May 13, 2014

The First Among the Last

By Brittany Tedesco

Did you know that every year about 15,000 new species of animals, plants, fungi, and/or microorganisms are discovered?

I learned this fun fact after a native missionary from Peru visited us and happened to mention that, during his 50 years of ministry, he’d actually discovered several new bird species.

Encountering a new species, I would imagine, is an unforgettable moment, and most likely means some sort of scientific recognition.

Encountering the first “new creations” from a previously unreached people group is an unforgettable moment for the Christian, who knows it means that Christ's return is just a little bit closer.

Our South Asia Director had this privilege when she visited the Bible School of a Christian Aid-assisted ministry in Nepal and met two female students—the very first Christians from among their tribal group.

She’s not the only one to bring us such a report. Several native missionaries who recently visited our office told us about reaching the very first converts from some of the “last” unreached (read “unengaged” or “uncontacted”) tribes in their countries.

Who are these last tribes? Why has it taken longer for the gospel to reach them versus other people groups within the same country?

The visiting Peruvian missionary painted a vivid picture of the last 16 unreached tribes in his country, 10 of which are completely isolated, living primitively in the jungle. Their populations are dwindling. Only marrying within their tribe, each of these people groups is down to a few hundred in number. They’re dangerous. Outsiders aren’t welcomed, they’re seen as enemies.

Add to these obstacles the fact that many of these tribes have protected status on Indian reservations thanks to anthropologists who’ve lobbied to keep them from lumbermen, miners…and missionaries, native or otherwise. Peruvian citizens are as unwelcome as foreign missionaries from America.

Similarly, in Colombia, primitive tribal groups live on jungle land protected from outsiders by guerilla terrorist groups. Doesn’t matter if you were born in Colombia--you’re not getting to them.

So how do we reach these “last” tribes when even those native-born can’t do it?

In mission-speak, the term is “culturally near.” In reality, it works like this:

Unwilling to just give up on reaching the last 10 completely isolated tribes in his country, the Peruvian missionary created prayer cards for each of these people groups and distributed them to churches throughout Peru.

Prayer works.

Wouldn’t you know, members from two of these people groups have started to venture out of their jungle hiding places? Out of sheer necessity, they’ve begun to sneak onto the fields bordering the jungle to steal bananas, machetes, cooking pots, etc. And these fields just happened to be owned by Christians from another tribal group, whose dialect is most likely similar.

Several face-to-face encounters have occurred between these two culturally near people groups when the believers began leaving gifts near the jungle border and waiting for the fearful jungle-dwellers to emerge.

At Christian Aid, we believe the fewer cultural barriers a person has to cross to share Jesus, the better—meaning the “culturally near” are the best equipped to share the gospel.

About five years ago, a Christian Aid-assisted ministry in Nigeria sent the first missionaries from the once primitive Koma tribe to the completely unreached Kamberi people. Though from a different tribe, the Koma were culturally closer to the Kamberi than someone from a more developed region in Nigeria.

The son of the first Christian from the Santal tribe in Nepal trained at a Christian Aid-assisted Bible College and is now reaching the culturally near Mandol people.

Young girls from the Kamberi tribe in Nigeria.

The Nepali couple who operates this Bible College took in and discipled a boy from a tribe culturally near the Tharu people. When he grew up, he went to preach the gospel to them and planted the first ever church among them.

Within various countries throughout the world, we’re seeing the number of missionaries from ethnic minorities begin to grow.

These are the ones who will be first to reach the last tribes on earth. First to see new creations among them.

Their work might not be recognized in a scientific journal, but it’ll be recognized in heaven. And by supporting them, you’ll share in this recognition.

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