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Complex Contexts Continue to Present Challenges

The Amazon jungle split multiple times by countless rivers. The Highlands of Papua New Guinea supplying steep ridges, deep valleys and thousands of people. The dusty expanses of West Africa with red clay, calls to prayer and sun-drenched coastlines.

But look over there! Huge cities teeming with millions of inhabitants. Towering minarets catch the light of the morning sun. Huge temples gleaming as the sun glances off the gilded roofs. Hundreds of sad eyes reflecting the hardships endured in refugee camps.

Both of the subsets described above contain the same thing: unreached people groups. But the second group depicts something that has been developing as more and more countries become harder and harder to get into as a missionary – at least a missionary being described a generation ago.

As it becomes more and more difficult to enter these “closed countries,” the “we can’t get visas to go there” places, the Lord has continued to impress on our hearts the desperate need to get into those places, to reach the unreached, to encourage the existing churches there and to give encouragement, training and resources to believers in those locations.

Hence, the annual project to reach into the complex contexts in order to reach our objectives, to see the light of the gospel shining brightly in dark places and to see the Body of Christ moving against the fortresses of Satan.


Culture and Language Acquisition

One of the distinctives of Ethnos360 (and the Global Partners as a whole) is the need to have the culture and the language of the unreached people group learned to a level of fluency. It is not an insignificant message that is being told; it needs to be crystal clear.

I was able to “sit in” on an interview of two single ladies who are in the process of becoming fluent in a language in one of these harder-to-get-into places. It was interesting to note that many of the roadblocks were compared to the “normal” learning in an isolated or jungle location. These two ladies are continuing the marathon of becoming fluent in the culture and language of the Middle East/North African area of our world. For security’s sake, we will call them Jean and Gloria.

One thing that stood out to them was the fact that there isn’t the same feeling in a large city as would be expected in a small, jungle village. There is no feeling of unity, of oneness, of family. They mentioned that there are little bubbles of unity or family scattered throughout the neighborhood with the bubbles bumping into each other from time to time, allowing a little trust to develop between them. Contrast that with the “normal” feeling of familial connection and trust in small, isolated jungle villages or hamlets.

Quite often new missionaries are welcomed into the group, given a host family and become “sons” and “daughters” of people in the village. These two ladies haven’t found that in the city. There is distrust and questioning why they would leave their homes to live in that city.  If a new friendship is forged, there MIGHT be an opening and an opportunity to have some one-on-one time to help in the culture and language process. 

Conversion Restrictions

Jean was quite forthright in her discussion of the restrictions that can be placed on people of any major religion, and that was one thing that she found in her life there. Since it may be illegal for people in these countries to change their religious beliefs, much of what we would consider evangelism is done in secret. 

There is no such thing as group teaching; it is all by necessity done one on one. As I think back to my childhood, I can recall my parents meeting with groups of people for teaching. There isn’t that freedom for Jean and Gloria — it may cause trouble for the group or for the two ladies.

If perchance there is a small group formed, there is a sincere hesitancy to invite anyone new to join the group. Why? Fear and suspicion.

This is a new reality for a mission organization that has been free to share the gospel of Jesus Christ for over 80 years to entire villages, smaller groups and house to house.


Since the part of the world where Jean and Gloria are serving is so large, there are obviously going to be a number of different dialects of the language of wider use. The relative ease of travel makes it harder to keep those dialects from being fluid across the region. 

Gloria mentioned that there is an existing church in all the locations where she has traveled, but that church seems to be in a “historical lethargy,” as she put it. The church doesn’t seem to be mixing with the rest of society, the communities in which it finds itself. She said, “It’s like Europe with the influx of refugees. They find it hard to mix due to different views of socialization; that is, differences in how they communicate with each other and differences in how they interact with each other.”

Jean commented, “We have to learn how to work with the people of the majority religion as well as with local believers. We have to learn how to become a part of the community in a way that makes sense to them. We may need to get a job, find a way to earn money.” Both Jean and Gloria have financial support from their sending countries, but they need to be able to show that they are a part of the community, and that often requires a visible source of income.

