I am not sure what I expected to see when I drove through the city on my first trip to East Asia, but it wasn’t Lexus and Louis Vuitton. Yet I saw those trappings of economic prosperity throughout the city, along with modern malls, department stores, and new high-rises. Amazing changes are taking place here as a result of increasing openness to economic development.
One thing that hasn’t changed after centuries of spiritual oppression is the people’s need for the Gospel. We know of over 300 languages spoken here; the actual number is probably much higher. Most of the people groups speaking these minority languages are both unreached and unengaged—they do not have a church presence, and no outside agencies are bringing them the Gospel. The 287 Bibleless peoples here are among the most spiritually impoverished peoples on earth.
Pioneer Bible Translators is committed to serving people groups like these. This is a challenging task in East Asia, where the government controls many aspects of domestic life, including the ability to travel freely. Expatriates cannot simply move to a remote area and set up housekeeping. They need a reason—a very believable reason—to be there. Unfortunately the most believable reason—that we are there to share the Gospel of Jesus—is the very one we cannot use.
Therefore Pioneer Bible Translators is working diligently to develop creative access strategies to engage the unreached peoples of East Asia. These strategies require an entrepreneurial spirit coupled with the ability to analyze needs and opportunities in a community and facilitate business ventures that give us legitimate reasons to establish our presence there. Ethno-tourism, eco-tourism, coffee brokerages, and small-scale manufacturing are among the promising possibilities.
However, for reaching some language communities, creative access strategies such as these will not be enough. Some areas are simply off limits to expatriates. Period. To reach the Bibleless, churchless peoples who live there, we must find ways to engage them from a distance. One possibility is to train other East Asians as cross-cultural evangelists and church planters, then send them into those areas. Another involves identifying members of those language groups who live outside their home areas and engaging them in the work of Bible translation. Yet another possibility is to equip mother-tongue translators to work on-site, bringing them out of their home areas periodically for workshops and training.
Our most important strategy, however, does not require creative access. It involves availing ourselves of the access we already have—access to the very throne of God. If the peoples of East Asia are to be reached, it will be through the prayers of God’s people. We need to pray fervently and regularly that God will raise up workers to serve here, that He will lead them to find creative strategies that work, that He will grant them favor with government officials, and that He will work through them to bring His Gospel to the unreached.