By Stanley Ow
Stanley is the Executive Director of Singapore Centre for Evangelism and Missions.
Together with my wife, we were privileged to be among 470 people groups gathered at the recent 7th World Christian Gathering of indigenous people in the Holy Land, Israel. Representatives from more than 30 nations from Northern American Indians, the Maoris of New Zealand, the Sami People of the Arctic and a large delegate of 200 from Indonesia.
They were decked out in their respective ethnic costumes, sang in their native language, dancing and playing on drums and musical instruments made from animal skins and hand-carved from barks of tree in praise to God.
We stood amazed that the nations of the world will eventually come to worship God with the inclusion of these special groups of indigenous peoples of to share their unique way of worship to worship Him through their own cultural forms and styles.
It is paramount for the church to recognize the need for these indigenous people to be accepted and break free from their past sins and be fully embraced as an integral part of the Body of Christ.
Yet the challenge remains. There is a need to draw many more indigenous peoples around their desolation, where the poorest of the poor live. They need to experience the life changing encounter with Jesus within their unique cultures and history.
During the Gathering, it was heartwarming to know, there are hundreds of thousands of believers in Indonesia could get hold of a bible in their own tongue.
It was made possible through just one obedient native believer, given a burden to translate the Bible into their own tongue. Today, they stand proud to be able to read and study the word of God.
Despite the latest technologies and advancement in transportation, somewhere in the Arctic and other remote parts of the world, there are still people groups and tribes that are without modern day transportation, electricity and conveniences.
You could only get to them on foot and live without electricity and proper drinking water.
Recently, the media reported with a video clip, pictures of a certain tribe that has never been identified nor shown in public before. It is interesting and amazing, that it could happen in the 21st century. I am sure they remain one of the least of the least of unreached people groups (UPGs) on planet earth.
The Unreached Peoples
There are thousands of people groups around the world, some as large as several million people such as those in China and India, who have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel or the name of Jesus even once in his or her life time.
In contract, as a first generation Singaporean Christian, I have immediate and easy access to many translations of the Bible stored away in my “Book Bank.” One could not imagine someone who has not held a living Bible in his hand.
Near to where I live in Singapore, we have an association called “South East Asia’s Network (SEALINK)”- made up of 11 nations. They include a myriad of peoples with over 800 unreached peoples groups (UPGs).
They have less than 2% evangelical Christians. Almost 500 of these UPGs are groups with more than 10,000 people. But, in most of the South East Asian countries, the majority people group is also largely unevangelized.
This is my region, they are my neighbors, our neighbor- Judea’ in accordance to Acts 1:8. Check out this web at www.ethne.net and www.peoplegroups.org
The task remains…
The local newspaper, ‘The Straits Times’ reported in late September that Singapore has her population of 4.84 million people with a significant 19% increase of foreign nationals. Among the increase, there are at present 85,000 foreign students.
God is changing Singapore’s demography with 1 in 4 residents in Singapore being a foreign national. As an “Antioch of Asia”, while we send thousands of missionaries beyond the shores of this tiny nation called Singapore, our mission to the world remains at our doorstep.
The Singapore Church is experiencing a mindset change in reaching out to the foreign nationals here. What is God doing within the people groups of your own country or the country of your birth?
What is your own worldview about the thousands and millions who have yet to hear the good news? May God release to us His burden of reaching the millions who have yet to receive Christ.
Mission minded believers in Christ look beyond country boundaries. They are open to cross-cultural experiences and differences, and are concerned with other nations, tribes, races and languages (Revelations 7:9).
They care for the urban dwellers and the rural folks, the literate and the illiterate, the young and the elderly, citizens and the stateless, the elite and the marginalized as well as the helpless, defenseless or at risk. People need the Lord!
He or she is in for a long haul driven by the compassionate heartbeat and love of God and equipped with a global mindset and feet that are determined to help deliver the Good. Why? Because God so loved the indigenous people groups, tribes, languages and nations (John 3:16) that none should perish.
The task remains…
The Buddhist Block
Throughout the world today, Buddhism influences approximately 1.5 billion people in some way or other. Theravada Buddhism is commonly practised in Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand; Mahayana Buddhism in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam; and Vajrayana Buddhism in Bhutan, Mongolia and Tibet.
