M o d u l e   3:
Sheep Island Strategy

"In a dream I found myself on an island - Sheep Island. Across the island sheep were scattered and lost. Soon I learned that a forest fire was sweeping across from the opposite side. It seemed that all were doomed to destruction unless there was some way of escape. Although there were many unofficial maps, I had a copy of the official map. I discovered that, indeed, there was a bridge to the mainland - a narrow bridge built, it was said, at incredible cost.

"My job, I was told, would be to get the sheep across the bridge. I discovered many shepherds herding the sheep who were found and seeking to corral those who were within easy access of the bridge. But most of the sheep were far off and the shepherds seeking them were few. The sheep near the fire knew they were in trouble and were frightened; those at a distance were peacefully grazing, enjoying life.

"I noticed two shepherds near the bridge whispering to one another and laughing. I moved near them to hear the cause of such joy in such a dismal setting. 'Perhaps the chasm is narrow somewhere, and at least the strong sheep have an opportunity to save themselves,' said one. 'Maybe the current is gentle and the stream shallow. Then the courageous, at least, can make it across.' The other responded, 'That may well be. In fact, wouldn't it be great if this proves to be no island at all? Perhaps it is just a peninsula and great multitudes of sheep are already safe. Surely the owner would have provided some alternative route.' And so they relaxed and went about other business.

"In my mind I began to ponder their theories: Why would the owner have gone to such great expense to build a bridge, especially since it is a narrow bridge, and many of the sheep refuse to cross it even when they find it? In fact, if there is a better way by which many will be saved more easily, building the bridge is a terrible blunder. And if this isn't an island after all, what is to keep the fire from sweeping right across into the mainland and destroying everything? As I pondered these things I heard a quiet voice behind me saying, 'There is a better reason than the logic of it, my friend. Logic alone could lead you either way. Look at your map.'

"There on the map, by the bridge, I saw a quotation from the first under-shepherd, Peter: 'For neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other way from the island to the mainland whereby a sheep may be saved.' And then I discerned, carved on the old rugged bridge itself, 'I am the bridge. No sheep escapes to safety but by me.'"

("Sheep Island", used by permission from McQuilkin, Robertson, The Great Omission, copyright 1984, Gabriel Resources OM Literature, P.O. Box 1047, 129 Mobilization Road, Waynesboro, GA 30830, USA)

Every day 50,000 people will die without ever having had the opportunity to know Jesus Christ. These are the "sheep" that live far from the "bridge"; they are the world's unreached ethnic groups. To guide them to safety is an enormous task. We have the resources; we know the need, yet still they wait.

Jesus said, "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?" (Luke 15:4)

Think about your own attitudes toward the unreached. Perhaps you have been unaware of the great number of lost people in the world. Maybe you were vaguely aware but have been too preoccupied with your own life to do anything about it. Perhaps you have wanted to get involved but did not know how. Or maybe you are already doing something but would like to do more. Consider now the possibility of getting involved with taking the gospel to the unreached peoples.

Pray: Lord, You are the great Shepherd. You’ve clearly shown the importance of leaving 99 sheep that are safely across the bridge in order to rescue one that is in danger. Please fill me with Your sense of urgency for those who are still far from Your kingdom. Show me how You want me to be involved in guiding them to eternal safety. Amen.

A. Commit to One Unreached Flock

There are thousands of unreached people groups in the world today. You can join the effort to reach at least one of them - to help guide one flock to the bridge.

Making a commitment to help bring God's kingdom to a particular people group has become the widely known international strategy of "adopting" a people group. It is much like the way that a natural family adopts a child and commits to raise that child to maturity. Any Christian or group of Christians can adopt an unreached ethnic group. You can adopt as a whole church, a group within your church, a Bible study group, a family, an individual, etc.

Perhaps the strongest adoptions are those where a whole church commits together and works in partnership with missions agencies until their selected people group becomes reached.

Once you select a particular ethnic group, you can find out who else is committed to the same group. Often there are individuals, church denominations and missions agencies partnering together in a "people group alliance" that can help you find an effective role. Working together, those who adopt a people group will make sure that churches are started within the group and that they have the Bible (the "official map") in their own language. When there are movements of churches that can evangelize their own people without further help, the group is considered "reached".

If you do want to participate in God's eternal plan to redeem peoples from every ethnic group, start with an unreached one. In the beginning, your major task will be prayer. You might do some research to get to know your adopted people better or even go on a trip to see their land. You might "advocate" by getting others to join in with your vision (your own church, prayer group, university friends, family, etc.).

You might personally sponsor or raise funds to get more resources for your adopted people. Some go as short-term volunteers, career missionaries or help others to go.

