The world nowadays has been described as a "global village" thanks to technological advances that have knit first-world urban dwellers to third-world villagers through mobile phones and the internet. Finishing the Great Commission and bringing the Gospel to unreached people groups through Bible translations in their heart language is occurring more rapidly than ever in history.
Bob Creson, president and CEO of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, wrote in a 2014 article in Christian Post that a unqiue software program called ParaText has radically increased the speed of Bible translation and that "someone who is alive in the world today will translate the last Bible for the last unreached people."
"We're at a pivotal point in history where this generation could see the end of a centuries-old effort to make the Bible available in every language that needs it. This is the fastest pace of Bible translation the church has ever seen, and technological advancements have played a critical role in getting us here. We praise God that today there are nearly 2,200 Bible translation projects underway in some of the most remote places on earth, representing 1.9 billion people being reached with the gospel in a language they can clearly understand."
According to the Joshua Project, which offers global statistics on unreached people groups, there are still 6,672 unreached groups out of 16,510 people groups in the world, which represents a population of 3.07 billion unreached people.
With all the changes and development in reaching people with the Gospel, The Christian Post asked two experts on international mission work to describe five trends in missions today.
Below are responses from Albert W. Hickman, senior research associate at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Eric King, leader of the church initiatives team at the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board.
1. The Rise of Non-Western Missionaries
Hickman: In the past, missions was largely "from the West to the Rest." Today the number of international missionaries from the Global South continues to increase, even as the number of missionaries sent from the Global North is decreasing. South Korea has been joined by Brazil and Nigeria as major missionary-sending countries, and others are poised to follow.
Missionaries from the Global South are going not only to other countries in the Global South but also, in what is sometimes called "reverse mission," to the countries of the Global North. The Southern missionaries see the decline of Christian faith and adherence in the North and feel both a debt of gratitude and an obligation to re-evangelize those who now live in the countries that sent the missionaries who evangelized the South many years ago.
King: Another trend is that national believers who previously were those being reached with the Gospel are now taking the Gospel to the unreached in other parts of the world. Chinese believers could be the next missions sending force, following the Western and Korean Christians who've gone before them.
IMB partners with churches around the world to empower limitless missionary teams who are making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God — and this includes partnering through training that supports national believers in their global mission efforts. Partnerships range from the West Africa countries of Ghana and Nigeria, across Europe with partners in countries such as Moldova and Germany, continuing through Asia with countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia, and American partners such as Cuba, Ecuador, Brazil and Panama.
2. An Urban Focus
Hickman: Missions in the past often focused on rural areas, but today many international missionaries go to the major cities. In the Global South, people are flooding into cities from the countryside in search of jobs, and their displacement from the familiar often makes them more open to the witness of a missionary.
Cities thus are both "collection points," providing missionaries the opportunity to reach people from many different languages, ethnicities and backgrounds in one place, and "launching points" from which those who come to faith in Christ can be sent back to their own peoples as more effective witnesses than foreign missionaries could be.
King: We also see the unreached coming to the global cities of the world. More than 54 percent of the world's population lives in urban areas — 3.9 billion and growing. It is estimated that by 2050, 80 percent of the world will live in global cities.
Global cities are places where billions of people from every corner of the world live, work and play. Similarly, we see massive migration of people from areas traditionally closed to a Gospel witness leaving those areas as refugees and traveling to places where they can hear the Gospel for the first time.
3. Witness to the Diasporas
Hickman: People are increasingly on the move, both voluntarily (for example, seeking better economic opportunities) and involuntarily (such as refugees fleeing conflict). In fact, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that 1 in 8 people globally live as part of a diaspora; this includes settled migrants who live outside their traditional homelands as well as current migrants.
People in diaspora potentially are more open to a Christian witness than they might be in their homeland. In addition, people who might not have access to a Christian witness of any kind in their home areas are coming to places in which both international missionaries and local Christians can share with them. Missionaries increasingly are looking to minister to diaspora populations, who then could take the Gospel message back to areas inaccessible to foreigners.
4. Witness Through the Global Economy
King: Among other trends in international missions, business is gaining an integral role. In today's globalized economy, the doors of many unreached countries are closing to traditional Christian workers, but they are opening to professionals. Many global cities even offer generous benefit packages to attract Western expat talent.
In God's amazing sovereign plan, abundant opportunities exist to go to unreached people and places around the world. Christian professionals are finding opportunities to take the jobs in which they excel and do them well, for the glory of God; and do them somewhere strategic, for the mission of God.
5. Oral Witness
Hickman: One starting point for missions in the past was translation of the Bible. In many cases, missionaries created a written form for languages that had none. With today's technology, Bible translation increasingly is strictly oral, expediting translation into languages that still lack a written form.
Oral Scriptures and other materials (such as evangelistic movies), however, are finding receptive listeners and viewers encompassing a much larger audience. As much as 70 percent of the global population prefers non-literate forms of communication. This includes a large number of literate and even highly educated people, in the Global North as well as the Global South. Missionaries are turning to audio and video resources rather than print to share with people who cannot, will not, or prefer not to read.