Who Will Reach Those in Harder Places?

Scattering the Theologically Trained

When I got my MDiv at Southern Seminary, one of my missions professors said, “80% of seminary graduates will minister at a church within 100 miles of where their wife’s parents live.” The professor’s point was that many seminary graduates take living in close proximity to their wives’ parents to be a huge factor for where they will live and serve the Lord long-term. The professor had been teaching at the seminary for over ten years, and had seen hundreds of his students follow this pattern.

Similarly, I have noticed that many people who graduate from Bible school or seminary will stay near where they studied after they graduate. Many who graduate from Southern Seminary in Louisville may stay around Louisville after they graduate. Or many who graduate from Moody, Wheaton, or TEDS will stay around the Chicago area long-term after they graduate. Certainly these places around Chicago or around Louisville need pastors and ministry leaders. But it seems that, as there are so many people who go to these schools, most of them should be scattered around the country and the globe to less reached areas after they graduate, with just a few staying in the area of the schools. This is better than the current phenomenon of most of them staying in the area, and few of them going to less reached areas around the country or world.

The problem is that, if so many seminary graduates end up close to where their wives’ parents live or close to where they went to school, there will be few seminary or Bible college graduates ministering in more unreached areas. If a seminary or Bible college grad wants to work in a church or plant a church in the U.S., why not do that in a less reached area, like a place like Maine in NE America or Oregon in NW America? When most of the Bible school or seminary-trained graduates end up staying around the seminaries, or other places in the South or in the Bible Belt, then there is no spreading out of the theologically educated. It seems better to spread some of that theological influence from seminaries, and scatter that training and influence across the nation and across the globe, rather than having just a few areas of the U.S. benefit from the many strong seminaries and Bible colleges in the U.S., and the thousands of students who graduate from them annually.

Serving in Harder Places Globally

Certainly not all of us are called by God to serve overseas. But for those of us who are called overseas, we can consider ministering in harder places overseas. When I first moved to China, I realized there were lots of missionaries in the eastern and southern parts of China. So after a few years in eastern China, I felt the Lord calling me to go to northwest China, where there were fewer missionaries. And in NW China, there are fewer local Christians and less-equipped local pastors than in most other areas of China. But, that being said, I still realize that there are many countries in the world [i.e. Yemen, Syria, North Korea, Afghanistan] that are significantly harder to minister in than anywhere in China. And definitely there need to be more missionaries from all over the globe going to these least reached places of the world.

And, at present, most of the least reached areas of the world are Muslim countries that are antagonistic towards Christians and the gospel. According to a survey from 2009, about 80% of foreign missionaries were serving in reached areas, while a small minority of foreign missionaries were in less reached areas.[1] And less than 1/5 of missionaries are serving in the most needy places: among the 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, who are the heart of the unreached 10/40 Window. Missionaries need to consider going to those Muslim lands where there are very few, if any, known believers in that area. And many such places may have few people, if any, going to those places to bring the gospel of hope.

Challenges of Ministering in Harder Places:

There is some risk involved with ministering in harder places. Usually, in such parts of our nation or of the world, there is great spiritual darkness. This means that the Enemy has significant spiritual strongholds in these parts of the world, like in Boston or Islamabad. Ministering in a darker place means more attacks from the Enemy. It could also mean being in a place where the locals do not want you to be. Such areas of the globe may strongly forbid Christian missions activity of any kind. And even in the U.S., where there is freedom of religion, in ministering in harder places we can be hated by the people around us because we are Christians. Ministering in a spiritually darker place of the world is not an easy thing. It could mean being separated from our closest friends and family back home. It could mean having periods of feeling extremely isolated and lonely.


The question to ponder is: Who will reach those in harder places? There are many hundreds of millions of lost people in unreached areas around the U.S., and around the world. They hate Jesus or have never heard of Jesus. As long as most of us Christians are clumped together in certain areas of the country and the world, these people will remain unreached and having never had a legitimate witness around them to present our Savior to them. Who will help reach them, if not us?

The call to ministering in harder places is not just for full-time pastors or missionaries. All Christians can be strategic about where they live and work. It is possible to move to a spiritually needy area of the country or world to work as an engineer or to do business. You can be actively involved with a church there and minister to people through your work and lives.

Consider Paul’s words: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship” (Rom. 12:1). All Christians are called to lay our lives before the Lord, and ask: What do you want me to do for your kingdom? And, considering how we’ve handed our lives to the Lord to do with them totally what He desires: Where do you want me to go?


