Research Creates The Plan for Finishing Jesus’ Great Commission – part 1

This section on Today’s Missionary is called Field Research for Missions
* It focuses on one main topic, Field Researching Missionaries
* A secondary topic is that all Field Missionaries also need to be involved in some research on nearby groups

This section was originally intended to be my second book entitled “Research among Remote Unreached People Groups – Radical Missionaries Handbook”. I have decided to put it here to give you easier access. I started to write this book in 2014 so it may take me a while to upload the full content as I am rewriting it a bit.

What you find here is what I believe we lack as far as having a more efficient plan to fulfill the great commission. Obviously, other areas are needed, recruiting, training, etc. I would like to mention that I am not fond of the word “missionary” and much less “radical”. I am just trying to present the concepts to a broader audience and use some terms that are common.

God has a singularity of vision for completing his great commission. He wants his body to be organized and efficient and have a plan. Our plan will never be perfect, but it will allow us to fulfill the great commission with precision and more importantly, sooner. The body of Christ needs to go with the Gospel message and make disciples of every ethne. Unfortunately, we are behind in our task and because of this, it will require good information and a plan.

When the population of the world and the number of people groups were much lower, the spread of the Gospel might have crossed more barriers naturally had all Christians understood that they must make disciples that make others. Jesus used the specific word “ethnic group” and his disciples knew clearly that they were to cross barriers.

The clarity of Jesus’ commission has been diluted over the centuries and so we must get that clarity again. We must get into the harvest field and venture out into other nearby fields. We will have to get close enough to those nearby fields to see which ones are ready for harvest and which ones are not. Making that plan requires going there. It will require feet on the ground in the field and in the nearby fields. It will require people sent to spy out the land. For lack of better terms, I will use field researchers. The field-researching missionaries are few and thus the field missionaries themselves will have to envision going beyond their “one” people group. The work is simple; walking into other villages to see if work is being done. If not, look for an open door (the person of peace).

Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8 If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.

Numbers 14:6-8 (NIV)

The explorers tore their clothes, which is usually an expression of anger or grief. Joshua and Caleb were indignant that the people of God did not have the faith to believe that God would use them to enter the promised land. In my first book, “Missions to Remote Unreached People Groups”, [1] [2] I explain many of the reasons why the Christian church has not yet reached all the ethnic people groups. I propose that it is not because the people groups are resistant, geographically distant, or closed politically or spiritually. All those things Jesus can deal with. It is simply because we have not gone to them. Many who went did not go with Jesus’ methods. Others went and did the job. Many of those who did the job, did it partially. They did not give the vision of the great commission to the people group they reached. In that first book, (now on this website) I also give practical solutions to new missionary candidates that will help them get to their people group and stay until that group is reaching other groups.

All who walk into totally unreached people groups have a role

But what do you do once you are in the region of your people group? The Field Research for Missions section goes into detail about that. Just know that you will eventually have to get your boots on the ground in your people grouping. You should be reading all the sections on this site carefully with your New Testament in hand. I suggest you read the other sections first, then come back here. Also, start the Bible reading plan. That is the most important part. Always confirm any idea by what Christ taught us in the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Jesus taught us precisely what we need to do. He also knew that his teachings would need to stand the test of time. We have strayed far from what he taught. Jesus knew what he was doing! Take him at his word and follow him. After all, he is the Messiah! Once you decide de to do this you will then need to know where to go. Going into the darkness is the goal. So where are the dark corners of the world? Do some research and pick one.

One morning I was walking in a park in Mexico City and I heard God clearly say to me “I want you to be my feet.” At that time I didn’t understand what he meant. I was visiting a missionary I had met while in college. The night before he had told me that there were eleven unreached people groups in Mexico. I couldn’t believe it. I had been preparing to go as a missionary to China because doors were opening for English teachers there. One could teach in the universities using the Bible as your textbook and the Chinese government paid you a small salary. I could go to one of the most unreached countries in the world and get paid to teach the Bible using my first language. I had one little problem. The country right next to my own had at least eleven totally unreached people groups.

