting all the cool stuff that you should not be bringing with you. They mostly want your kidneys, eyes, liver, and heart. The government or the religious fanatics will wait until a large number of missionaries are well-established and feel safe. They will even wait until you are doing things openly against the law in order to justify removing you and all the missionaries they identified. Removing a big group of missionaries is a bigger blow to the sending churches and agencies. The bigger the group of missionaries removed, the bigger the signal they send to future missionaries. Future missionaries and senders will think twice about entering again. They know more about the missionaries currently in the field than you think they do. They know how missionaries traditionally work. They have all the information you have and more. They have all the missionary journals, textbooks, and websites, and they might even have a file on your contacts, and this means that they will soon have one on you if you hang around the field contacts.

Let’s say you want to go to a remote unreached people group in northern India. First of all, if you stick out because of your skin color, choose a mission field where you blend in if possible. God will open doors for anyone but if northern India is too hard for you to blend in, choose a field where you fit in physically. If you are black, go to Africa. If you are Asian, go to Asia. If you are white, go to Russia or the Stans. There are plenty of remote people groups that are unreached in all these places. The Stans are Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. If you are Latin, you are fortunate, because you can probably go almost anywhere. Let’s say you are Latin and want to go to northern India. You will fit in fine, but first, you need to live in a larger city and learn a little of the local language such as Hindustani, Rajasthani, or Bihari. This will take you a year or two but will also be good for getting logistics and culture under your belt so that you can fit in. Once you are culturally adapted, you can venture out into the people groups, looking for a door where you can settle in to learn their language. None of these things will work if you are carrying in money or lots of things, renewing visas, and going out to the modern cities all the time. Take nothing for the journey, not even a change of clothing, and soon you will be wearing the local dress. I recently went reluctantly to a missionary breakfast and told the organizer that it probably was not a good idea that we have the breakfast in the same place every time. I also mentioned that we were not being a good model to those going to closed countries. I haven’t been invited back to the missionary breakfast. That’s probably a good thing.

Should missionaries get a visa in closed countries?

Most missionary candidates will need to go to closed countries that do not give missionary visas. I am not sure that I would want to get a missionary visa, even in an open country. Countries change. You don’t need contacts on the field. The Holy Spirit will lead you, and he will teach you everything you need to know. You might discover something new that the local missionary didn’t know about. You might have learned all the bad missiology of those missionaries who thought they were doing it so well. You might be blinded to that new discovery because you learned too much from the local missionary. You might stay out of trouble and even protect your reputation by not associating with the local missionaries. Not all missionaries have the best reputations. Language-learning and Bible-translation skills can be learned in your country of origin before you go, so get those under your belt. Anything else you need can be acquired on site. For many years, I didn’t know why we did not like to hang out with all the local missionaries. One day, someone told us that many of them are living in sin. We found out, over time, that many are not taking mission work very seriously. So, if it is true, we were saving our reputation by not associating with the local missionaries all those years.

You do not need contacts on the field that are already waiting for you. Get your contacts along the way. You will have to look for a contact or contacts near and in the people group. These will not be Christians, but they are the people who are open to you being there. How do you find your contacts? God will lead you to them. I look for men, not women because I am a man. Sometimes, I sit waiting for someone to come to me. Sometimes, I don’t sit. There is no formula. I let God lead me. He knows who I need to meet. They won’t be Christians, but they will be open to you. You will meet people who are friendly but have the face of an assassin. Sometimes people are friendly because they want something. Let God guide you as if you were a dog being pulled by a leash. There is no handbook on finding contacts in remote unreached people groups. Your guide is the Holy Spirit, and he is with you. Jesus says, when you enter a house, let your peace rest upon it. So, if you are entering a house, you must have been invited by someone. When I first started going into remote people groups, everyone told me to go directly to the authorities and get their permission. There was a small problem with this formula: the people who told me this were visiting the same villages over and over again. After going into several people groups I changed my strategy. Finally, I let the Holy Spirit guide me to the contacts. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit wants to bypass the authorities. Sometimes, he does not. Many times, the authorities are not coherent enough to help me. Other times, they are the ones that would just as soon kill me as to give me permission to travel in the people group. I had more trouble because I was following a rule of thumb set by local missionaries.

You cannot use rules of thumb. You should let the Holy Spirit guide you always. If he wants me to go to the authorities, I do. Every situation is completely different. Rules can get you in trouble. There are some guidelines that Jesus gives us. Look them up and stay with them. Jesus knows what he is doing. You might be wondering how I know when the Holy Spirit is guiding me. It’s by faith, and you will see the fruit of it. I simply trust that he is the one guiding. If I turn left, it is because he wants me to turn left. If I sense a tugging, I follow it. I sense a pulling, as though I am a dog being pulled along by a leash. You will get the hang of it, and you will know that it is him, because you always find your man or woman of peace. I’ve traveled into many situations where we had no contacts and no idea what to expect. I am not an expert at being led by the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is the expert at knowing where the contact lives. I won’t say much more than this: be as inconspicuous as possible, and let God guide you to your contact. Read your New Testament and seek God on these scriptures. We must use the New Testament as our definitive missionary handbook.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.”

(NIV Luke 10:5-7)

I have a good friend that always says, “Missionaries will not be able to go into remote villages and just start learning language and being missionaries.” There is some truth to what he says, but it is not entirely Biblical. Eventually, you will have to walk into the first village of your people group. You might need to stay a while in fairly modern towns near your people group, learning the local language and learning how to blend in. When I mention near your people group, near could be half a day or a week’s travel to get to your people group. No one can know that. It is important to not take things that will identify you as a missionary.

