By Name Withheld
Unreached need not mean unreachable, even in countries where Christian evangelism is forbidden.
Sousida goes to sleep afraid every night. She never knows what the spirits are going to do to her or her family. She thinks she’s done enough to appease them, but she has no way of knowing.
She’s never heard of Jesus. In fact, no one she knows has ever met a Christian or seen a Bible. They have no idea they could experience freedom. Generations of her people have lived and died in total darkness.
Further complicating her hopelessness, Sousida’s country is openly hostile to Christianity. Government, villages, and families persecute known believers. Followers are fined, fired, evicted, ostracized, exiled, beaten, or killed for their faith.
There are many obstacles keeping the gospel from reaching Sousida.
But unreached is not the same thing as unreachable. Many missionaries have gone and are going into some of the most hostile, closed countries in the world, shining light and bringing hope to millions of people like Sousida. The task is certainly not easy, and the methods have an element of risk, but the call to go is clear, and the cost of not going is simply too great.
Dreams and Visions
There is a very real and miraculous trend that greatly assists the spread of the gospel in closed countries. People who have never heard of Jesus or seen a Bible are having vivid, haunting dreams that propel them on a spiritual journey. One worker who serves refugees in a Muslim country affirmed that this is a real phenomenon; he says 25 to 30 percent of those he knows who have become Christ followers first had a dream or vision that set them on the path to discovery.
This proves without question God loves these unreached people, long held captive by the chains and desperation of darkness. He is moving in their hearts and drawing them to himself.
It’s clear, though, these dreams are simply catalysts that start a process. They are not the fullness or completion of the gospel. Those who have these dreams must encounter the Word and be discipled and encouraged by a believer.
Media is an effective tool for getting the gospel into closed places. It offers some anonymity, both for the missionaries and the seekers, and the missionary doesn’t necessarily even need to be in the country to use it. Media is also versatile and can include cable TV shows, social media and websites, audio files, pamphlets, and more.
Many Muslims in a closed North African country first heard about Jesus from a TV show the team there produced. The show has former Muslims sharing their stories of coming to faith in Christ, a concept completely foreign to most Muslims. There is a strongly held belief that you are born Muslim and simply cannot choose anything else. This show runs frequently, and now most of the country at least knows they have an option.
Social media and websites can be set up and targeted toward seekers. Those already looking for answers can find these sites, ask questions, watch videos, download and read the Bible in their language, and set up meetings with believers for deeper discussion. All of this can happen in relative safety and is proving to be an increasingly effective method for sharing the gospel, especially to the tech-reliant millennials.
For countries with villages spread remotely throughout rough and inaccessible terrain, audio files are an effective tool for mass evangelism. Many villages have radios that can pick up Christian programming, or SIM cards can be passed from phone to phone with ease. In one closed South Asian country, the team delivers SIM cards regularly all over the nation. Even though villages have no electricity—or have it only on rare occasions—mobile phones are commonplace, and many who have never heard the gospel have access to it in their own language via their phone.
While media can help alert unreached people to the gospel, the real work of disciple-
making must be done by obedient followers of Christ living in the countries. How does this work when the nations are openly hostile to Christianity? They can’t go in with “missionary” stamped in their visa, and they can’t set up a church building with a big steeple on it to attract visitors. But there are still many other ways to enter and reside in creative-access nations.
Many countries are eager to have experts in business fields invest in their economies. There are opportunities for experienced workers in trade, energy, engineering, agriculture, social services, humanities, education, tourism, nonprofits, and countless other fields. Many people run businesses while engaging in relationships with government officials, their employees, consultants, language tutors, suppliers, neighbors, house helpers, and cab drivers! Christian businesses have an opportunity to stand out in corrupt cultures.
One kingdom business in an extremely hostile country has created an agricultural system that genuinely aids the rural farmers. The government praises this business and often requests and funds expansion into new areas of the nation. This business also actively engages its employees and farmers in discussions of the gospel, and has directly or indirectly been connected with hundreds of local people abandoning their fear-based religion and leaping joyfully into the grace of Christ.
Many have also gained entry into closed countries by becoming students in international universities. Whether it’s to study the national language or to acquire an advanced degree, students are often accepted where missionaries could never go. This is an ideal time to connect with the local people, because students at the university level are often questioning their traditions and beliefs and are more open to change.
Some missionaries have stayed in closed countries long-term using a retirement visa. Many countries allow couples to live out their golden years within their borders with just some proof of sufficient income. These families can invest in the relationships around them and can come and go with relative ease.
There are many other ways Christians are entering closed countries. In some nations that Westerners are simply not permitted to enter, God is using his people from the rest of the world. China, South Korea, the Philippines, Latin America, and many others are increasingly sending workers into locations the Western church can only pray for. It’s truly a global, united effort.
All foreign believers living in closed countries must assume their days there are limited. If at any point the government determines it doesn’t trust them, they will be deported without hesitation. Therefore, each family and team serving in sensitive locations needs to make the most of every opportunity, being “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). They must live with intentionality, making sure each conversation is guided by the Holy Spirit.
One worker in a Muslim country explained, “We could be kicked out at any moment, whether we’re sharing the gospel or not. If we’re going to be kicked out anyway, we want to be sharing.”
Believers living in these countries often go on prayer walks. They walk through their neighborhoods and nations, praying as they go. They pray against the sins of the country. They ask for repentant and seeking hearts. They beg God to reveal himself to the people lost in darkness.
And while they pray, they watch for people of peace. Based on the concept in the book of Acts, they look for men, women, and children who will act as bridges to a community. These people are usually more open to the gospel and its messengers, and they have great influence in their circles.
Many times, discipleship begins with seekers, not believers. As people begin studying the Word with a believer, they see it impacting their life. They start to believe and obey slowly, even before they put their full faith in Christ and are baptized. The Holy Spirit is a great teacher, and the Word is “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
House churches or other small groups become essential to the spread of the gospel in closed countries. Seekers can’t gather together in huge groups without attracting unwanted attention. But families can easily meet together to study the Word, encourage one another, worship in unity, and pray.
This model can multiply across nations and survive long after the missionaries have had to leave. Lives, families, communities, and nations can be transformed with the addition of each new light.
Changing the Story
One night, Sousida dreamed of a man in white who filled her very heart with peace. In the dream, he urged her to choose the narrow path. When she woke, she could not forget the dream. It crept into her mind and lingered for days and weeks.
One day, her son who had been visiting the city was listening to an audio file he received for his phone. He suggested she listen with him, and she was astonished to hear the familiar words of the “narrow path” from the man in the dream.
Her whole family was perplexed and confused by these events until they met a man traveling from village to village to train farmers in effective practices. He also mentioned the narrow path, and they were immediately intrigued. Soon, through studying the Word with this man, Sousida and her family recognized their sin, turned from the evil that had ensnared them, and were baptized in a nearby stream. Despite some early mistrust and opposition, eventually the entire village discovered this path through the lives of her family.
Now, Sousida sleeps with only joy and peace. Her fears are gone. Her hope is secure.
The author, who is closely connected with a number of Christian workers in closed countries, writes anonymously in order to protect their identity.