23 November, 2021

Opening Closed Doors

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by | 1 November, 2021 | 0 comments

By Carla Williams

They shifted silently in the night, eyes scanning the dark street corners for signs they were being observed as they loaded boxes wordlessly into the truck. The caution was warranted; they’d been watched before. If the spies caught them this time, there’d be no explanations or excuses. They were hiding illegal materials after all—Bibles were some of the most forbidden items in the country.

Billions of people still have little to no access to the Word of God. Unfortunately, many of them live in countries that are difficult to reach because they’re remote or in areas where the spiritual and social climate toward followers of Christ range between caution and hostility. The doors seem closed to them.

The people behind these closed doors are valuable to Christ. They bear his image, and they have a purpose for his kingdom. The church needs these people, and we have a mandate to take the good news to them, regardless of the obstacles.

Fortunately, many workers and ministries are carrying the Light into those dark places using a variety of tools and strategies. Despite many difficulties, the church is growing even in many of the world’s most closed countries. The following are just a few of the ways the gospel is going into some of the places where the door seems closed.

EXTRAORDINARY PRAYER

Nothing can hinder God’s Spirit or his power. Even in areas where there are no known churches, believers, or missionaries, God is at work. He alone prepares hearts and makes fields ripe for harvest. No amount of effort, planning, strategy, or workers can accomplish the supernatural act of salvation.

It’s no wonder, then, that the most powerful tool the church has against the strongholds of darkness in these closed countries is extraordinary prayer. Prayer movements are occurring for many countries and people groups. Individuals can sign up to receive regular requests from the country. As thousands of people join together in unity each day to pray for the nations or people groups, God is hearing and answering those prayers.

Because of those prayers, men and women who have never heard of Jesus are having dreams about him. Because of those prayers, individuals see an ad at just the right time that sets them on a path toward redemption. Because of those prayers, visas are granted, workers are admitted, and the gospel reaches families who have had no hope for generations.

INTENTIONAL DISCIPLESHIP

In every restricted-access nation, foreign workers might be expelled at any moment with or without cause. There is no time to waste on old models of missions, where workers build a compound or church building and create programs to draw people in. Now, many workers in these countries are focused on making disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples. In this biblical model, the growth doesn’t depend on the foreign missionary’s availability and capacity. Instead, they can pour into a few faithful, available, and teachable disciples who are committed to obedience and sharing.

These new disciples are much better equipped to carry the gospel to their own people than any foreign worker. They already know the culture, language, local belief systems, and the most common obstacles and objections. When disciples make disciples who make disciples, they’re creating systems of community and authentic churches ready to follow Christ together.

This method is also entirely portable. It doesn’t rely on a building, location, or structure system. Instead, believers and seekers gather in homes, under trees, over coffee, or wherever else people naturally spend time together. Disciple-making is about walking the faith journey together, obeying Scripture, and sharing with others along the way.

MEDIA OUTREACH

The digital age has brought tremendous freedom in reaching across borders. People around the world who might not have reliable access to clean water or stable electricity often have a cell phone. The implications for gospel access are enormous.

Now, a targeted ad or social media post in the right language can find its way to seekers across borders and boundaries. Or, instead of carrying heavy and conspicuous Bibles to distant lands, believers can keep microSD cards for phones in their pockets. These cards might contain the Bible in multiple languages, videos and media content that explain the good news, and ways to get connected with others to ask questions.

Many sending agencies are implementing multimedia strategies. Without media outreach, it can take years for missionaries to identify people in their nations who are open to and seeking truth. Using targeted ads with specific wording is like casting a large fishing net. Seekers can request a Bible, ask questions, hear testimonies, and ultimately meet with a local believer or missionary to continue the conversation. Much of this effort can originate outside the nation, making media movements an ideal way to reach into closed countries.

One nation that relies heavily on media outreach to connect with seekers extended that care during the COVID-19 quarantine by hosting nationwide Bible studies using WhatsApp. In just three months, the group of about 90 people read the entire Bible together virtually! Now they’re launching in-person and online small groups and continuing to grow together, standing as one against the social and political persecution they’re facing because of their new faith.

MEDICAL CARE

One of the most valuable ways to care for a person’s soul is to begin with care for their body. Professionals who can provide access to dental care, eye exams, surgery, or full-body health are often welcomed into otherwise closed countries.

In areas where there is little to no gospel access, caring for the body is a beautiful and important role. By seeking care, the patients are showing true vulnerability and trust. The medical professionals are in positions to listen to people’s hearts, see beyond the physical problems, and speak hope into people’s physical and emotional lives.

Jesus himself spent much of his ministry bringing healing. He touched the outcasts. He saw the forgotten. And he used physical restoration to talk about the greater need for spiritual healing and forgiveness.

One team serving in a restricted and remote area has had a breakthrough by offering classes for couples on healthy and informed labor and delivery. Each session has the potential to lead to deeper conversations on parenting, dreams for the future, and where hope can be found. It’s a wide-open door for sharing their faith and purpose with an engaged audience!

