A Global Glimpse of God’s Harvest Today
If there’s anything we’ve learned from the past few years of globe-watching, it’s that the near future holds anything but the expected. Our era on this planet will not be “business as usual” politically, economically, socially, or personally. The prophet Habakkuk put it this way:
"Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told." Hab. 1:5
If the Lord gives it to us by delaying His return, the twenty-first century is going to be a wild time of spiritual significance. Today He is calling unprecedented numbers of people to Himself. Suddenly He is packing into one place, at one time, more valuable human souls than at any other time in history.
There is something infinitely significant about the time in which we live, so we’d best keep tuned to the big picture of what God is doing. We can catch a glimpse of that big picture by keeping up with the latest global trends in the harvest force and the harvest fields.
The Harvest Force
Here’s what’s happening in the harvest force.
Two-Thirds World missions is on the rise.
The Two-Thirds World comprises two-thirds of the world population who also live on two-thirds of the world’s land surface.About one-third of the entire cross-cultural harvest force is now from the Two-Thirds World. That segment will increase to more than half of the harvest force by the year 2000. Non-Western missionaries are increasing at a rate of about 13 percent a year, while Western missionaries are increasing by about 4 percent.Western Christians are now only one fourth of the worldwide Body of Christ. Of this number; North Americans constitute perhaps 10-15 percent of the worldwide committed church. If we think we’re the end-all and be-all of God’s global activity, we’re missing at least 85 percent of what God is really doing.
Short-term missions continues to blossom.
In the United States alone, mission agencies sent out more than 31,000 short-term missionaries in 1988 (the last year of reliable data). This was up from about 21,000 just three years before. The ratio today is even more amazing: Short-termers make up about 50 percent of the North American missions force. It’s critical, particularly in the West, that churches fit short-term outreach into their strategic missions plans rather than sending out groups and individuals randomly “for the experience.” Unprepared short-term teams are dangerous on the mission field. For example, a short-term group blitzing through Central Asia was unaware of local laws. In one country’s capital they showed an evangelistic film without authorization. As a result, the government banned all public Christian film showings for years to come.
Whoever you are and whatever skills and gifts God has given you, there’s a place for you in cross-cultural ministry.
English teaching, water reclamation engineering, film ministries, relief ministries, import-export businesses, cultural exchange festivals, and literally hundreds of other activities, as well as the tried-and-true mission ministries of personal and open-air evangelism, literature distribution, medical assistance, and radio ministries are all a part of mission today.
New training models are being developed worldwide to meet the crisis of ministering to a Church that is growing.
(For every seminary-trained pastor across the continent of Africa, for example, there are six hundred congregations.) Church leaders and missionaries worldwide need theological grounding and training in interpersonal and ministry skills.The West’s preoccupation with classroom academics is changing to more on-the-job training in ministry. In the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Indonesia, for example, students must complete academic requirements, plant at least one church, and introduce at least fifteen Muslims to Jesus Christ in order to graduate. The students of that school in the past six years alone have planted more than six hundred churches and brought more than forty thousand Muslims to faith in Christ!Schools are going mobile. The old procedure of pulling potential leaders out of their communities and cultures to get Western-style schooling at a seminary is fast being replaced by taking the teaching to the leaders in their own environments. Theological Education by Extension is successful worldwide, and Biblical Education by Extension is working particularly well in the former Soviet Union.
Functional unity is a biblical principle whose time has finally come.
The Body of Christ is coming together as never before. This surge of unity isn’t the old ecumenical mistake of joining together by dissolving all our doctrinal convictions and distinctive traditions. It’s a unity in diversity maintaining our denominational and doctrinal distinctives while coordinating our ministries so that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. What a concept: the Body with all its various parts and functions working together in the Father’s business.*Technology isn’t just for business or education anymore; it’s for the Kingdom. Christians now own more than 54 million computers. Electronic mail and fifty-six global computer networks now link the Body of Christ on nearly every continent. Frontiers mission agency, for instance, maintains constant contact with its hundreds of missionaries across the world. Messages to or from the teams are instantly linked by satellite with Frontier’s international headquarters in London.Wycliffe Bible Translators, with the help of computerization, is now starting a new translation every fourteen days, accomplishing in months translation tasks that used to take years. HCJB Radio Ministries have developed a “radio station in a suitcase” to broadcast the gospel message within a forty-mile radius at minimal cost. Today we can be anywhere in the world within twenty-four hours. We now have tools such as Campus Crusade’s Jesus film. This film has been viewed by nearly half a billion people resulting in more than 32 million brought to faith in Christ.
The Harvest Fields
Looking at the harvest force is one thing. But what’s happening in the harvest fields? Here are some of the major trends:
It’s a mobile mission field.
