At Radical, we often talk about the importance of sending missionaries to the unreached. We dedicated Secret Church 21 to the Great Imbalance refers, the disproportionate missions spending and sending habits of most churches today. David Platt has helpfully reminded us many times that approximately 99% of resources spent on missions go to places that are already reached with the gospel.
But there’s a reason why these places haven’t been reached by the gospel. They’re incredibly difficult to reach. This issue is complex, but many of the unreached people groups in the world are found in countries that are hostile to the gospel. These countries either do not grant missionary visas or severely restrict missionary activity. These countries are often referred to as “red zones” or “closed countries.”
What to Prioritize When Gaining Access to a Closed Country
If missionaries want to reach these places, they need to develop creative strategies to gain access and make the gospel known. When you’re looking for a job to gain access to a closed country, you should prioritize integrity, fit, and access to people.
When you’re considering going to a closed country, it’s important to demonstrate integrity in the work that you do. Missionaries should do what they say they will do. This means that if you come to a Middle Eastern country to work in the oil industry, you should do your job well and work hard for the Lord. Too often, missions agencies will send missionaries with a cover business that isn’t profitable or authentic. Instead, prioritize work that you can do well and with integrity.
Remember that your work is a gift from the Lord and is part of what God created you to do. Your work has value and provides you with an opportunity to reflect the character of God and make the gospel known. Instead of viewing your work as a distraction, recognize that it is a calling from the Lord. God has given you these skills to bless people and he has placed you in this position to share the gospel with non-Christians around you.
Choose a Vocation that Fits Your Skills and Interests
Missionaries should choose an access strategy that fits them, meaning that they can perform it with credibility.
In addition to needing a visa to live among the people they are trying to reach, missionaries need an identity that lowers suspicion and allows local friends and neighbors to feel comfortable. They need a ready answer to the question, “What do you do?” That answer needs to be clear and honest, and it needs to fit with people’s observations of how a missionary uses their time.
The missionary must be comfortable and confident in saying what he or she does. It ought to fit the categories that seem natural and normal to the people they are trying to reach. It needs to open doors to evangelism and discipleship.
Prioritize Access to People, Not Just Access to Residence
Far too often, we focus too much on gaining access to residence in a closed country instead of prioritizing access to people in a closed country. For this reason, jobs that lead missionaries to primarily work remotely or with expatriates are less advantageous than those that allow for direct interaction with the people we’re trying to reach with the gospel.
Far too often, we focus too much on gaining access to residence in a closed country instead of prioritizing access to people in a closed country.
How Missionaries are Gaining Access to Closed Communities
Sometimes, when we’re thinking about the principles behind access strategies, we can become so focused on how to get to these places that we overlook why we’re going to these places. We’re gaining access to closed countries so that we can make the gospel known among the nations.
Recently, Radical began supporting work in a remote, mountainous region of East Asia where indigenous missionaries are using “business as mission” to gain access to a hard-to-reach community in their country.
As I’ve mentioned, there’s a reason that people are still unreached by the gospel. They live in hard-to-reach places like this one where local authorities are skeptical of outsiders who arrive without a credible reason for being there. Several years ago, local missionaries established a business that would allow them to access these regions without raising suspicion or concern. This business provides the missionaries with an opportunity to support the local economy while using their presence as an outlet for evangelism, church planting, and discipleship among unreached people groups.
Radical is supporting these missionaries so that they can continue to serve unreached people groups in places where missionaries are often persecuted. These missionaries gained access to this community in a way that is honest, helpful, and honoring to the Lord. They’re using their business as a platform to declare the wonderful news of the gospel to those who have never heard it and begin the work of planting new churches.