Many Chinese combine their Buddhist faith with other related religious beliefs such as Taoism, Confucianism and even animism, superstitions, ancestor worship and other forms of spiritual practices.
Many who believe and practice ‘Feng-Shui’ (wind & water) still live in fear of offending deities and spirits through positioning of household items, furniture and even building construction. They believe ‘Feng-Shui’ can help them obtain success, prosperity, good fortune wealth and good luck.
The Hindu Block
Hindu devotees make up around 13% of the world population. The vast majority – some 700 million people- live in India where they account for 82% of the population. They worship an estimation of 330 millions gods.
Many are still bound to the caste systems that oppress certain segments of the population. Yet, we know the God of all is the one and only Savior and Lord Christ Jesus to whom all knees will bow and tongues confess.
The Muslim Block
Muslims makes up around 20% of the world population. Thousands upon thousands of young people have moved into Western campuses in America, England and Europe in search for higher education and a better life.
Families migrate and bring along their religious beliefs to many Christian nations. How have the Western nations responded? Is there integration or isolation? Are we supposed to be the salt and light of the world?
From my interaction with and testimonies that I had heard from regional leaders, I realize that they are reachable via the Gospel. Many have encountered Christ through visions and dreams. God has changed my mindset and perceptions about reaching out to the Muslims.
Show our genuine concern for this people’s group. Befriend them and be involved in their lives. Time and patience are required. Pray for open doors and hearts.
Extremism arises because Islam has been misused to teach the wrong doctrines resulting in Muslims being influenced with feelings of hatred and revenge, instead of love and peace.
The task remains…
What challenges do we face in completing the task of world evangelization? We are living in a fast changing world. Every few months, sometimes weeks, there is a new technological improvement and gadget in the market.
Young people are constantly conversing in new lingo, influenced facing new songs, music and dialogue of peers and popular culture. All of us long to be accepted and for the impressionable youths, to be part of the cool and hip crowd.
Ponder over some of the possibilities:
1. Let your life count for Jesus. This is a brief life. We cannot determine how long we will live as life is in His hands. Be a life-changing agent for Him. You are destined for His purpose because He has a definite purpose for your life. We are not on earth by chance.
Live life with a purpose! Plan for a long haul and live a lasting legacy. You can do it with His help and support from your Christian mentors.
2. Give your best in whatever you are doing now. If you are a student, master a skill or profession. It will come in handy in the near future as you apply for visas or jobs in another country. We are in the process of spiritual growth and maturity in the hands of God.
He will carry us through for His purpose of molding and shaping our lives.
3. Move beyond mastering a language; take up a second and third language so that you can communicate the gospel in foreign lands. Have a keen interest to learn and stay focused with the task at hand.
4. Have an adventurous spirit for food, cultures, languages and peoples groups. Be keen to learn and experience new things.
5. Learn to adopt a simple life-style. Be contented with and thankful with the things God provided through our loved ones and friends.
Borrowing a comedic stanza from a worship song, I once heard a Singapore missionary wife serving in Philippines quip, “Lord, wherever you lead me I will follow, whatever you give me, I will swallow!”
6. Anchor your Christian faith in God. Master the Bible. In conducting a course at a Bible College recently, I related to the students that annually, a dentist surgeon or a lawyer in Singapore is required to renew their license.
A doctor or lawyer is an expert with specialized learning and training. What about us as a mission- minded followers of Jesus. Is God expecting less of us? The Word challenged us ‘to study in order to be approved workers and servants of God.
Learn the lesson of stick-ability in our spiritual journey. We are running a spiritual marathon or ‘cross-country’ with distractions, discouragement and hindrance. Don’t give up when you face difficulties and challenges.
God is careful to use tested vessels in order to receive His purpose and glory for Himself. The followers of the Bible are known as the people of the Book in ancient times.
7. Keep your zeal, enthusiasm and fire for the Lord. Be a dreamer like Joseph of the Old Testament and a great Apostle Paul of the New Testament.
8. Seek out for role models and mentors. During my early days of my spiritual journey especially in Bible Schools, I would do assignments on Biblical character studies, Early Church Fathers and lives of men and women of God of the past.
I would emulate and follow their example. They became my spiritual heroes in my own spiritual journey. Do you have spiritual mentors or heroes? Look out for them. Have a word with them. Be available.
The task for world evangelism remains. It can be done by all believers of the Cross and together we can complete His task for us.