OVERCOMING BARRIERS TO REACH THE UNREACHED
By Allan Starling, Global Recordings Network (GRN)
Language, illiteracy, politics, geography, prejudice, and manpower all bar the spread of the gospel. Read how audio recordings can help overcome these barriers.
When a missionary seeks to reach out to people of another culture, he or she may face any or these obstacles.
Missionaries have developed many ways to climb over, under, or through these fences. We’ll highlight one of those ways—audio recordings, and show how they help to meet each challenge.
THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
The language barrier is a major obstacle to the gospel presentation. There are 7,000 documented languages worldwide, plus thousands of dialects. While many members of small language groups also speak a major language or trade language, those languages are not always suitable for preaching the gospel because they represent a culture that has conquered or subjugated the people. In other cases, one tribal group may fully understand the dialect of a neighboring tribe, but because of hostility, refuse to listen to a presentation in the other dialect.
The most effective way is to present the message to listeners in their heart language. Global Recordings Network (GRN) has a library of culturally appropriate, evangelistic and basic teaching recordings in over 6,000 languages and dialects. All recordings are made with local speakers, so the listeners hear their language spoken, just the way they speak it. Time and time again we have seen people’s eyes light up when they hear their own dialect come over the speaker. They often exclaim, “That’s my language!” The recordings can be listened to or downloaded free from the Internet, or delivered personally in several digital formats.
THE ILLITERACY BARRIER
Estimates vary, but many claim there are well over two billion illiterates worldwide. Dr. Gilbert Ansre goes further. “To talk of literate and illiterate is not enough. The statistics only tell part of the story. Many literates are non-readers. Not all people who claim they can read actually can do so. Not all who read actually do so. Not all who actually read do read well. Not all who read well do actually read Scripture. Not all who read the Scripture do so regularly."
Many prefer to communicate orally. For instance, the North American Blackfoot Indians, are literate in English but have little interest in reading their traditional language, which is used only orally.
Dr. Viggo Sogaard says, "It is safe to say that less than half the world's population can be reached by printed scriptures today." Dr. Herbert V. Klem agrees: "After 150 years of literacy-based mission strategy, we will still miss half the world if we continue believing that people must read in order to receive the Word. More than a billion people do not read at all. Another billion can read but are not fully literate. More than 75% of Africa does not read well enough to manage basic Bible passages, and many more who can read, simply do not enjoy the process."
Communication specialists tell us we will not get the job done if we rely on present methods. In fact, half-done is the best they can predict. This is because we have labored under some false assumptions. Doris Porter, SIL, explains, "We are learning that traditionally oral societies do not bridge into literacy as easily as we thought." Although many cultures benefit greatly from literacy, others disdain or oppose the concept in favor of oral communication. Dr. Klem goes further. "Most of us have always thought of the Bible as the main Book for communication ... that a person has to learn to read the Bible for himself in order to become spiritually mature. [We have] worked on the assumption that literacy is essential to evangelism, spiritual maturity, and church growth."
The Apostle Paul tells us, “Faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ” (Romans 10:17.) In other words, the good news can enter the ear-gate as well as the eye-gate. Those who can read and also have a written scripture translation are indeed fortunate. But for the rest, audio recordings are very effective. Brightly colored picture booklets suitable for a wide range of cultures accompany many recordings. Many oral communicators can now play the gospel message on mobile devices with micro SD card readers.
THE POLITICAL BARRIER
Many countries close their doors to missionaries. The International Project defines them as “nations where it is nearly impossible for missionaries, especially Americans, to move to and where following Christ is not just frowned upon or unpopular – it is illegal.” See Christianity Today (CT) identifies the top fifty countries where it’s most difficult to be a Christian. Open Doors researchers measure persecution by “the degree of freedom a Christian has to live out his or her faith in five spheres of life (private, family, community, national, and church life),” as well as by tallying acts of violence. The top ten persecuting countries in 2017, according to the WorldatchList of Open Doors were North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea. Other organizations, including the U.S. Department of State, use different criteria and produce slightly different lists.
Iran is an example of the power of audio recordings. Prior to the revolution that brought him to power, the Ayatollah Khomeini flooded Iran with audio cassettes bearing his message of Islamic revolution. This paved the way for his eventual takeover of the government.
There are several entry points into closed countries. The internet is one way, but often those who need the good news the most do not have access. Tourists can now use miniaturized equipment to share the gospel in over 6,000 languages and dialects. The 5fish app can be loaded onto any phone with Internet access.
THE GEOGRAPHIC BARRIER
Because we live in the jet age, it’s easy to forget that there are countless isolated communities in the world. A team in the Philippines walked five hours from the end of a bumpy road to minister in a small town. Many tribes are hidden in Brazil’s Amazon Jungle. Nepal’s steep mountains hide many villages. People in these places are hard to find and are rarely visited. For the most part, modern technology has not reached them.
Someone must still go to these isolated places. Often simple hand-cranked players can be left behind to share with others in the village and played over and over. Cellphones are increasingly popular in some remote areas. A visiting team can use a GRN “Bible Box” to electronically place audio messages on every phone in a village. Miniaturization of equipment makes it possible to hike in with micro SD cards and other electronic devices. Visitors are not welcome in the isolated Trique Indian villages southern Mexico. Migrant laborers working in the fields in northern Mexico receive recordings in their own dialect and carry them home.
THE PREJUDICE BARRIER
Both religious and social issues often impede the acceptance of the gospel message. Not only must we make sure the message is understood, we must also make sure it is accepted. We naturally desire the hearers accept the Gospel message. But we must not allow their prejudices to get in the way and prevent them from really listening. For instance, in Nigeria, people in one village may understand every word on a recording made in a neighboring village. But because a prejudice barrier separates them, they will not listen to the recording. So, the message may be linguistically acceptable but socially rejected. We have lost the audience before we can even present the message!
When listeners recognize their own dialect on the recordings, they are first amazed, then ready to pay attention to the message. Others who may be persecuted for attending a church meeting, are often willing to listen in private.
THE MANPOWER BARRIER
Two thousand years ago, “Jesus saw the crowds, and had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So, pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.’” Matthew 9:36-38 (NLT)
According to The Traveling Team the world population is over seven billion. Evangelical Christians total 550 million. Of those, 5.5 million are full-time Christian workers. 75 percent of those workers are in the reached World.
When you look at the number of missionaries at work in each religion, the need becomes even more apparent. There is one missionary for every 60,000 Tribals; one for every 179,000 Hindus; one for every 71,000 unreligious; one for every 405,500 Muslims; and one for every 260,000 Buddhists. Jesus statement about the shortage of laborers is just as true today.
The most talented missionary can only be in one place at a time. The recordings can multiply his ministry. They communicate with people whose languages the missionary has not learned. They can keep on talking after he has moved on. National Christians can be taught to place recordings in strategic places. The recordings can play on robust hand wind players in small, isolated village where external power sources are unavailable. Short term teams can share the good news of Jesus in culturally appropriate ways, using local voices, local songs, and local music.
THE SPIRITUAL BARRIER
The new technology may help us overcome any of these barriers, but a spiritual barrier remains. Scripture reminds us, "We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). This can only be overcome by consistent, faithful, prayer.
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