By Nik Repkin
Vol. 34, No. 3
In 1991 a missionary of long tenure and I entered into a dialogue centered on the work in Somalia. Some of his comments are branded in my soul. He claimed that one could not justify "wasting" personnel, money, and witness among Somalis in comparison to the investment being made alongside the Holy Spirit in his country. "You give me one of your missionaries and after 48 days we will start a church. You take them to Somalia and after 48 months the Muslims will still be witnessing to you. You cannot justify that."
In 1992 a trustee of a sponsoring mission board called on the phone from the midst of a crusade in East Africa. In essence, he asked me, "How many people have you baptized, how much money have you spent, and is it cost effective?" He told me, "I will leave my hotel in five minutes. When I return tonight there will be 30 new people in the kingdom of God. You are telling me that you have had one convert in one and a half years? How do you justify staying in that place?"
Are there no places where tillers, weed-pullers, seed planters, and irrigation crews are appropriate? A convert/cost radio per se is not known in Scriptures; we do need to be good stewards of expenses, particularly in constructing "witness platforms" to the dangerously unresponsive, but to speak in terms of ratios is unbiblical. Christians do not need to "justify" their presence in areas where Christ is not known. They need simply to be "obedient."
The purpose of this paper is to briefly review a biblical rationale for continuing to focus on people groups who are not responsive and whose ministry environment constitutes risk to national and expatriate believers.
Our mandate is to go into all the world and give everyone a chance to hear clearly about Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:18-20).
Our methodology remains sending those "called to go" of God to the "nations," sent and supported by those "called to stay" by God to grow the existing church (Rom. 10:14- 21).
Our resolve is to remain at the task until all nations/people groups/ethne have had a chance to hear. Often our team has been told, "You have done enough." It’s time to "shake the dust" off your feet and pull out.
Let us look at some appropriate Scriptures for a moment. There is a dire warning directed toward target recipients of witness found in Matthew 10:14, Mark 6:11, and Luke 6:5 in regard to Jesus, the sending out of the 12 disciples, the hearing of the gospel and the treatment of Christ’s emissaries.
Here we notice:
Jesus sends his disciples to every town and village.
Serious consequences for rejecting both God’s message and messengers; "a warning."
The sending of the disciples to the Jewish people, a people who had revelation history, not a people group that had never heard!
The disciples were told to "shake the dust off their feet" if they or the gospel were rejected.
Jesus never withdrew his followers from a single people group. They were simply relocated/redeployed into the next village/town.
The only apostolic examples of "dusting" are found in Acts 13:50-51 and Acts 18:6. In the first, Paul was indignant at the Jews in Pisidian Antioch stirring up opposition to his preaching. However, he didn't dust off any other towns on this journey where he encountered similar Jewish-instigated persecution (Iconium and Lystra). And, he returned to Antioch to encourage the church there in Acts 14:21. In the second reference in Corinth, the dusting was a sign to the Jews that he was shifting his attention to the Gentiles.
In evaluating our efforts among the "dangerously unresponsive" one should seek to compare efforts to the commands and revelation found in Matthew 28 and Romans 10. To do otherwise, and in light of man’s desire to count heads and report numbers, could make us administratively correct while biblically disobedient. Recently an influential mission leader was reported as having said, "As long as Somalia and other countries are unresponsive and dangerous, I will use all my influence to pull us out of these places." This comment is representative of many who would trade away the provision to give all peoples a chance to hear about Jesus for factors like response, cost, or security.
It is not time to pull out of places like Somalia or people groups that have had little or no chance to hear and believe. The people group has not rejected Christ or his messengers. They have not heard clearly concerning Jesus and his gospel.
In 1992, I commented to Dr. David Barrett that "The Somalis were not responsive to the gospel of Jesus Christ." Quickly he chastened me. In essence he replied, "You cannot say that they are unresponsive. They have never had a chance to respond." Somalis have rejected U.N.-led interventions, the West, and a false, preconceived idea of Christianity. They have not rejected Christ or his message. In specific areas where Somalis and others have killed Christ’s followers we must honestly and biblically struggle with God’s will in regard to expatriate presence. Did the Jews as a people group reject Jesus by killing the Christ? In Matthew 28, did Jesus therefore tell his disciples to "shake the dust off their feet" and leave Jerusalem? No. He sent them back. Why? It’s clear (to me) that the Jewish people flocked to Jesus. It was the Jewish leadership, the "keepers of the keys," who had Jesus crucified.
Who decides when the dust is to be shaken off? Jesus as the spiritual administrative leader of the 12 disciples drew definite and clear parameters. But he then left the decision of when to leave to the Spirit-led judgment of those he had sent out. That decision was done by those "on site" within the parameters clearly set by Jesus, with further discernment to come only by faith, prayer, and fasting (Matt. 17:20, Mark 9:29, and Luke 9:37). Here, also, is seen the anger and heartbreak of Jesus. His disciples, because of a lack of faith, prayer, and fasting, were not capable of staying the course and accomplishing the harder tasks.
Again, who decides when enough is enough? I believe that Jesus gives us the parameters. Biblically the dust is shaken off when either Christ’s people or his gospel are rejected. Dusting is tactical, not strategic; it is not a permanent decree—perhaps after a community has been dusted off, it can be returned to in a year, decade, or whenever, as the Spirit leads. Dusting is a public protest against hard hearts, particularly from people who know the Scriptures. Prayers based on such Scriptures as 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, and 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 are very appropriate for frequent use by those working among the dangerously unresponsive, including communities that have been dusted off. If Christ’s gospel has not clearly been shared, then discernment and staying power are required. Every effort must be made to get the gospel among the cities, towns, and villages, circumventing those who benefit from the status quo. Jesus indeed called out the harvesters of the harvest in Matthew 9:35-38. But he did so in light of the cross and as "sheep among wolves" (Matt. 10). Is it not clear that even real harvest and persecution go hand in hand? Westerners sometimes give the impression that what is desired is to be sheep among sheep or wolves among wolves. Is the impression also given that we do not (1) accept persecution and a lack of harvest or (2) accept persecution and harvest but (3) we are only content with a harvest in the absence of persecution? Where is harvest and life-threatening persecution going hand in hand? Persecution was the New Testament norm, not the exception, in both environments of rejection and harvest. Harvest without persecution may be suspect in light of the New Testament witness. Perhaps this leads to the old adage that Christianity in many places is a "mile wide and an inch deep."
Paul was to be a model, if not the model, for today’s missionary endeavor. Yet he had to escape from Damascas (Acts 9:23) and disagreed with Barnabas (Acts 15:37-39). He was charged with treason (Acts 18:13), imprisoned in Philippi, stripped naked and beaten (Acts 16:16ff.), arrested in Jerusalem (Acts 21:27) and imprisoned twice in Rome (Phil. 1:19-21).
As a student of modern missions, I respectfully observe that many mission sending agencies would have recalled Paul and told him early on to shake the dust off his feet, stay only with the nonpersecuting harvest areas, and "come home, you have done enough."
Thank God that did not happen. But staying the course did cost Paul his life and it must have broken the heart of the sending churches back home.
Copyright © 1998 Evangelism and Missions Information Service. This article originally appeared in the July, 1998 issue of EMQ. All rights reserved.