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.

(NIV Luke 9:1-3)

You should lose all your cultural baggage and cool missionary clothing and totally get into the culture and dress as they do. Take only one change of clothes and you will have to wear their clothes soon. You should eat as they do and talk as they do. Maybe, after a year in a nearby town, you can begin to look in the more remote villages for your man of peace. Many of these things are for young people who don’t have as much experience relating to people. It is important that young people do mission work because they are the ones who have the years ahead and the ability to stick with it. When I refer to young people, I am talking about those between 18 and 28, or around there. You need to get out near your people group probably between 18 and 22 or 24 years of age. This will give you a real head start. You will become part of the culture, speaking the language, before you are 30. Share this blog with a friend and have them read it so that you can go together. I will give some instructions on how to choose a people group later in the blog.

Open doors for future missionaries

If you pick a people group where the door never opens to you, you should have a second people group in mind. Have a Plan B. God will not let you spend too much time learning a language in one group if a door isn’t being opened. It will all work out in the end.

I want to mention that all missionaries to remote unreached people groups should be planning on helping other missionaries get situated in the region. I do not know how all this will happen, especially after all that I have said about not associating with other missionaries. I just know that you, the low-key missionary, should get into your people group, stay there, learn the language, and get scriptures into audio. Little by little, you should start making your way into the other peoples and languages around you. If you see other doors opening, these could be for future candidates. You may have to go through many villages in order to find the people group that accepts you and invites you to be a part of their community. You may have to serve the community as you learn their language. You might have to secretly translate the Bible. You may find that a miracle happens, and they are asking you to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It might cost you your life afterward, but the Gospel is worth looking for a way to get into remote unreached people groups, even if it means being persecuted or martyred. God will probably not lead you all the way into a remote unreached people and not open a door for ministry. If he does or doesn’t open a door, it will still be worth dying for.

A simple guide to orientate and place missionaries on your field:

  1. Once you are on the field in your people group, venture out into other areas where you find the other tribes, clans, or languages.
  2. Look for doors or a contact in those areas; get information about how someone could integrate into that village.
  3. Be prepared to receive others, who can be placed into those doors.
  4. Figure out a secure way to communicate to others where there are new missionary candidates and tell them that there are doors opening.
  5. Have a plan to orientate your new missionary in a town a few towns away from you. Visit them on rare occasions to check up on them.
  6. Have a simple plan for your new candidate to follow in order to get adjusted to the region while learning some regional language.
  7. Once your candidate is ready, give him or her a list of several options and let them disappear into one of those people groups.
  8. You will not know their real names nor their exact locations at any time.

I had a conversation with a young man living in northern India. He’s Latin and entered the country as a businessman. His mission is to do discipleship on a business visa. He and his wife have two young children and they live in a small town of about 20,000 people. They have electricity and access to medical facilities and communications. He spent about three years learning Hindustani, a language that derives from the Khariboli dialect of Western Uttar Pradesh. It took him five years of doing business and learning the language until the door came open. Now, the local leaders invite him to tea and to learn about Jesus. He also has an immersion program for new missionaries helping them get placed in the area. He finds them a room, helps them get some basic furniture, and then puts them into local schools to learn the language. He visits them about once every two weeks to help them get orientated to the logistics of northern India. This is all done very low-key. Once the new missionary is done with this two-year immersion, they disappear in a remote village and look for an open door. He has very little contact with them. He just helps them get over that first hurdle of learning the local language, culture, and logistics. This immersion is for serious Latin individuals wanting to get into remote unreached people groups. He himself is not working in an unreached people group.

The more I think about this person, I would not want to use him as my main contact on the field. It will just put him at risk and will probably put my candidates at risk as well. What I will do is learn a little from his methods and start an immersion in another place with another person. That person helps fifteen or twenty people get placed and then quits for good. Another person starts another immersion and helps fifteen or twenty people get placed and then stops and goes into his or her people group. One of the key requirements here is to have good information on your people groups. I do not know how the missionary will be able to stay off the grid and still help missionaries get into other unreached people groups, but they will figure it out. This might seem contradictory: You don’t need contacts on the field, but then again, you need to become a contact on the field and receive other missionaries. You will need to be very careful coming in contact with them. You might even be able to figure out a way where you do not personally meet with them.

I wished that I had more clarity on this; I am seeking the Lord about it. These things need to be thought through by all you future missionaries to remote unreached people groups, and once God gives you the answers, you keep them secret. There is a balance between being too careful of being found out as a missionary and preaching the Gospel when you can. You should be bold about Christ, but only after you are a normal part of the community where you minister. It takes time to become a normal part of the community. There is a big difference between being a career missionary and being a normal part of the community. Those who become a normal part of the community are the ones who have made the mission field their home. Those who never seem to fit in are tied to their country of origin, an agency, a church, family, friends, and a culture very far away. You may never be 100% normal in their community, but you will have the doors open to you if you become one of them. You can try to fit in as much as possible, but in the end, we are strangers and have a message that is the aroma of life to some and the smell of death to others. You can try all you can to be at peace with the people group you are in, and sometimes there is just a price that has to be paid. You will know when you are in the right place, and you will have doors open and miracles happen. It won’t always be safe or pleasant, but God will protect you. If he doesn’t, you get to go to heaven.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.

(NIV 2 Corinthians 2:14-17)