From a great distance all the flocks may look alike. If there are 10,000 different unreached people groups that need you, how do you even begin to select one?

B. Consider Adopting from one of the other World Religions

1. ISLAM. Half of all of the individuals who are still unreached are Muslims. Incredibly there are less than three Christian missionaries for every 1 million of these people! The Muslim people can be traced back to Abraham and are related to the Christian faith. While they honor Jesus as a great prophet, they do not believe that He is the Son of God who died on a cross and rose from the dead. Muslims, like Christians, are sharing their faith to win converts all over the world. They strongly prohibit their own people from changing religions and persecute those who do. In several Islamic countries, people who convert to other religions may be executed.

"Salaam! My name is Ahmed. I am a 'Muslim', a member of the worldwide community of Islam. From my earliest memory, I have been taught from our holy book, the Quran, the five things that I must do to earn God’s favor. The first is to recite our confession of faith: There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. I must pray five times a day at the right time and in the right way. I must make a journey to our holy city, Mecca, in Saudi Arabia once in my lifetime. Every year I must participate in 'Ramadan', which is four special weeks of fasting and prayer. I must also give to the poor. If I do all of this then Allah will be pleased. I hope that I can be good enough for God."

2. HINDUISM. The majority of Hindus reside in South Asia. They worship millions of gods, and their religion is keeping 13 percent of the entire world's population in its darkness. There are 2,700 different Hindu unreached people groups that need to know Jesus Christ and be set free into His light.

"Hello, my name is Poona. All of my relatives and I practice the Hindu religion, which has millions of gods. My family goes to the temples to say special prayers and leave offerings for the more powerful gods: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the protector), and Shiva (the destroyer). We also have a large shrine for various gods in our house so that we can worship by offering food, incense, and prayers. When I die, depending on my actions in this life, my soul will be reborn into another human or animal body. I try to follow our eternal law and worship the gods so that my next life will be better. I wish that I could be free from this cycle of death."

3. CHINESE FOLK RELIGION. One out of every five people on this planet lives in China, a country of many different cultures. China is an ancient dynasty whose primary religions were Taoism and Confucianism until the forceful arrival of western civilization in the early 1800s. After years of struggle, communism gained control of China at the hand of its leader, Mao Tse-tung.

"Hello, my name is Ming Wah and I am Chinese. I am taught from the Little Red Book the sayings of Mao Tse-tung at my school. I understand that my country is the greatest on earth, achieved through our harmony and order. We work hard for the good of all. I am told that there is no God but I secretly wonder if this is true. When I ask questions, I am punished, so I do not ask anymore. I must show more respect to my elders and leaders."

4. BUDDHISM. Spun off from Hinduism many centuries ago, the heart of Buddhism landed in Tibet. Many of the practicing Buddhists mix in elements of traditional Chinese religions. There are generally very few converts from Buddhism to Christianity, although South Korea has proven that it is possible; the largest Christian churches in the world are now located there. Today around 1,000 unreached Buddhist people groups remain.

"Hello, my name is Yuyen and I am a Buddhist. I am told stories about the great men we refer to as Buddha, or "enlightened ones", to learn more about their noble truths and right teachings. I do not believe that we have souls only bodies with feelings, ideas and thoughts. I work to control those through meditation so that I will be calmer and wiser. My family goes up to the temple to leave offerings for Buddha. Sometimes I wonder if it makes any difference."

5. ANIMISM. A religion practiced by tribal peoples worldwide. Animists believe spirits live in ordinary objects. There are around 2,000 unreached tribes scattered all across the globe. Many of the remaining unreached tribes live in hard-to-reach places and speak unique languages. Fortunately, most have proven to be interested in Christ, and many missionary efforts are trying to reach them as a result.

"My name is Kimu. While some of the tribes move around as nomadic peoples with herds of animals, my tribe stays in one area where we plant gardens and raise animals to sustain our families. Our religion is as old as the earth. We must please the good and evil spirits that live in nature around us. If we don't, then bad things will happen. My daughter became very ill because she drank from the river during the full moon. The witch doctor helped me please the river by offering some of my daughter's hair and saying certain words. My daughter is still sick. I wish that I could find the great creator God that our ancestors told us stories about, but I don't know how."

6. OTHER WORLD RELIGIONS. This "other" category lumps together a wide variety of different religions and those who are atheist or without a religious faith. The Jewish people, the Shintoists, and the Sikhs are a few of the more notable ones.

C. Consider Adopting from one of the World's Geographic Regions

1. Middle East and North Africa: Across the great Sahara desert to the fertile Nile river region and into the holy lands of old, this area's daily life is entwined with its ancient religions. The Middle East is the birthplace of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, which all claim Abraham as their "father". Today, nearly everyone here is a Muslim, although some in North Africa adhere to their traditional religions or to some mixture of the two. Oil reserves and continued conflicts keep this area in the center of world news.