[1] Atlas of Global Christianity, 2009

Non-Western Missions & Chinese Missions

I’m praying for the Chinese missionary sending efforts. As I study more about ‘Majority World Missions’, I see that it is not necessarily those majority world countries who have the most Christians who send the most missionaries. Some top-sending majority world countries the last 40-50 years have been 1. Korea 2. Brazil 3. India 4. Nigeria 5. COMIBAM (in S. America).

There are many factors involved about which countries will flourish long-term in sending missionaries. The Korean church has succeeded the most the last 30 years in sending many missionaries, to all areas of the world, and who will stay on the field for decades, and learn the ways of the locals. Some of the other majority world missions movements have simply sent many people out, but they’ve returned home quickly without any fruit. A couple factors that boosted the Korean church sending were: 1. huge church growth in the 60s & 70s; 2. large economic growth; 3. Korea having good diplomatic relations with most countries around the world.

Where will the Chinese missions effort fall on the spectrum? At this point, very hard to say. But praying that the Spirit may be strengthening the efforts, in the candidate selection, the structures of the organizations, the finances, the shepherding of the missionaries, the effectiveness on the field reaching locals.


*** NOTE *** other terms for ‘majority world missions’ include ‘Non-Western Missions’, ‘Third World Missions’, ‘Emerging Missions’, and ‘Two-Thirds World Missions’

My Article Today on China Source

Today I had an article on the website China Source.

Here’s the link:

Or you can read below:

In the “Teaching across Cultures” class I took last month with Dr. Craig Ott, he had us read The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently . . . and Why by Richard Nisbett. The crux of the book’s argument is that Westerners and Asians think differently because of their different ancient roots. Westerners are highly influenced by the ancient Greek mindset, which is to make laws and formations for everything around them. Whereas, Asians are most influenced by the ideas of Confucius, which do not put so much emphasis on making laws or explaining everything with rules.

Within the realm of theology, Western theologians always need to have air-tight explanations and arguments to explain everything from the Bible. Whereas, most non-Westerners (Asians, Africans, Middle Easterners, Hispanics) are not as concerned about making air-tight theological laws, but are able to accept the mysterious and paradoxical parts of the Bible (i.e. Calvinism vs. free will).

Pondering these factors interests me greatly. I think of my best Chinese-pastor friend who leads a small house church in northwest China. He knows all parts of the Bible incredibly well, as well as any Chinese person I know. However, he has never been interested in discussing the more debated theological topics that Westerners normally discuss. Those debates just are not important to him.

In my Bible-related conversations with him, we talk about things he has recently preached on. We talk about things I have been learning from the Bible. We talk about stories from the Bible. But for him, a book of “Systematic Theology,” where the information is organized in a list of common themes in the Bible, would be of little or no concern. This style of studying the Bible is targeted more towards a Western mindset, than a Chinese mindset. My Chinese friend would be much more interested in studying things that relate to his ministry. He has been encouraged much by the Chinese translation of the missions book Perspectives. It seems to me that overall his understanding of the Bible comes from reading the Bible itself, rather than reading books about the Bible.

First Moments at Southern Seminary 2013

Originally in my August 14th, 2013 Journal

First moments at Southern Seminary [where we stayed for a year & I got my MDiv]

Now we’re in our new apartment (Springdale Apartment, #623) at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, KY. We drove all day yesterday (14.5 hrs) to get here. Getting out of OKC it was pouring rain, but after that we had mostly clear weather. We got here at 9:30 pm EST. We got our key & met our good friend from China, who was waiting for us with all the furniture he’d gathered for us in the U-Haul. He & I moved the furniture (bed, kitchen, table, sofa, leather chair) into our 2nd floor apartment. We finished around 11 pm local time. It was an exhausting day, but the Lord carried us through it. We’re excited to be in our new home.

Prayer for Central Asia

This morning I spent some time praying for Central Asia, though I’ve never been there. But our region in NW China does border many countries in Central Asia.

I’m praying for the Muslim world, and particularly for those in Central Asia. There are many people in this region, most of whom have no Christian witness around them. The people have varying levels of religious zeal for Islam. There’d be many following folk Islam. And some of these countries [i.e. Afghanistan, Pakistan] are quite unstable. Some of the areas are isolated and in mountain ranges 15,000-25,000 feet high. So it can be a hard region for missionaries or outsiders to penetrate into, much less to witness to people on the ground in their own local language.

