April 17, 2011

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Reaching Micro People Groups

We love to talk about missions.

We love to “go” on mission trips. I went to Haiti over twenty years ago on a two-week mission trip. I’ve been to Nigeria, Cameroon and Liberia for an eight-month mission trip. I’ve even been to Hawaii as a youth chaperone to do miming on Ala Moana Beach as well as doing a year-long stint working with Mary’s Place in Minneapolis and Place of Hope in St. Cloud (not at the same time!)

Many of us find ourselves as I did, on missions to “people groups”. A people group, for the purpose of sharing the love of Christ and the hope of salvation, has been clearly defined. It is “‘…the largest group within which the gospel can flow along natural lines without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.’ This simply means that unless the gospel comes from someone within one’s own people group, it is foreign.”1

Lately China has been on my heart. Virtually everyone would agree that the cultures, languages and socioeconomic clusters within the nation of China could be called “people groups”. But I don’t speak any of the seven to fourteen dialects of Chinese. If I ever went, I’d expect to hear languages I didn’t understand. If I were in Beijing, I’d most likely have a Chinese pocket dictionary application on my cell phone. I might be able to find out where to catch a bus that will take me to a statue of Mao Zedong or find a “house church”. While officially “atheistic”, China is operationally polytheistic and while there are accommodations permitting minor religions, official stance is against any sort of organized religion. But current estimates put anywhere between 40 to 130 million Christians in China and Wikipedia reports that “Although China bans foreign missionaries and sometimes harasses and imprisons Christians, especially in rural areas, Christianity is booming in China.2 With a population of 1.3 billion, it’s clear that reaching Outsiders in China is carrying out the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

Are there people groups in the US?

Clearly, the answer is “yes!” I’ve sponsored youth on mission trips to the Appalachians and to the Navajo reservations of southwest Arizona. I traveled with an organization whose sole mission was to reach youth with music. I’ve gone on mission trips to the poor of downtown Minneapolis. All of these groups are small and have their own “language” or way of speaking that’s different from how I talk. China is a gigantic people group. Haiti was smaller, the Navajo of Arizona smaller still. But these aren’t the smallest groups of people who need to be reached with the Good News of Jesus and discipled for Christ.

There are, in fact, really SMALL people groups. A micro people group is a “sparsely populated indigenous tribe consisting of 5,000 to 25,000 people”.3 These “micro people groups” can be even smaller than that and it can be argued that they share a language only they understand. These micro people groups don’t have to be in another country, either. Stand outside of a group of politicians, fantasy sports players, quilters, manga readers, sheet rockers or Star Wars fans and it can be as strange as standing on a street corner in downtown Beijing. These other groups are speaking English but the words you hear can have totally different meanings than what you’ve come to expect.

For example, a “lemon” can mean a bad car, a mature manga or a yellow fruit. It depends on what group you’re listening to. A “cave” can be a place you find bats, a student-run pub, an Italian commune or a political term for a group of people who oppose development. Among fantasy sports players a “bust” isn’t a piece of art, it has nothing to do with drugs, and it doesn’t mean “to break” – it’s a player who’s expected to have a poor season despite predictions. These small groups of people don’t make formal dictionaries – insiders are expected to know the jargon or it’s painfully obvious you aren’t part of the group.

Science fiction with its alien races, faster-than-light starships and interstellar empires might be considered a micro people group. Fantasy with its elves, massive wars and wizards might also be considered a micro people group. Mysteries, with their murders, suspects and deduction might be considered a micro people group, as well. If you doubt this then see if you can answer the following questions:

1) What is a con?

2) What is a Gandalf?

3) What does “specfic” mean?

4) What is an Edgar?

5) What are the Hugo and the Nebula?

6) What is a cozy?

7) What was Excalibur and why was it important?

8) Who was Hercule Poirot and where did “Murder on the Orient Express” take place?

9) What is Dune’s other name?4

If you can’t answer ANY of those, then specfic fans and writers can be defined as a micro people group and they might be considered a legitimate mission field for those who “speak the language”.

These people can also be isolated from the Church by choice, distance or simple apathy and no one should argue that they need to hear the Good News in a language that makes sense to them. In their book UNCHRISTIAN, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons point out that, “While we are trying to convey the most important message in human history – that Jesus offers a new life through faith in Him – something gets lost in the translation.”5

People who can speak the language of a micro people group can communicate the Gospel more easily than an outsider could. They can determine the best way possible to clearly and unequivocally show the love of Christ and point the way to salvation and discipleship.

Most of us belong to micro people groups. Are you a speculative fiction fan? How about a politician, fantasy sports player, quilter, Minnesota Wild fan, public school teacher, manga reader, sheet rocker or Star Wars fan? What micro people group are you part of?

Once you’ve identified your micro people group, pray for them and ask the Lord how to convey the most important message in human history to them. How can you present the gospel so that it can flow along natural lines without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance? What message will you send so that the gospel comes from someone within your own people group and make sure that the message of Christ isn’t foreign to them? Can you enlist others to help? When will you begin? My micro people avidly read, write and are fans of speculative fiction. I’ve identified the group, considered the message and spent time in prayer and fasting. I have my target events – though I have no one to join me and I’m wondering if I should wait or go ahead with it.

But that’s between God and me.

Missions to large people groups are good efforts to get involved with. But finding your micro people group and reaching them with the Good News of Jesus Christ can be exciting and can help you be a bigger part of God’s call to all of us to “go and make disciples of all nations”!


1) “The Challenge of the Unreached Peoples” by John Robb, Tuesday, November 24th, 2009, quoted in http://www.etnopedia.info/?p=254

2) Church growth in China.(Century marks)(Brief article) Industry & Business Article - Research, News, Information, Contacts, Divisions, Subsidiaries, Business Associations http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_China

3) http://www.imb.org/main/news/details.asp?LanguageID=1709&StoryID=585

4) Answers: 1) Short for a speculative fiction CONvention; 2) A major award for fantasy 1974-1980; 3) SPECulative FICtion; 4) A major award for American mystery; 5) The “people’s choice” award for spec fic; a “peer reviewed” choice for spec fic 6) A “quiet” mystery that usually doesn’t involve gruesome murder, sex or profanity; 7) The sword Wart pulled from the stone; it made him King Arthur of Camelot; 8) Agatha Christie’s main brain detective, a train that ran from Calais, France to Istanbul, Turkey. It ceased operation completely in 2009; 9) Arrakis

5) http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_rate.htm

image: http://media.photobucket.com/image/small%20group%20of%20lego%20people/darraghmc80/lego-people.jpg

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