Contrast that with the missionary in the jungles of Brazil or the valleys of Asia Pacific — there are no ways to make a living, nor is it “required” in order to be a part of the community. Hunting or fishing or having a garden may be all it takes to “be like the community.”


Jean has been working with a 29-year-old woman we will call Sarah, introducing her to God’s Story from Genesis to Revelation. Sarah was questioning religion, Christianity and Jesus. She had some Christian friends, but they all gave her different answers to her questions. Then God led her to Jean, and He has been opening her eyes to Truth.

One of the distinctives of Sarah’s life is that she has heard of Jesus (unlike many in isolated villages in the depths of some jungle) and doesn’t want to become an atheist! But her main query was, “Is Jesus deity?” She was exposed to the Law of Moses in the curriculum, “taking away her hope,” as Jean put it. How could God expect us to reach that level of holiness? We can’t do it. But as Jean led her through the Old Testament with the prophets and finally into the Sermon on the Mount, Sarah was able to see that Jesus is indeed God.

What are the reactions from Sarah’s friends? One friend told her other friends of the majority religion to spend more time with her to keep her from becoming changed, even as he watched her changing as her worldview was being changed by the Word of God. Even when Sarah traveled to other countries, she wanted to keep up with Jean and the teaching. But there remains the fear that her friends might not want to remain her friends with her changes. 


Jean was asked if it was “safe” to teach Sarah. That is not a question that is normally batted around a discussion of cross-cultural evangelism, but it is here. She assured the interviewer that her own home was a safe place. The most daunting issue for Sarah was wondering how her friends would react to her. 

The major religion is so much a part of community, so much of one’s identity, that to go against that may cause negative reactions. Jean asked Sarah, “Should I meet your family? Would it help them to know a Christian?” Sarah said that it wasn’t a good idea! Nonetheless, Sarah trusts Jean (admirable in that environment) and depends on Jean to give her advice.

Another question was put forth: If someone realizes that Jean is proselytizing, what would happen? Jean confidently responded that she might be picked up for interrogation, but with a solid answer for what she is doing, nothing untoward would happen. If the family had lots of power, the government might ask Jean to leave for her own safety — and probably wouldn’t be allowed to return. Is that a possibility? Jean again confidently said it wasn’t likely.

Your Opportunity

As I mentioned in the last article (November 2022), I hope you are growing in your comprehension of what it will take to reach the unreached in these much more complex contexts. Here are some of the specific ways that your gifts would be used:

  1. A network of resources could be established that would be available to missionaries in these complex contexts — for legal help, when necessary, for example.
  2. A platform that will give missionaries an identity that makes sense in those areas — for some that might be a business; for others it might be helping to fund education in a quality university to help them become able to handle written Arabic.
  3. There is such a thing as an investment visa that can run from $20,000 to $40,000. This would provide the platform apart from #2.
  4. Research is always needed to see where the best place to put missionaries will be, and that kind of research costs a significant amount.
  5. Consultant help is even more valued as there are fewer co-workers who usually live far from each other. Regardless of where the consultants come from, the cumulative cost of the different types of consultants and workshops can grow quickly.
  6. In places like Paraguay, conferences are easily planned and attended. In these areas, conferences for encouragement, teaching, and strategy and planning must take place outside the region. That can be quite costly, especially if families with children are involved. Travel, venues, food — all these become more expensive as you leave one’s country of service.
  7. Workshops: We all understand the value of workshops to help us become better equipped. Again, just like with consultants and conferences in this part of the world, these are costly events.
  8. With technology, discipleship can be accomplished online … well, to a certain extent. With funds available, there would be some invaluable face-to-face discipleship being done by traveling to other countries where the discipled ones live.

Closing Thoughts

My own understanding of “complex contexts” is growing bit by bit. Having been raised and having ministered in very simple contexts, my realization of what God is doing is being expanded exponentially. Thank you for your part in seeing these areas of the world reached with God’s grace and truth.

Note: I would like to thank the interviewer (I'll call her Miss Jones) for helping me with this article.

Tags: Establishing Churches, Partner to Partner, Unreached, Vision,
POSTED ON May 15, 2023 by Bruce Enemark