When God spoke to me that day, I do not know if the voice was audible to others, but it was very clear to me. I knew that I should begin to find these unreached people groups in Mexico and do something about it. I would have never imagined that my role in field research would eventually become the sending plan for the mission movement in the country. I didn’t even know that they called it field research. All I knew is that it would require my feet. The man I was visiting was the head of a mission training center and had guests teaching missions. One night I was introduced to the founder of the missionary movement in Mexico, Moises Lopez. He was teaching a course on unreached people groups. After talking with him he invited me to his house in Toluca, a city about two hours away. I told him that I was looking for a ministry called Operation Samaria that was gathering information on unreached people groups. I wanted to know more about these eleven groups. He politely told me that the people were no longer actively involved and Operation Samaria and that now the ministry had become the Department of Research for COMIMEX, which is the missionary movement in Mexico. I asked him to direct me to the people working in department of research of COMIMEX and he said that no one was doing the job at that moment. He said, “If you want to do it, you can have the job.” A few weeks later I started to do field research, my role continues today. I was simply to spy out the land where the Lord wanted to take the Body of Christ.

It was 1998 when I began the research. I had no experience. I had spent three years in a church planting ministry and raised up a small church in Mexico and also got a degree in Theology and Missiology. I thought that my experience would help me find and verify which ethnic groups still needed believers or missionaries. I had taken courses in university on ethnographic interviews, anthropology, linguistics, language learning, and missionary methods which honestly did not help much. I had a small list of people groups that needed investigating and began walking into remote villages. On some of my first trips, I went alone and quickly learned that it basically requires someone willing to walk into where Christians had never been before.

So the first task was to get a list of people groups and circle the groups that had no work among them. Then I would bring back this information so that the body of Christ could do something about it. It became the plan for the church in Mexico to finish the great commission. I did not know then, and you may not know that Mexico has one of the largest concentrations of people groups in the world. There are over 330 distinct people groups in Mexico that we know of. There are only a handful of countries in the world that have more people groups.

I’ve spent the last twenty years doing field research in Mexico and am considered one of the experts and I can say with certainty that we don’t know how many people groups there are in Mexico. It is one of the most geographically difficult and linguistically diverse places in the world. It is the enemy’s best-kept secret. Many of the people groups are so remote that you can only gain access by walking to them.

When I started doing field research, there were 214 known classified languages according to Christian linguists. Now (2023) there are 298 known classified languages. You can see why I used the word “known” in that sentence. In a period of 20 some years, 84 languages have been added. What this indicates is that the linguistic research in Mexico, as well as in many other countries around the world, has not been completed. Within these 298 distinct languages, there are around 330 “known” ethnic peoples. I estimate that there are at least 400 ethnic peoples in Mexico of which 60 are still totally unreached with the Gospel. These are remote unreached people groups (totally unreached) having 0% Christians and no missionaries among them. So the field research in Mexico is not completed. We do have a solid list of about 25 totally unreached groups that we have confirmed. This gives the mission movement work to do. I am hoping that my time in Mexico will eventually teach the body of Christ that they not only need to pick one people group to work in but that they will walk out unto the neighboring groups with their disciples, teaching them what Jesus taught his disciples. Jesus told us to go into all the world and make disciples in all ethnic groups and teach them (our disciples) everything he taught us.

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

Mark 1:38 (NIV)

I will be providing solutions in the section on how to start field research in difficult places in the world until field missionaries can get in those areas and continue. Also, it will improve the ability of missionaries to get a bit of orientation closer to their fields. Over the years I eventually became focused on one people grouping (people cluster) where I continue to gather data, mobilize, train, and now, oversee missionaries in the field.

This area of focus is what God led me into after about eight years of investigating all around the country. I eventually found the neediest area and began to focus my attention there.

We need a few things to complete the great commission. We need people. Normal people who are willing to go and do the groundwork and more normal people doing the discipleship. These two things require long-term missionaries. If you are like me, you find a dark patch somewhere and start walking until you find doors opening. Then you come back, tear your clothes, and find some people willing to walk out to the open door with you and repeat.

