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Missions producing dramatic results in ‘Last Frontier’

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–When Franklin Jackson (not his real name) arrived in South Asia nearly 10 years ago, there were only 28 struggling Christian churches in his area of responsibility — a region packing the population of the United States into an area the size of Montana.
Today, despite overwhelming persecution of Christians and suppression of overt evangelistic activity, more than 1,000 churches have started in the past five years. Another 500-800 new churches are anticipated this year.
The secret, Jackson said, has been obedience to the strategy modeled by Christ himself as he established his church.
“I asked God to give me five people I could pour my life into, and as I trained them they went out and trained others,” Jackson said, adding that he has never worked with more than five people at any one time and has limited his work to training leaders.
“It’s just a commitment that the secret to church planting is discipleship,” he said. “We disciple people to be church planters — not (just) to be good Christians, but to be obedient to Christ in the area of living out lives as church planters.”
Jackson, a missions strategist for the International Mission Board, shared details of his work during “Jericho: A Missions Festival to Change Your World,” July 24-27 at Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center. As one of many IMB personnel working among “Last Frontier” people groups where the gospel is suppressed, his name has been changed and the exact location withheld to protect the work and the national Christians.
The churches on Jackson’s field confront a culture that rejected Christianity entirely after gaining independence from a colonial government. Because of that history, Christians are hated — and often killed by extremists of dominant religions. More than 250 Christians, including eight pastors, have been murdered for their faith in the past six years, he said. Twenty-five were massacred at a recent Christian wedding.
“When someone says, ‘I am going to become a Christian and follow Christ alone,’ they know it means that they could face a death sentence, because there are those who have made it their life to kill Christians,” said Jackson. “But every time we have a martyr, we have a new church.”
Soon after his arrival, Jackson said God helped him identify the five key leaders who were to start that explosion of growth. His strategy was for intense training, requiring an intense commitment.
“My process with them was, ‘I will train you, then your responsibility is to teach others. If you do not teach others, I will not teach you any more.’ And that was from lesson to lesson,” Jackson said. Each time he met with them, he would ask them to teach him the previous lesson.
“And if they could not teach it to me, I said, ‘Well, it looks like you haven’t been teaching this. Let me review it with you, but two strikes and you’re out. I cannot waste my time with people who will not teach what they’re being taught.’ And that whole process has mushroomed from the six of us to more than 700 full-time workers.”
The principle of reproduction also is ingrained in every new church, he said.
“The primary purpose of the church is to worship Christ, but that worship is involved in replicating themselves over and over again as quickly as possible,” he said. “And you’re not seen as a good church if you’re not starting other churches. The definition of a good church is not in how big they are, but in how many new churches they start.”
To avoid the negative baggage of the colonial Christian influence, the new churches were based only on the New Testament. All other models were rejected.
“We don’t call ourselves Christians,” he said. “We refer to ourselves as devotees of Christ. … We don’t use those traditional churchy words that we are all comfortable with.” Even the music, he said, is original. Nothing is translated from other Christian cultures.
The main thing taught is “our responsibility is to be obedient to Christ,” he said. “And the only question you have to ask your self is, ‘In this situation and in this circumstance, how must I be obedient to Christ?’ And out of that we let our churches grow and go.” The churches also are a shining example of how God can use even the illiterate to do great things, Jackson said, including one 72-year-old man who is their leading church planter.
“He’s been a Christian for two years, and he’s started 46 churches,” Jackson said. “Reading and writing is not a condition for being obedient to Christ.”
The churches currently operate 10 training centers, each adapting to its area, Jackson said. Where people live in apartments, training centers operate out of apartments. Where they live in grass huts, training is done out of huts. And because of the constant threat of persecution, they dare not leave a center in any one place for more than two years. That also works to the benefit of church starters, because new congregations tend to cluster around each center’s location.
About 169 Christian organizations have been enlisted to network with the churches, he said, offering assistance with special conferences and other support.
Although the growth has been staggering, so is the overall objective. “We still have 172,000 villages that do not have a single Christian,” he said. “And in order to reach 172,000 villages in 20 years — that’s our goal — we’ve got to plant 10,000 churches per year over the next 17 years.”
That work now will be led almost entirely by national Christians. Although other IMB personnel recently have been assigned to the area, Jackson said he soon will relinquish his leadership role to one of his earlier disciples. His efforts now are shifting toward implementing a similar process in other areas of the world where challenges are just as great.
In order to reach all people with the gospel in our lifetime, he said, “We must be at heart first and foremost planters of the church of Jesus Christ.”

    About the Author

  • James Dotson