In 2014 when I staffed a Discipleship Training School — a six-month program that includes 12 weeks of classroom instruction followed by a 60-day mission trip — in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, one of the trainees came to me privately in distress. She had initially chosen to join my group for an outreach to Panama, but was beginning to doubt she made the correct choice. As a Singaporean who is fluent in Mandarin, she was contemplating a switch to the team that was going to be ministering in China, where that language is also spoken.
My young friend hadn’t learned that Panama is home to a large Chinese diaspora which first began mass migrating to the Central American nation in the 1850s to work on the railroad system. It is now dotted with Chinese restaurants and Buddhist temples — especially in urban areas.
When I heard her reasons for reconsidering, I said to her “Did you know that almost 10 percent of Panama City’s population is Chinese? That’s one of the reasons I’m most excited about going there!” After hearing this information and praying about it further, she stayed with my group.
A similar scenario played out six months earlier as I co-led a team to Uganda. One of the team members was disappointed because she was asked be part of the East Africa group instead of going to India, which was her preference. After arriving in Uganda, we all learned that the nation has a substantial Indian population. At one time, the Indian population would have comprised more than 1 percent of Uganda residents. Now, their numbers there are substantially smaller, yet they are still prominent because of their success in the business sphere.
These stories illustrate that God is making it easier for Christians to reach those inside the 10/40 window (a term describing those located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator where material poverty is severe and/or Gospel influence is limited). How is He making it easier? By moving some people out of the 10/40 window. Panama and Uganda are outside the window, India and China are inside of it.
How do I know God is responsible for this movement of peoples? The apostle Paul said that God, “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). In Christian missions, geography is often a major consideration in our strategizing, but that isn’t critically important to God (although it is certainly important). Before ascending back to heaven, Jesus’ command was to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The word translated “nations” is ethnos from which we get our English word “ethnic.” Early in his ministry (for strategic purposes) Jesus told his messengers “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). As he physically left earth, Jesus was fully liberating his disciples to invite anyone and everyone to receive reconciliation with God and eternal life. The Great Commission is more about reaching people than it is about reaching places.
God first initiated His multi-ethnic plan of redemption by bringing a diverse group of people to the same geographic location to hear the Gospel. When Peter preached his first Gospel sermon in Jerusalem a week after Jesus departed, “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” heard the good news of salvation (Acts 2:9-11). Today, God is bringing people from countries that place heavy restrictions on evangelism (like China) to places that are wide open to such activity (like Panama).
Should Christian missionaries attempt to reach China and other hard-to-evangelize places with the Gospel? Certainly! But God is more interested in reaching the Chinese people than in reaching the region in which they originate. In fact, reaching the Chinese in places like Panama could, in the future, lead to an exponential increase in missionaries going to the People’s Republic. That’s because as the more Panamanian Chinese convert to Christianity, the more God will raise up missionaries from among them.
* Raymond Billy is a regular contributor for Modern Day. He is a full-time field worker with Youth With a Mission in Kona, Hawaii. If you would like to find out more about Raymond and his ministry, Click Here.