This section is an appeal to the Body of Christ to establish people grouping/cluster-level researchers in all the areas of the world that need it. I am thinking that we will need about 400 of these specialized missionary pairs. Pairs could mean two men, two women, or a married couple preferably without children. The more Biblical term for these field-researching missionaries would probably be evangelists. This is what I was dubbed when I was a new missionary in a church planting ministry in 1996. What I am doing now is people grouping/cluster-level research that includes mobilization, training, sending, and overseeing. These 400 couples/pairs will also be doing what my wife and I are doing in 20 to 25 years. Our people grouping has 60+ known classified languages and about double the number of known ethnicities. About 20 do not have scriptures, Christians, or workers. That is my focus above all the other responsibilities I have.

I also spent about three years total living in remote unreached people groups. I pastored/discipled a small group of believers in a remote people group until the long-term field missionary came along. This may also happen to you if you take the vision of becoming one of the 400 field researchers. But as soon as field missionaries come along, go back to going into the next village looking for doors and discipling those who will find their role.

I am writing the same thing in many ways so that it is completely clear what I am talking about.

  • Field Researching Missionaries
  • Field Missionaries

This section also serves the purpose to teach all field missionaries to be prepared to identify and give back information about newly discovered groups to those to the people grouping/cluster field researching missionaries who will, recruit, mobilize, train, send, and oversee. Both ministries take many years to develop and require living on the field among your people groups.

All field missionaries should understand how to identify barriers to the flow of the Gospel which are essentially points of need for another new missionary. That new missionary could be a foreigner, a national, or from the people group. It matters not to God who does the walking and it will matter less to the newly converted believers in the unreached group. This experience of walking into neighboring groups helps field missionaries know how far their work will spread before hitting a barrier. It also keeps them focused on Jesus’ plan, “the continual extension of the kingdom of God.” Field missionaries will be teaching their disciples to be going into the neighboring villages and crossing barriers.

Most people group researchers use these basic terms listed below. The lines are gray between these boundaries and obviously can get more complicated if you try to fit a people group into one box. We are not forming our plan based on an anthropological or linguistic point of view. We are making a list of points of need for new missionaries. The will of God is that all hear and have the opportunity to follow Christ.

  • Ethno-linguistic groups – languages (8,000 known worldwide)
  • Ethno-cultural groups – ethnicities (14,000 known worldwide)
  • Ethno-social / ethnoreligious groups which can be clans/castes etc. (some speculate 25,000 worldwide)

Summing up the two needs in the missionary movement:

  1. Field Researchers at the People Grouping/Cluster level. (about 400 pairs)
  2. Field Missionaries working long term in one group or two AND being involved in identifying the newly discovered points of missionary sending need (about 5,000 pairs)

I don’t think we will ever have a database that codes and monitors the activity of the missionary movement. If we can understand these two roles and just do them, we will be a lot closer to finishing the great commission much sooner. All new field missionaries need to change their mindset. They are not just called to one people group. Their disciples have to extend outward to other ethnicities or they have not done their job.

God wants feet. He doesn’t necessarily need mappers looking at landscan data taken from satellites. He needs people on the ground. I desire that you become God’s feet. All missionaries need to go to a remote unreached people group and they need to be able to plan the arrival of other missionaries

If you are a field missionary, you will need a list of several people groups to find the open door in the group you will begin to reach, but eventually, you will be researching (spying out the land) in other remote unreached peoples. A list of ten to start with is a good number to ensure that you personally get into a totally unreached people group with no Christians or missionaries. The door in one may be closed, or there is no person of peace yet, or there are believers being discipled. Having a list of ten also will get you in the mindset of not just focusing on one group. Your disciples can start following you out into other areas.

You, the missionary, need to go as far as you can to your remote unreached people and eventually have placement ready for at least ten others who will follow in your path. You can consider yourself a field researcher or field missionary, and it might not matter. You may think you are one and, over time, fall into a different role.

Once you are on the ground you will begin to see linguistic ethnic and other barriers. It will be your job to help get them the message. You cannot do much in the kingdom of God without a plan. God is a god of order and efficiency. Everything in nature and the cosmos shows this to us. We must get into the unknown languages, tribes, and clans in order to bring the end and Christ’s return. So let’s get busy, there is a lot of work to do. Start by reading part 2