There is one thing that is pretty scary as we jump head-first into tribal missions. And it’s not the food. It’s not the spears. It’s not being isolated from civilization, and it’s not missing my favorite tv show. And believe me, I’m not scared of going years without having to be concerned with American politics. A scary thing for me is, having never been to an unreached people group personally, can I really be sure that they are there? Maybe a better question to ask is can I be sure of the need that exists?
The reason I am talking about this right now is because it has been on my mind for a couple weeks, and I have spent a lot of time this week doing some research, emailing missionaries, and talking to New Tribes leadership. Not that I haven’t researched this unreached people group thing before and was clueless, yet it seemed to me to be an important enough issue to make sure that you know what you’re talking about.
First let’s talk about what an unreached people group even is, because I have found myself of late, a little confused on this definition. A people group is simply an ethnic group who have the same culture and language history and who share the same set of beliefs and behaviors. Therefore when I use the term "unreached people group" I mean that it is a people group who, do to isolation, does not have access to the Gospel either in written form or verbal testimony. In a nutshell these people have no chance to know or understand anything about Jesus, unless someone from the outside gets it to them.
But there are some things that this does not necessarily mean. It does not mean that there aren’t necessarily any believers in that people group. Sound like double talk? Let me explain: If a person from a people group comes out of isolation, comes out to the city, learns a language that does have a Bible, hears about Jesus and gets saved…that does not mean that his people group now have access. The access still is not there because there are so many things left to consider. Is this person going to go back to his people and share the good news? Would he explain it right, or would he distort the truth? Would his people ever get a Bible in their language so they could learn how to grow in their relationship with Christ? All these things have to be considered.
I found out about an unreached people group in Paraguay that has a church. When I heard this it shocked me…that doesn’t sound like an unreached people group to me. When dialoguing with some missionaries from the field I came to find out that there is a church in one of the communities in that people group. However that people group has over 100 communities that are all isolated from each other. Not only that the church that is there doesn’t have a Bible that they can read. In a situation like that how can believers grow? I wonder what the preacher teaches on Sundays…He doesn’t have a Bible himself! How can a church hold to truth, when truth is not being defined by God? With that in mind, how can this one community reach the other 100+? Odds are stacked up against them. This people group as a whole is still unreached.
In a changing world where in some cases "tribal people" wear American Eagle clothing and like to talk on their cell phones with relatives (I’m not exaggerating), the tribal scene looks different than 30 years ago. The lines for tribal and unreached can become fuzzy. The world is shrinking, but even though it is shrinking people still remain isolated from the gospel. No matter how you look at it, unsaved people in the United States have access to the gospel. You can buy a Bible at Wal-mart, and I wonder what the farthest distance is that I’ve ever driven without passing a church. There are unsaved people here as there are unsaved over there, but as I am presented with the facts we are convinced of the existence of people isolated from the gospel in Paraguay. Do you see the need and the urgency of the task before us as we do?
What has convinced us is the process by which New Tribes Mission establishes whether or not there is a need. Things are considered such as are the people bilingual in a language that has the gospel? Is the people group going to last? (People groups either die off, or are absorbed into another people group all the time) The last question that is asked is key: Is anyone making a viable attempt to reach them?
When all the questions have been asked there are 8 people groups in Paraguay who are considered unreached. One of these groups has missionaries in right now just getting started! In another group, mature tribal believers with access to the gospel are starting the process of reaching 2 tribal groups near them with the gospel (although they will need assistance with logistical stuff) There are 4 couples, and 4 singles in route to Paraguay hoping to be arriving over the next couple years. There are also a few more couples and singles who are looking to God as to whether they will serve in Paraguay. God is giving New Tribes Mission the laborers for Paraguay to reach these who remain unreached. It is my prayer that in the next 20 years we can see the expanse of the Gospel reaching to every corner of Paraguay!