September 29, 2009
As more and more countries close their doors to the gospel (and foreign missionaries), the presence of native missionaries becomes even more significant. Knowing that workers are few and "time is of the essence," indigenous ministries rely on Biblical principles found in the New Testament for planting a witness among every tribe and nation. Following the Lord’s model, relationships are formed and discipleship follows.
Relationships are particularly important in the Middle East. Once a native missionary has established trust, and a friendly foundation has been established, the work begins. To those who ask, "What must I do to be saved?" a veteran missionary is ready to disciple them.
Most often, after accepting the Lord as their Savior, they are eager to share the Good News with others who may never have heard it. Many times, a former Muslim makes the best witness – but he or she needs a deeper understanding of Christianity and needs to be equipped with gospel tools for evangelism. Underground training programs and conferences are the best way to receive training. Studies focus on how to reach (or how to pray for) family and friends. They also learn that prayer is a vital key to effective evangelism. "Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is." Mark 13:33
Central Asia has been changing rapidly in the past decade. Under communism, no religion was accepted – but Orthodox Christianity and Islam went underground and blended with ancient pagan beliefs, rituals, and superstitions. As long as religious adherents obeyed government rules and regulations, they were left alone. Today, a new generation of gospel-preaching missionaries are suspected by authorities of rejecting the leadership of government officials and Orthodox Church leaders.
In this area of the world, training of any kind is dangerous. The laws restrict, impede, or result in oppressive financial penalties for those who make public religious statements. Christians seldom use colleges, or school buildings, as we think of them.
Instead, disciples do not leave their villages to "go to school." Much like the apostle Paul who traveled to various towns to encourage believers, devoted native missionaries travel from place to place to lead teaching sessions. Training courses usually run for 40 days or as long as three months. The missionaries carry their own bedrolls and often sleep on church pews, or stay with Christian families. Slavik, Area Director for Christian Aid, says, "They are grateful for the support and prayers they receive through Christian Aid, because this kind of training can be expensive. They travel over difficult terrain where buses and trains do not go. Extremely cold weather conditions and long distances between villages also make these trips arduous. But, this is a very effective way to disciple new believers for missionary work since more can be reached and more receive training this way."
The Chings have been laboring for more than twenty years, helping to establish Bible schools and training centers all over China through Christian Aid. When they first began this quest, there were only two Bible schools. Today, there are 139 -- officially. Unofficially, it is difficult to say. "Many of the 139 schools have satellite locations that even I have not visited," says missionary Ching.
In every province the political climate, economic factors, and religious freedoms (or lack of freedom) vary, but there are basically three categories of churches, schools, or seminaries:
- Above-ground. These are churches and Bible schools registered with the government – and many times controlled by the government. Nevertheless, the leaders and some of the teachers, ministers, and disciples are true believers.
- Underground. The majority of schools (and churches) fall into this category. They are not registered, and therefore are proclaimed illegal by the government. Their faith and spiritual walk can be compared to the church of Smyrna (the church in Revelation 2 where the people were poverty-stricken but spiritually rich).
- Middle-ground. These schools are registered with the government but its leaders (bold in their humility) do not allow the communists to exercise control over the actual teaching. Local officials tend to tolerate their activities but occasionally do impose token restrictions.
However, methods for training are not so easily categorized. In one province, for instance, there are centers offering six to 12 day training sessions, held every month. Teaching materials (written by mature pastors and provided from Hong Kong) are given to the students. Every month a session is held addressing a specific topic related to ministry in a communist setting, living among Muslims, in poverty, or other issues. Lay people as well as pastors with regular college degrees benefit from these practical applications in ministry work. As in New Testament times, these disciples share their burdens, learn from one another, and encourage each other in their daily walk with the Lord.
In other areas of the world, training takes many forms. Today, in places that are developing rapidly, you can find the more familiar kind of Bible schools, seminars, and conference centers. The Bharat Bible College in Andhra Pradesh, India began in 1963 in a rented house with only six students. Their emphasis was, and still is, evangelism. While the curriculum consists of conventional classroom studies, there is one unique aspect that has continued over the years. Students regularly participate in practical evangelism on the field. Saturdays, they conduct evangelistic meetings. Sundays, they teach Sunday school. They also regularly visit hospitals, distribute tracts, and have street meetings. Throughout the year, teams go into surrounding villages or remote areas to promote special Christmas programs or conduct gospel tours. One student described his experiences: "It was a fabulous opportunity for me to gain the experiences of a mission field during the gospel tour. It inflamed my heart to move forward with boldness to do God’s ministry."
These are only a few of the ministries supported through Christian Aid which are setting the standard for training and discipleship in the two-thirds world.