BUSINESS & AGRICULTURE

More and more often, outsiders are accepted into restricted nations because of their ability to convince the government of the economic impact they can bring. Integrity and consistency matter, just like in the United States. These endeavors can range from microloans to major industries.

Years ago, in a country with strict laws against evangelism, workers were able to train countless farmers to cultivate coffee beans instead of poppy plants for the black-market opium trades. Today, the workers have access to villages all over the nation, the farmers have stability and a sustainable income, and hundreds of men and women have been baptized and are multiplying disciples throughout the country.

In another nation, Christian workers set up an adventure tourism business, bringing in valuable foreign dollars to support a struggling economy. Because of their business, they’re able to invite teams from churches around the world to come into a country that has historically stonewalled Christians. Through this endeavor, they can naturally build relationships with locals, provide jobs and security to families, and share the reason for their peace on a regular basis.

HUMANITARIAN CARE

Many people have been able to enter difficult nations through humanitarian causes like clean water, food distribution, refugee relief, and child sponsorship. These methods can be extremely helpful because they meet a nation’s physical needs while creating avenues for spiritual depth.

Workers who use these methods must consider the balance between meeting needs and causing dependence. Still, many humanitarian ministries have learned how to value the input of national advisers, train and equip local leaders, and create sustainable solutions that can eventually be maintained without outside interference.

One organization uses U.S. churches to pack millions of meals for food shortages in parts of Africa. But when the food arrives, it is distributed through local partners who build relationships with the people who receive it. The food packets open doors for discussions about obstacles, collaboration in problem solving, and holistic community transformation. Each conversation points toward the gospel, and thousands of lives have been impacted through these efforts.

EDUCATION & ENGLISH

For many years, English lessons have provided an opportunity for Americans to enter other countries for both short-term and extended stays. English is a legitimate platform for being in another nation, but it’s also an avenue for spreading the gospel. Many people use the Bible or scriptural curriculum as the foundation for their lessons.

There is also an international need for qualified teachers, trainers, and professors in various fields. Some teachers serve the families of workers in the fields, helping their children thrive through tutoring, homeschool co-ops, and international schools. Others teach at a university level, where they can have daily interactions and intentional conversations with their students at a particularly open season of their lives. Many college students are examining the worldview they’ve grown up believing and are exploring other viewpoints.

This method has another benefit. Many international students leave their countries to study at Western universities. This is an ideal time to connect with these men and women, who are far from home and looking for community. When believers welcome these guests, embrace them as friends, and include them in their daily lives, it creates an unparalleled opportunity for the students to experience true grace, peace, and joy firsthand. These men and women can return to their countries as adopted and redeemed children of God.

A GLOBAL WORKFORCE

Despite all of these (and more!) tools and strategies for entering and staying in restricted nations, more doors are being closed to Western missionaries every day. Fortunately, the church is global, and God is raising up workers for his kingdom from all over the world.

The global church is mobilizing to see the gospel spread. Missionaries are going out from South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia. They’re going to nearby nations with similar cultures and they’re going around the world—wherever God leads them. As political, social, and cultural expectations and regulations continue to fluctuate at dizzying rates, God’s plan remains steady and his people are obeying his command to make disciples in all the world.

Another area where this is vital is with national missionaries. After someone is discipled and prepared, they can immediately become an advocate for their own people and nearby neighbors. These workers do not need to spend years learning a language, studying a culture, or raising thousands of dollars. They don’t need a seminary degree, social media following, or a book deal. These men and women are called by the Holy Spirit, shaped by the Word of God, and sent to tell their people about their radical transformation in Christ.

In one African nation, missionaries spend most of their time investing in a small core group of national believers. They study the Word together, talk through obstacles, and pray constantly. And then those national believers go out to share the gospel. Where the missionaries would stand out and bring with them unknown baggage and expectations, the local men and women slip easily into the crowd. They travel from village to village without raising any concerns, and they naturally engage their countrymen in spiritually charged discussions. They’ve seen thousands of men, women, and children come to Christ and be discipled.

You Can Help!

It’s an honor to bring the good news into every part of the world, even when access is difficult. There are many ways you can support the work in restricted countries, whether it’s through prayer, mobilization, sending, or answering the call to open a door.

As an Individual . . .

• Ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest fields (Matthew 9:38).

• Learn more about the refugees, immigrants, and international students in your area and jump in with churches or organizations that are serving them.

• Ask your church’s missions ministry to support and send missionaries who serve in these contexts.

• Connect with an organization that focuses on the people who still have little to no access to the gospel.

As a Church . . .

• Consider selecting a specific people group to focus on. Connect with an organization like Unleashed for the Unreached or Finishing the Task.

• Send short-term workers with specialized skill sets, like a medical team, construction crew, athletes for a sports camp, or other out-of-the-box gifts and interests.

• Create avenues to volunteer for the prayer network for a nation. Prayer sites need content writers, designers, photographers, media specialists, data entry and list management professionals, and marketing experts!

• Connect with a missionary organization and take on the total support costs for a national worker in a closed country.

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