MARACAIBO, Venezuela (BP)–Not all unreached people groups live in “the 10/40 Window” — that vast belt of population stretching throughout the Middle East, China and India.
It’s true that most Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and unreached tribal groups call that part of the world home. But Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board missionaries in Venezuela are discovering many who don’t.
Fully 1 million Arabs live in Venezuela. And as the board shifts its focus from countries to the ethnic people groups who populate countries, the missionaries’ strategy group has discovered Venezuelan Arabs have been cut off from the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Nearly 85 percent of business owners on Margarita, Venezuela’s largest tourist island, are Arabic, says missionary Paul Tinley.
David Romero, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Maracaibo, explains the value of reaching Arabs. He tells of one experience with an Arab neighbor his wife led to Jesus and then discipled for several years. “The woman has since moved back to her native country in the Middle East,” Romero says. “She can now be a missionary to her own people in their own language.”
In many ways, most Latin American countries offer a more open ground for reaching unreached people groups like Arabs, who become somewhat familiar with Christianity through Catholicism.
Many have begun to marry outside the faith, causing a breakdown in family structure and cultural identity that has opened them to new ideas. Cultural pressure not to convert is strong, but not nearly as strong as in the Middle East.
One new Arabic believer in Venezuela describes her spiritual journey: “I had prayed to God for many years but it wasn’t until I accepted Jesus into my heart that I really came to know him! The difference for me between Christianity and other religions of the world is the Holy Spirit and grace.
“Other religions don’t have anything like those two. Before I became a Christian all that I knew of Christianity was Catholicism. Nothing in me believed that it was right to worship all the saints and the pope. I believe and have always believed that there is only one God that we should worship. Now that I have Jesus in my life, my entire life has changed!”
And Arabs in Venezuela have roots to the Middle East — and access to their roots. A new, largely untapped back-door strategy of identifying unreached groups, then reaching them in other parts of the world — expecting many to take the message back to their homeland — may prove effective. And Venezuela might be a testing ground, missionaries say.
In addition to Arabs, a significant number of Chinese people and unreached tribal groups populate Venezuela.
Statistical studies show Chinese people of Venezuela have been evangelized to a greater degree than Arabic populations. Several Chinese-speaking churches have been started and now have Chinese- speaking pastors. Missionaries are studying how many of Venezuela’s tribal groups are yet unreached and how many have been reached but not completely evangelized.
Seale is a Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board missionary in Venezuela.