There’s no work here.

In missions research, I often hear this phrase, especially when I’m talking with someone who’s passionate about their people group: “There’s nothing happening here.”

It can be a difficult phrase. What does it mean? What do we mean by “nothing” and “happening” and “here”?

When we say “nothing” do we mean:

  • there’s no movement
  • there’s no response
  • there’s no engagement or team with a strategy
  • there’s no missionary influence here at all
  • there’s no plan to do so

When we say “happening” do we mean:

  • there’s no comprehensive strategy with ongoing results
  • there’s no fruit being borne
  • there’s not even any ongoing trips or visits into the area

When we say “here” do we mean

  • amongst the whole of my people group
  • in the particular area where I am working
  • amongst the people I have heard from

I have found I often know of things “happening” – but perhaps they don’t fit the criteria of “things” the person has, or perhaps they aren’t aware of it. Sometimes person A isn’t told things that persons B, C, and D are doing, even if person A is a well known mission leader or person of influence. Sometimes, what person B, C and D are doing is discounted as either unverified or invalid.

But I am finding that, often deep under the radar, “something” is happening in many “heres” – and although I still don’t think we are on track (yet) to reach all the peoples or even engage all the peoples and places, this gives me much hope that we might be on a path toward an exponential increase in engagements.

Money on missions vs Halloween pet costumes

It’s that time of year again – time for a review of what we spend on Halloween vs. foreign missions.

We spend a lot on dog food, and it’s sometimes compared to what we spend on missions (rightly or wrongly).

Globally, we spend about $48 billion per year on missions (CSGC figure). I suspect that the US, being the largest sender of missionaries, spends the greatest percentage of that amount.

Variously, we estimate about 1% of that amount is spent on the unreached (or ~$480 million, or better phrased as half a billion dollars). Some portion of that is obviously donated by Americans, but we don’t know precisely how much. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering alone was $142 million (2017-18), but of course not all of that was for the unreached.

Americans will, on the other hand, spend about $480 million on Halloween costumes for their pets (new 2018 figure).

So it does seem that we could legitimately say Americans spend more on Halloween costumes for their pets than they give to foreign missions, for whatever saying that is worth.

Every place and people group needs a worker, and a thought about monitoring

Romans 10 puts it succinctly:’

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

Romans 10:13-14

Every place and people group needs a proclamation of the Good News:

  • Places need distinct voices engaging with their distinct populations. Life-on-life can best (mostly, only) happen when lives are near each other. We cannot easily “one another” each other remotely. Marriages cannot be marriages if people are never near each other; long-distance relationships are difficult because of separations. In the same way, true ekklesia community is personal: it requires regular, in-person relationships.
  • Peoples need distinct voices in languages they understand because (a) the Gospel needs to be understood (I wouldn’t understand the Good News in Russian), and (b) because hearing the Good News in my heart language makes it easier for me to understand and relate to.

Places that lack an in-place, in-language proclamation need a proclaimer.

It is best if the proclaimer is a person who shares their language and culture. It is good if at minimum it is a near-culture person who understands the situation. But if no same-culture or near-culture proclaimer is available, then a cross-cultural worker must be sent.

I believe we should do the hard work of finding the “nearest person” who can be sent, but if no one can be found or it’s going to take years, then we ought not shrink from sending a cross-cultural worker.

In terms of monitoring, we can over-complicate our databases. Really, the first and most important question is: does every place have a Gospel proclamation that can reasonably be expected to get into every language and to every person within a reasonable period of time (e.g. 10 to 20 years for every individual)?

Until we can know that about nearly every place, we don’t really need to drill into further detail about any single place.

Categories of Progress

I’ve recently finished reading Hans Rosling’s (posthumously published book) Factfulness. This book is a valuable examination of good analytical mental habits, especially for lay people, and I highly recommend it for your Kindle app.

What was particularly interesting to me was how they broke the world down into four categories based on consumable income. They call this “Dollar Street,” and showed how all over the world, people in roughly the same category of spending would do things in roughly the same way.

I thought we could similarly analyze places and peoples by percent Christian (in the broadest sense). While it can be challenging to know the precise % Christian of a place or a people group, we could reasonably accurately identify a general level.

Dollar Street’s categories are based on doublings. They go roughly like this:

Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 4
32% and above

The total count of countries or provinces by level was fairly unsurprising:

Of greater interest to me was the populations at each of the levels. (In the province graph below, I’ve included a “Level 0”: these are provinces for which I have absolutely no indicator of any Christian believers at all.)

The Dollar Street-style implications of this analysis can be taken further in the future; in this post, I just want to highlight something that comes out of greater granularity of data: the “hidden” nature of less-reached places.A country like India can have enough Christians in some spots to push it “a little higher” on the “level” scale (and in many other lists, too)–and yet these Christians are “localized” in a few places. So while some countries can show up on some lists as being “more reached,” the reality is inside the countries there are pockets of more and less reached places.

The reality is, something like a quarter of the world’s population lives in locations that are less than 2% Christian–places that are heavily unevangelized, where many can live never meeting a believer. And, another quarter of the world lives in places that are between 2% and 8% Christian–perhaps not “unreached” by some definitions, but areas where a lot of work is left to be done.

This kind of reality holds just as true for people groups and provinces as it does for countries. Inside any large population there will be more-reached and less-reached subsets. Look at Turkey: the west is more engaged than the east. Look inside Istanbul, and you’ll find the same thing.

Before anyone asks: no, my list is not publicly available; it’s internal to Beyond and some of our partners. But really, the point of this post is: this kind of analysis is not rocket science. You could do it yourself for any place where you work. Just grab a list of the provinces or districts for the country you’re working in, and for each place, ask yourself which level each of the component segments is obviously at. For most places, with a little bit of Googling, you’ll find Census data or other survey data that will help you figure it out.

I leave the exercise to you because I think it’s a needed one: it teaches us to look inside the segments, find the nuance and look for the gaps, the people who have less access. That’s a skill that all of us in mission strategy need to develop.

Women in Missions

I ran across this quote today:

For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.

Virginia Wolf

Whether this is quote is correctly attributed or not (or even whether it is true), it did set me to reflecting on how at least in modern history – and probably in a great deal of history – much of Christian mission’s activities were accomplished by women, even if their history has not been written.

Today, if we exclude the percentage of missionaries who are couples (equal share, 50/50, male/female), and look at the singles, single women in mission (and in the church generally) are known to largely (and in some agencies, vastly) outnumber single men.

This means that the majority of Protestant missionaries are women.

Further, if we contemplate Roman Catholic missionaries, we often think of well known missionary orders like Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, etc. – and so we think of the stereotypical monk under vows of celibacy. But the reality is, nuns outnumber monks by about 7-to-1: in 2017, worldwide, there were 753,400 women and 191,800 men in ‘the consecrated life.’

I think any mission needs to contemplate what it means to mostly consist of women. Do we write their histories and their stories? Do we consider their needs and their safety? Do we give them authority and let them lead?