Landmark Study Expected to Shape Mission Strategies

Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) announced on Tuesday the release of its landmark study on global evangelism barriers and opportunities in some of the most unreached and remote areas. Mission leaders have lauded the findings in "Operation ACCESS!" which is expected to shape ministry strategies for the next two decades.

"MAF’s foundational re-analysis of its work and of mission work in general has produced a breathtaking new analysis of the challenge before us," said Dr. Ralph D. Winter, founder and former director of the U.S. Center for World Missions and William Carey International University, in a released statement.

Operation ACCESS! is a five-year global research project that surveyed 364 remote sectors in 64 countries where isolated people have little or no access to the Gospel. Of those, 27 countries come from the 10/40 window. It is the first geographic study of its kind focusing on transportation and communication barriers.

With three out of four people never having heard the name of Jesus, as Dr. Eddie Pate, director of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary stated, extensive research was conducted in an effort to provide mission agencies worldwide unprecedented and critical information to help shape evangelism and ministry strategies.

"The basic concept that can best illustrate what we attempted to do is to try to take a snapshot of the various locations around the globe that were remote and inaccessible and where transportation and communication barriers were very significant," said research director Ghislaine F. Benney.

The vision for the project began with MAF's former president Gary Bishop who wanted to get a better idea of what is out there that is preventing people from receiving the Gospel and where those people are isolated, according to Kevin Swanson, MAF’s current president and chief executive officer. More than 500 mission agencies were involved in helping name specific regions that were remote and not necessarily mapped. To the organization's surprise, the study found many of those sectors with large population segments, a couple of million in some cases.

"If we had unlimited time, we could probably uncover another thousand or two such locations on the planet," noted Benney.

Some of the key findings highlighted were that 52 percent of the surveyed sectors have barriers that are significant in reaching them; 66 percent have little or no outside intervention in terms of ministry or humanitarian work; 89 percent have significant communication barriers; and 87 percent of the sectors are very difficult to access by roads.

Surveyed countries with some of the greatest barriers include Myanmar, Nepal, Kyrgyz Republic, Afghanistan and Mexico which all have sectors with graded barriers of 3.6 or higher – 5 representing overwhelming barriers and 1 representing few.

In terms of ministry status – whether no ministry (5) or a thriving ministry (1) is in place – Brazil, Afghanistan and Mongolia had an index rating of 4.3 or higher.

"Ultimately, this survey is not so much about looking at barriers but it is ... pursuing opportunities to make a huge difference in the life of isolated people who have either little or no access to what we consider some of the basics of life, not just God's Word but education and medical care and very often even food and other resources that could help them improve their quality of life," commented Benney.

Strategizing is already in action as MAF is making efforts to find out what it will take to start a program and what it will take to sustain it long term in the most unreached sectors.

Churches have made extraordinary efforts in contributing to the work of missions around the world, although many parts of the globe still remain untouched by the Gospel. Swanson pointed to a trend of more churches reaching out to the unreached groups.

"I think that we're seeing an interesting phenomenon here in the U.S. right now. More and more local churches are tying in geographically to an unreached part of the world and they're wanting to have a very close connection to a people group or to a defined geographic area," said Swanson, who called the research an "eye-opening" study. "Operation ACCESS! is going to allow the local church to make an informed decision about where they want their resources and their ministry emphasis to go. Rather than being broadly scattered, they can be much more focused now."

MAF, a faith-based, non-profit ministry that serves more than 600 Christian and non-governmental agencies, will be moving its headquarters from Redlands, Calif. to Nampa, Idaho this year. At their new location, leaders from various ministries will gather on Oct. 18-19 to strategize and find ways to apply the study's data in bringing the Gospel and basic resources to remote people on the planet.

To view the MAF study, visit www.operationaccessmaf.org.