A Lenten and Easter series on fields needing harvest
You probably recognize the imagery our Lord used. It comes at the end of Chapter 9 of Matthew. He used the simplest of images to convey this overlooked priority for the church’s mission:
Fields of people
Harvest that is neglected
Too few workers
Prayer for more
These unharvested fields we refer to as “frontier mission.” That’s because they lay beyond the present mission of the church. Vast resources go for to fields where workers have been harvesting year after year. But Jesus is turning our attention to those people where the workers are few—very few and far behind the harvest needed.
Transferring His imagery to current numbers and locations, the church sends over 90% of our mission resources to where harvesting has a long history. To those fields where the Gospel is unknown, it’s a different story. There are about 1.8 billion people in today’s world living in unharvested fields, in the dark about Jesus Christ. For these 28% of the world’s population, we allocate about 6% of our resources.
I consider myself an expert in the reasons for neglecting the some harvest fields. I was director of a missionary society that serves the church’s work among those fields. Anglican Frontier Missions concentrated on the 25 largest and least evangelized ethnic groups. As Director I was on the other end of the telephone receiving calls from those interested in the least evangelized people groups. They were few in those days. I soon discovered that my major role was as advocate for these fields. That meant listening to the churches’ mission stories, appreciating what they were doing, and trying to figure out why that did not include the Qashqa’i of Iran, among others. After fifteen years in that role I became an expert in these reasons.
This is a very timely introduction for this series. This coming Sunday I will give a presentation to a church about involvement with frontier mission. Having this presentation in mind has helped to crystallize the challenge. Let me share my thoughts.
This church is one of the friendliest churches I know towards frontier mission. They have a sound mission life, both locally and beyond. Furthermore, this is the church that gave me immense personal and financial support in the early days of AFM. Yes, this is my former parish, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.
I have told the rector and missions chair that I will go to meddlin’. That is, I will offer ideas for connections and engagement in frontier mission. I have four suggestions in mind, opportunities that most congregations in the US could consider:
1. International students;
2. A local ethnic group with ties to previous mission outreach;
3. Foreign missionaries supported in the parish budget;
4. A missionary from a local church.
Each has benefits that commend them:
1. Students from other countries, students who will become leaders back in their own lands. Several churches I know are having successful outreach for students in their vicinity. At the nearby University of Richmond there are over 600 foreign students. Most are from China, with India second.
2. Permanent residents from countries where we have previous contacts. For St. Matthew’s that would be Ethiopia. Several trips to one particular area and a bishop from neighboring tribes give a head start in meaningful connections.
3. Overseas missionaries supported by the church. To highlight these pioneer missionaries would take our attention to their dangerous and strategic places and people. Four Moldovans receive funds in this church’s budget.
4. A missionary going to a country in South Asia. This is the most intriguing because of today’s Episcopal/Anglican world. This missionary was raised Episcopalian and now worships at an Anglican church. She is warm and friendly. She has good relations in both groups and has a relative in St. Matthew’s. Of course, the issue is cooties. Will one group get the cooties of the other?
Now, I attend three churches from three different Anglican bodies. I have my ecclesiastical allergies, and none of them is activated in these three churches. As a disconnected missionary type with official ties only in Nigeria, you can tell that getting torqued over divisions between Bible-centered, Spirit-filled, etc., churches bores me. Unity in Christ is a possible fit here.
I would say that I will report the outcome next week, but I have learned that the reality is always a long-term sorting out. What I will report on is the first reason for neglect and my response. The report will come the following week—a look at the 10 million Hindu Marwari of Rajasthan, India.
Picture: A field of winter wheat almost ready for workers.