One hundred million people will migrate across national borders this year alone, double the number of 1989. The isolated Kurds - that unreached people of Iraq, Turkey, and Azerbaijan - can now be more easily reached in their enclaves in Berlin, Nashville, Dallas, and Los Angeles. In Europe, refugee immigration is expected to top 50 million refugees, many of whom are from unreached peoples in North African countries that are “closed” to the gospel. Some estimate that Australia will be a truly Eurasian country by the year 2000. In spite of tightening quotas, about a million immigrants stream into North America every year.
It’s a world of cities.
By A.D. 2000, 80 percent of the world’s population lived in cities. These newcomers to the cities are often more open to the gospel than they were in their rural homeland, and it is tactically simpler to reach them.
We’re clarifying the task.
The worldwide task of the Great Commission is getting clearer. We now know more than ever before about the world’s harvest fields. And we’re getting more careful about biblical strategies in reaching that world. For example, the missions community is quickly returning to the biblical concept of “people-group thinking” and is moving away from the traditional view of the world only in terms of political countries. We’re seeing the task more as proclaiming a whole-person gospel. It’s a blood-sweat-and tears battle in the spiritual dimension of “the heavenlies” -a job for the whole Church, not just a few missions fanatics.
Your World view
When one teen from a Christian high school was asked what he plans to do with his life, he replied, “Uh, I’m going to get through college, get a good job, make good money, have a good life, and I guess just hope America survives. This young man doesn’t understand what God is doing in the world today. God is bringing millions and millions of men, women, and children to Himself from every people, tribe, tongue, and nation (Rev. 5:9). He is challenging churches to revive, evangelize, and bless their own cultures. He is linking up global partnerships between cultures and established churches. And He is planting churches in every remaining unreached people group on earth. He is building His Church globally, and the gates of hell are not prevailing against it.
In comparison to what God is doing, what are many of us doing?
We are living our lives with the same world view as the young man who talks about living a good life and hoping America survives. The Living Bible paraphrases a proverb that reflects this view of life: “What a shame. Yes, how stupid to decide before knowing the facts!” (Prov. 18:13). When we know His Word, His world, and His work, we can intelligently find our place in our own or another culture. But many of us are shrinking from the demands of our global era in the following ways:
Some of us are waiting nervously for Heaven.
We’re scared to look over our back fences at the darkness of a world gone wild. We’re afraid for our children. Yet God has not given us a spirit of fear or timidity. Why, then, do we huddle in our corners, anxiously looking for the return of Christ to escape the world’s dangers? Is that the legacy we want to leave our children? If we live like this - if we refuse to join with God in what He is doing today-we will miss the exhilarating rush of true-grit faith and Christ in us.
Some of us are confused.
We glance at the crashing fireworks of our era, scratch our heads, and wonder what’s happening. Ralph Winter, founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission, suggests we’re often like dogs trotting through the Louvre museum - seeing the most incredible art on earth but understanding nothing. Will we be like the sons of Issachar who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (I Chron. 12:32), or like the clueless citizens of Jerusalem who “did not recognize God’s moment when it came” (Lk. 19:44, New English Bible)?
Some of us are trying to live Sunday-school-as-usual lives.
Head-in-the-sand ignorance about our mission to the world is one thing. Fiddling while Rome burns is quite another. With the insight God is giving us about the harvest fields of the world, we incur great accountability when we do not respond to the need. King Solomon put it this way:
Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done? -Prov. 24:11-12
Our children deserve more than good Sunday school lessons. Their lives will not be like ours; they won’t have time to fiddle. Now is the day to raise up radical Christians, believers who are armed and dangerous on a global scale, soldiers of the Cross who are more concerned about God’s heart for all peoples than they are about their own comfort. The Cause needs believers who are prepared to give their right arms for the Kingdom. Specifically, the North American Church needs a vision beyond itself.
The Church with a Vision
As we follow Jesus, we tend to focus on our own next step: Where is He leading me next? Am I growing properly as a Christian? But Jesus often shook up his disciples’ preoccupation with themselves. His command is startling: “Open your eyes and look at the fields!” (Jn. 4:35). It’s reasonable to watch your step in a field, of course. But it’s also stultifying if that’s the range of your vision. You need to look up and out!
We’re walking through the middle of a wonderful, terrifying, exciting, challenging, ripe harvest field of diverse cultures. And that perspective is crucial to see how our walk with Him fits in with His great, worldwide plan.
Especially in North America we believers need to get better at lifting up our eyes. If we interpret our discipleship in Jesus Christ only in light of what we see in our own backyards, we’re going to miss the historic miracles happening around us as He continues to make disciples of every nation.
In this breathtaking sweep of history, let’s not keep our eyes on our own feet to the extent that we miss the beauty of the whole Body, fitted and joined together. Building itself up in love from Novosibirsk to New Jersey.
Let’s recognize God’s moment.
By Bill Stearns