I pray for the Lord to move in huge ways in these areas. I pray there may be many missionaries sent to these areas, & that the Lord may sustain them and use them and the Holy Spirit to convict the hearts of many locals and turn them to the Lord. And I pray that local churches may thrive and grow, not only numerically but also in depth of knowledge and obedience to God.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Eph. 3:20,21)

Birth of New Missions Organization in NW China

Originally in my July 6th, 2011 Journal

Birth of new missions organization in NW China

Our two families were in prayer together. We looked at the big China map on the wall. We put paper (yellow, blue, & red) on the cities [our organization] wants to focus on: 1) Yellow [Shaanxi (Xi’an, Weinan, Hanzhong, Ankang, Baoji)],; 2) Blue [Gansu (LinXia, Lanzhou, Tianshui, Zhangye, Dunhuang, PingLiang, Wuwei, JiuQuan, JaiYuGuan)]; 3) Red [Other NW China Cities (Xining, Yinchuan, Turpan, Urumqi, Aksu, Hotan, Korla, Kashgar)].

We prayed for these specific regions & cities & for the Lord to prepare the way for us to send Workers there.

Church Strengthens Us in Our Weak Areas

I was thinking about how I was spiritually challenged and strengthened when we were in Louisville, KY from ’13-’14 as I studied my MDiv at Southern Seminary, and we went to Clifton Baptist Church. As I was a pastoral intern at the church for that year, I was blessed to be able to get a closer look at the church and the leaders of the church than I probably otherwise would have been.

Three of the elders in the church had particular strengths that were exactly spiritual gifts that I am very weak on. One elder was Tom Schreiner. He was such a humble guy, though he had written many well-known books at the seminary. But every week he would get up out of his seat and help old ladies in our Sunday school class as they would get into their seats. He never seemed to be self-promoting about himself, but soft-spoken and unassuming. I am a proud guy and feel incredibly challenged when I think about Tom’s example of living out humility. Another elder was David Dykes. He is willing to serve others, and would often be the one to go way out of his way to help people out when they were in need. I am not too strong in serving others, and so I could see his model of service and learn from it, to try to be more like him in that regard. The last elder I want to mention is Shawn Wright. Shawn has an amazing spirit of gentleness about him. He is approachable and has a soft and gentle spirit to him, and in how he interacts with those around him. Again, gentleness is not something that I feel very strong in. So Shawn’s model of gentleness is something I can strive to pray to have more of for myself.

Praise God that He puts people around us in the church to strengthen the church as a whole. And He also desires that when we see godly traits in others that we don’t necessarily have, we may strive to pray that the Lord may grow us in those areas.

Urgency of Gospel

Originally in my July 30th, 2007 Journal [summer after 2nd year in China]

I was with God: listening to Piper sermon, singing praises, prayer, memorizing verses, writing, listening to Andrew Murray’s Ministry of Intercession. I’ve been really getting lots of satisfaction in God’s presence. The Spirit is teaching me some good stuff.

Our first priority is to preach the gospel. If I truly believe that people around me are going to hell if they don’t believe in Christ as Savior, how am I loving them by not telling them how to be saved? I know it’s disruptive at this school & it disrupts the peace here. But just because millions of people in China are content with their lives, does not mean that they’re NOT going to hell. They’re still going to hell whether they know it or not.

My Book on Missio Nexus

On June 27th, the large missions network Missio Nexus put my book Becoming Native to Win the Natives on their website: https://missionexus.org/category/books/leaders-edge/

I was thankful Missio Nexus could choose my book for their monthly author interview on their Leaders Edge resources page. I did the interview with the VP Marv a few weeks ago. It was a great opportunity for me.

If you are a member of Missio Nexus, I suggest you to read what has been posted on that website about my book, and you can listen to the interview with me about my book.

working on book #2

I’m in the process of writing my 2nd book. I’m now looking for a publisher for it.

It’ll be about suffering and God’s sovereignty in our sufferings. Much of the book will be about a biblical understanding of suffering. Then the 2nd half of the book will be about some of my particular sufferings & how the Lord has carried me through them.

I started writing the book about two years ago. And I am nearing completion of the book.

I could use prayers for guidance & strength from the Lord in all this.

I think about Paul’s words: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17)