Many Christians are aware of the recent challenges that have come to gospel workers in areas under Chinese government control. Even while our team from Radius was there, one of our brothers in Christ was taken in for questioning over a five-day period and, thankfully, released—but not without having to go through some tough stuff. While many of us are unaware of these things, it is an ever-present reality in that part of the world. If the gospel is going to move forward, it will cost many their comfort, freedom, and maybe even their lives.
At Radius, we’re committed to training cross-cultural church planters, and one of the constant drum beats during a student’s ten months of training is “suffering must be a normal expectation for the gospel worker.” Jesus himself said that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24, emphasis mine). Jesus was not shy regarding the expectation that his disciples should have when embarking on a life of following Him. The gospel worker was to put Christ first and all other relationships a distant second (Luke 14:26), expect to live a life of turbulence and uncertainty (Philippians 4:11–13), endure pain so others could gain access to the message of life (II Corinthians 4:7–12), and endure trials for the sake of the church he is planting (Acts 20:18–20).
In our day and age, much must be endured to reach the last people/language groups, and many have had to pay a high price. In addition to the ones most commonly thought of, I would submit that the painful, humbling, years-long endeavor of learning two languages is one of those trials that must be endured. Gone are the days when a widely held language would suffice to reach an unreached people group. This was not the case all the way up through the twentieth century, but it is a reality for all living in the year 2019.
At Radius, each one of our students is being prepared to learn two languages to full fluency. Not because learning a language is so interesting or exciting, but because communicating the gospel clearly is so vitally important! One language is well within the grasp of most people heading overseas. Two languages will take some serious effort, discipline . . . and pain. That recalibration of goals and expectations is crucial if the gospel ambassador aims to reach that minority people group, see believers in the gospel of Jesus (by God’s grace), and plant a lasting New Testament church.
While there is still much work to be done amongst majority language groups (Farsi, Hindi, Mandarin, Bahasa, Melanesian Pidgin, Arabic), there is access to the gospel, translations of the Bible, and solid churches. Again, there is still much work that needs to be done there—no one is arguing that. But there are people/language groups that still have no gospel, no disciples, and no church in their language. This should shift the emphasis to other languages that still have none of these (Romans 15:18–23). To get to those final places, to live among them, and to make the gospel understood will take a longer commitment. Three to seven years will only scratch the surface of these last locations. Issues of children’s schooling, long-term health implications of living in a developing country, and aging parents are all part of the challenge of the gospel worker who is committed to go to that minority language context.
These minority language groups make up the last 3,120 languages that still have no disciples, no copy of the written Word of God, and no church among them. The first language will get the gospel ambassador into the country and, many times, establish a platform to work from. But, that cannot be the ending point. As Kevin DeYoung says in reference to “nations” in Matthew 28:19, “As is widely known this is the word not for political nation-states but for people groups. Jesus envisions worshipers and followers present among every cultural-linguistic group on the planet.”
We must persevere and pay the price to learn the languages of the minority people groups that still live in darkness. The gateway language is crucial, but it is not the end goal. The gospel in every tongue tribe and nation is the goal.