By Justin Horey
“If you have no churches, and you have no Scripture, you have no hope.” With those sobering words, Greg Pruett explains why he has made Bible translation his life’s work—to bring hope to those who have none.
Pruett, president of Pioneer Bible Translators, says there are still about 1,775 languages worldwide without a written copy of the Bible. Pioneer Bible is one of many organizations committed to reducing that number to zero by translating the Bible into every language on Earth.
Pioneer Bible’s passion for cross-cultural evangelism is shared by several missions organizations with roots in the Christian churches and churches of Christ.
Pruett estimates the various Bible translation organizations in the world translate the New Testament into a total of about 85 to 95 new languages each year. Pioneer Bible is helping to increase that number every year, and Pruett hopes his team will translate the New Testament into 300 languages between now and the year 2050.
Reaching lost people with the gospel in their native tongue is a passion for Pruett and Pioneer Bible Translators, and it obviously is a priority to God as well. It’s a ministry that began on the Day of Pentecost and has continued for 2,000 years.
“Jesus is really passionate about crossing these last remaining language barriers with Scripture,” Pruett says. “That’s why we’re trying to start the last remaining translation projects in the world.”
Pioneer Bible Translators is making great strides toward its goal, and Pruett credits that progress to a renewed emphasis on prayer. “We changed our fundamental strategy in 2007,” he says. “Now we have only one strategy: Praying the kinds of prayers that Jesus promised to answer.”
God is answering those prayers, and as a result, Pruett says, “The faith of our people is growing. It’s a movement of God’s Holy Spirit.”
For 2,000 years, since Christ gave the Great Commission to his disciples, Christians have endeavored to take his message to all nations. It has been a guiding principle of countless world missions. In fact, TCM President Tony Twist points out the only command in the Great Commission is to “make disciples.” TCM is therefore focused on two things: taking Christ to millions and training Christians for ministry.
Twist says discipleship is also important to successful missions work because, “We live in an era when we desperately need to get back to basics.” This core focus on discipleship is enabling TCM to make great strides in reaching lost people with the gospel. According to a 2015 study on the state of ministry education1, TCM is the only accredited ministry training program in Central and Eastern Europe that is growing. That program is currently training and discipling hundreds of believers, including more than 130 students who were Muslim—even former assistant imams!
Discipleship is also at the heart of Christian Missionary Fellowship’s ministry. Doug Priest, executive director, says, “CMF is making great strides right now in our international campus ministry, Globalscope. It’s growing by leaps and bounds. We are adding new fields in England, Germany, Spain, and Uruguay; and soon Australia and Ireland.”
At CMF, the greatest growth in the last decade has been the burgeoning ministry among the urban poor in Nairobi, Kenya. CMF began partnering with Wallace and Mary Kamau and their Missions of Hope International in 2004, when the Kamaus started a preschool with 50 children. Since then, 16 more schools have been established that now serve a total of 12,500 children—some 250 times more than when the program began!
At Team Expansion, “fine-tuning” its ministry processes has led to great strides as well. Instead of concentrating on establishing a single, program-focused church in a community, Team Expansion now coaches its workers to facilitate reproducible groups. The ministry does this by seeking out individuals who are most interested in hearing the message (commonly called “people of peace”) and then training them immediately to become facilitators of reproducible groups from the very start. Doug Lucas, cofounder and president of Team Expansion, says, “It has been so encouraging to see the way God is using this approach to help us become more strategic, nimble, and cost-effective.”
Indeed, the results have been remarkable. At the end of 2014, Team Expansion was operating among 25 unreached people groups. By the end of 2015, that number had jumped to 77! “That’s an amazing answered prayer,” Lucas says. “In just one year, God has helped us make tremendous strides in outreach and multiplication.”
Team Expansion has seen similar increases in baptism rates. In 2009, its workers reported 862 baptisms. In 2015, Team Expansion recorded more than 400 baptisms in just one of its active fields! Lucas said, “If we can leverage what we’re learning in that field and replicate it across all 77 unreached people groups, imagine what God might do!”
Worldwide, a great deal of missions work is occurring in partnership with Christians from other backgrounds, fellowships, and denominations.
“Partnership is very important,” Priest says. “People from the Restoration Movement are realizing they need to work with others rather than trying to do it all themselves. Many of the denominational distinctives we have here in America are based on our context, our history, and our personalities. These distinctives are not as important overseas as we seem to think they are here.”
Twist, of TCM, agrees.
“We are making great strides in partnerships,” he says. “At TCM we have over 40 active partnerships. More and more organizations and groups of churches are open to partnering with others. If those groups are in sync on mission and vision, it can make the work more efficient and more effective.”
And Twist believes this unity is not just useful, but essential. He says, “There is now more persecution in the world than ever. It forces us to get back to basics. We don’t have the luxury of not working with our brothers and sisters in other denominations. We don’t have time for it.”
Thankfully, in his experience at TCM, Twist said that Restoration Movement ideals (such as “no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible”) don’t create division, but serve to bring Christians together.
Here in the United States, more and more missions groups from outside the Restoration Movement participate in the International Conference on Missions (ICOM), an event established by the Christian churches and churches of Christ. David Empson, executive director of ICOM, says, “The key is lowering our fences without lowering our standards.”
For many missions-minded believers, even those who do attend ICOM on an annual basis, it can feel overwhelming to try to stay abreast of all the missions news from within the Restoration Movement. That’s why Mission Services has been sharing Restoration Movement missions stories from around the world since 1946.
Mission Services published news from the field in Horizons magazine for 63 years, but the magazine was retired at the end of 2015 because the organization’s new website, www.themissionsnetwork.com, allows Mission Services to reach a much larger audience. The site currently features more than 8,000 posts, and more are added every day. Mission Services also offers an app for Apple and Android phones.
Reggie Hundley, executive director of Mission Services, says the organization’s goal is to “bring the world of missions to you” by educating people, exciting people about what God is doing, encouraging missionaries, and enlisting support. In his words, “It’s like a conference every day.”
The Work Continues
As Hundley and others know so well, there is still much more work to do. Doug Priest said, “The United Nations claims that by 2050 the world will be two-thirds urban, and that half the world’s population will be classified as urban poor. It is imperative we move the urban poor to the top of our missional agenda going forward.”
Twist expressed a sentiment shared by many. Despite the great strides we’re making in missions, he says, “We long to see vibrant local churches in all remaining unreached people groups and cities—groups that God can then use to make profound impacts in transforming their respective communities before the very eyes of those who have longed for change, freedom from oppression, release from poverty, and a bright and hopeful tomorrow.
“We pray for many partners—those who will serve abroad with us, as well as those who will pray for them and send them on their way,” Twist says. We need partners who are “well-trained, sufficiently funded, and deeply dedicated to the growth of God’s kingdom . . . both around the block and around the world.”
1Steve Patty, A View of Theological Education in Central and Eastern Europe: 2015 Report (Portland: Dialogues In Action LLC, 2015).
Justin Horey is a writer, musician, and marketing communications specialist based in Southern California.