The Central African Region has suffered many evils during the slaving period, and during Colonialism. It has suffered from outside influences and it has suffered internally from tyrannical leaders. But all of this is the result of sin; it is the result of the Father of Lies and the sin that exists in the hearts of all mankind. I never dreamed I’d go back to the Central African Region when I first dedicated my life to missions. In fact, I used to have nightmares about being trapped there. But God has burdened our hearts with the reality of the spiritual darkness in this region. Now our hearts long to see the Name that is above every other name be lifted high in that region!
And while the Central African Region appears to be “Christian” much of what is labeled “Christianity” is far from a true, biblical Gospel. The largest number of professing Christians are Roman Catholic in belief. Also, syncretism of the Gospel is prevalent in this region among those who have had exposure to the Gospel. Among the people groups who are unengaged and unreached, traditional religions consist of animism, rituals, ancestor worship, and witchcraft.
This country has a population of about 84,000,000 people, 216 people groups, and 211 languages. Of these people groups, 32,000,000 people are unreached, which means they do not have an adequate witness of Christ in them. 6,700,000 people are unengaged and unreached which means they have no access to the Gospel in their heart language. All together, 38,000,000 people within this country do not have an adequate witness among them.
How can we enter this ministry context and be effective?
First and foremost, we must enter as humble learners dependent on the Spirit. We will be in good company because this follows Christ’s example. He entered in the humblest way, as a baby. He learned the Jewish culture and ways and lived alongside the majority population, living at the same social status as them. He spoke the same language and understood their cultural illustrations. As we enter the Central African culture, we want to “become” like them as much as is possible following Paul’s model “I have become all things to all people.”
We believe that God does have strong, mature national churches in this region. And we want to enter as learners under them. Just like Christ entered the world as an infant baby dependent on human parents for survival, we want to enter the culture in a way that we are intentionally dependent on the local church. We are not superior to them and we have much to learn from them about the Central African Region and how to engage with unreached people groups there. As we identify unreached people groups, our church planting team will assess the need and choose a group to work in. Our first step towards this is through learning the heart language and the culture of targeted people groups Learning the heart language of the people group allows us to present the Gospel in the language they understand.
Once we learn the language and culture well enough to communicate spiritual truths clearly, we want to make sure we teach the Bible in a way that makes logical sense. When I read to our children, I don’t start the story at the middle. I begin at the beginning. And if you think about it, this is how God chose to reveal Himself as well starting in Genesis with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Many times we are tempted to take short cuts and jump right to the story of Jesus. But for people who have no biblical framework to understand, this is often confusing. I spent some time in China and when we shared about Christmas, they held Santa, Jesus, and Rudolph all at the same level–as pretend characters. If I had told them to believe in Jesus and his death without further teaching, it would not have resulted in salvation. The Old Testament provides necessary context to build the narrative to Christ and places the Gospel narrative in the greater storyline. We believe teaching the chronological Bible lessons beginning in Genesis and working our way to the ascension of Christ helps avoid confusion.
Teaching through the Scriptures this way also allows us to challenge the worldviews of the culture. Each culture has ways they understand reality in all the different realms of life. In the realm of “Cause and Effect” a traditional tribal religion might believe the “nkisi” has power to manipulate spirits or other people. They might use this belief to explain why someone was able to get ahead in business. However, as we teach through Scripture, their understanding of cause and effect will be challenged. God is the ultimate “causer” and He has given man the ability to make choices that “cause” outcomes that man is responsible for. But God is the one who controls the ultimate effect. Man can choose to sin against God, but the effect will be death. This is just one example of how teaching through Scripture can challenge worldview beliefs while building the context for the Gospel.
Every culture has bridges–things that will help them connect with the absolute truth about God as revealed in the Bible, and each culture has things that will be barriers. These barriers make it clear that the God of the Bible cannot just be added to a collection of beliefs.
As we teach through the stories leading up to the cross, we will be highlighting the many themes found in Scripture such as God’s holiness, sin, death and faith. Take for example the Passover story when the Israelites painted their doors with the blood of the lamb to avoid death or the story of the bronze serpent that just required a look of faith for healing. This builds a perfect background to understand Jesus’ death as the only payment of sins, and faith in Christ as the only way to be saved.
Once a new church is born, a church planter still has much to do. it can be compared to having a newborn baby, Much effort has been put into giving birth, but so much is left to do in training a child to maturity. And we all know from personal experience that sanctification and spiritual growth takes time.
Another important aspect to consider is whether the majority of the people can read or if they even have their language written down. We believe literacy is crucial in order for the church to read God’s Word for themselves and to grow in teaching and preaching.
During this time of growth for the new church it will be important to be discipling men so that in time, the church can appoint mature Shepherds who can feed their flock.
During this whole time we will have to be carefully and prayerfully avoiding the ditches of missions: paternalism and syncretism. We do not want to err on the side of paternalism and prevent the new church from growing by not giving enough responsibility. Nor do we want to stand so far back that we allow new believers to be confused by the pressures of the world and allow false teaching in.
The church planting model we briefly described is tailored to a small, somewhat remote village and church planting is not easy anywhere. But we face an additional opportunity and challenge because many of the unreached people groups in this region have been displaced by war to urban centers. It is an opportunity because it moves some of the groups to accessible locations. It is a challenge because the people group is facing a complex future. it is also entirely likely several different distinct language groups may be clustered side by side in urban settings. We have no way of knowing yet what type of setting we will be working in.
We recognise that apart from the Holy Spirit it is an impossible task and our trust is in God as we move forward.
We hope to begin our first Term in this Region in January of 2023: We will begin by learning language and more about the ministry realities. We will be praying and asking questions of the local church. We will be conducting People Group Assessment to learn about the unreached people groups, their locations and languages. Our leadership will help direct us as we prayerfully consider how to utilize the principles and tools we have learned in training with Ethnos360.
We have so appreciated being able to share with you the vision we have for serving in the Central African Region to plant mature churches among unreached people groups. Our triune God exists in eternal love and glory, and He created man to know and enjoy fellowship with Him. But, we all were born separated from Christ and unless we had someone share the message of salvation with us so that we could believe, that is how we would stay. Christ came to save us, and He is worthy of all praise, and honor, and glory. Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. God doesn’t need us, but He has given us the gift of calling other needy sinners to salvation, so we can all participate together with Him in His glorious Kingdom.