2. Sub-Sahara Africa: A historically diverse and ancient land, this area is where Christianity has grown and revival has spread. There also are many "pockets" of tribes that follow the animistic religion of their forefathers or the Islamic faith of the traders who came through their lands. This incredibly beautiful land rages with political unrest, extreme poverty, and AIDS.

3. The Americas: This land was pioneered in Christian religious fervor, and yet even today there are tribal peoples that still do not have a local church or the Bible in their own language. These small tribes are separated from the gospel by rugged terrain, unique languages and a suspicion gained from years of people taking advantage of them.

4. Asia and Pacific: Asia is the most populated region of the world. Every major religion resides here, and many were founded here. It is home to the majority of all the unreached people groups. It is a multitude of languages and cultures. It is both ancient and modern. It is an extremely productive industrial center and, yet, a place of poverty. The Pacific, in contrast, is mostly a Christian region and an active missionary-sending force with only a couple of unreached people groups left.

5. Eurasia: The region that was once the communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) has had more than 1,000 years of prior conquest, oppression and migration in its history. It was ruled by the Persians and then the Greeks, Huns, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese who arrived along the trade route known as the "Silk Road". The Mongol empire also took in this region. By the 19th century, Russia dominated. The Soviet Union fell apart, and by 1991 the union’s "states" declared themselves to be independent countries.

6. Europe: This area is atheist, "post-Christian", and Islamic. Europe has always been a region rich in cultures, not only from its own historical peoples, but also from the many foreign immigrants arriving from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Many of these immigrants come from the least reached people groups.

Activity: Read the statements in each box and guess which region of the world they are about.

D. Decide Which People Group You Will Commit To

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." (James 1:5)

There are a number of factors that can help narrow the field. Meditate over the following areas:

1. Prayer: Prayer is not just a good idea; it is an essential first step in determining your involvement in God's plan. In your personal times of prayer and intercession, does God seem to regularly bring to mind a particular country, religious group or ethnic group? Perhaps it would be good to stop right now and ask God to guide you to select a particular unreached people to whom you can make a difference.

Pray: Dear Jesus, thank You for allowing me to be a part of Your work here on earth. I want all peoples to know You. I want to do something to help. Lead me to find an unreached people group and other committed Christians to work with. For Your glory, Jesus, across the world, amen.

2. Local connections: Is there an ethnic group in your community or nearby? Your workplace? Your school? Do you have friends or know of missionaries who are already working in another country or among a certain people group? Perhaps your church has already committed to a group and you could join in with their efforts.

3. Strategic preferences: You might consider adopting one of the largest unreached people groups (with more than 1 million people in it) or one of the "overlooked ones" where few others are helping.

4.Your personal interests: Do news items about a certain part of the world, ethnic group, or religion catch your interest? Have you already traveled to other countries or regions where there might be unreached peoples?

5. Historical, Political or Economic connections: Does your nation have historic ties to another culture? For example, Brazil was formerly a colony of the Portuguese and therefore shares a common language with some of its other former colonies like Mozambique and Angola. Perhaps your country has key political or economic ties with a nation where others cannot easily enter. For example, Egyptians can freely enter into Libya while people from many other nations cannot.

6. Social considerations: Would you rather be involved in an urban or rural setting? Among the wealthy or the poor? Is there any specific type of on-the-field work you would like to do?

Pray: Father, I ask You to speak to me now. My understanding of the world is limited and Yours is not. I ask You to help me select the part of the world where You would like me to get involved - whether it is familiar to me or not. I am listening. Amen.

Action point:

After praying and listening, write out:

1. The name of a world religion that may have come to mind:
2. The name of a geographic area that may be in your thoughts:
3. Finally, write out the names of church or missions organizations that you could ask for information on how you can work together to reach an unreached people group:

E. Get Involved

If we all join in and take a part of the remaining task of world evangelism, flocks of sheep from afar will be crossing the bridge before we know it. Our Great Shepherd is "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

God desires that all of the people groups or "flocks", near and far, will hear about Jesus, believe and repent, and experience His forgiveness. He has chosen us and commanded us to go and seek out the lost. Thousands of ethnic groups have never had the opportunity to know Jesus Christ.

At this point, if you have narrowed down your search to a particular geographic region or world religion, your next step is to look into service opportunities for helping unreached people groups from this region and/or religion. You may need to either do some research at this stage through the Internet (if you have access), a library, or write to several organizations for counsel and options that they may suggest.