More than 350 delegates, representing every continent of the world, recently came together for Ethne ‘06 to celebrate progress, assess status and accelerate efforts to reach the least-reached peoples of the world. Most global conferences draw people from all over the world and organize themselves around tracks that appeal to a broad cross-section of workers. Ethne ’06, on the other hand, focused only on unreached peoples.
The movement to reach unreached peoples received its most recent shot of energy in the late 1980s and 1990s, when the AD 2000 & Beyond Movement popularized the term “10/40 Window” and initiated campaigns on its behalf. These campaigns included prayer initiatives like “Praying through the Window,” prayerwalks like “Joshua Project” and various research projects.
As 2000 loomed close, many mission leaders and workers grew uncertain about the future of unreached people group ministry. When it was formed, the AD 2000 & Beyond Movement had committed itself to closing in the year 2000. Still, the movement had created a lot of energy. What would happen when it shut its doors? Who would lead this movement to reach unreached people groups?
One of the first groups to step into the gap was the Great Commission Roundtable (GCR), which was formed as an attempt to cross the communication gap between the three large organizations in the group: AD 2000, the Lausanne movement and the World Evangelical Fellowship. This group focused on the “facts” of the unreached people movement: nearly two billion people still have little chance of hearing about Jesus, the Church sends only four thousand of its 300,000 missionaries to unreached people groups and Christians provide only 1.2% of mission funding for this purpose.
The Great Commission Roundtable began in March 1999 when ninety men and women from many of the world’s evangelical movements and networks came together in Hurdal, Norway to create a new cooperative vehicle for world evangelization. There was a time of repentance and reconciliation, followed by a decision that a new global forum or “network of networks” should indeed be formed. This network became the GCR.
In 2001 a GCR consultation held in Malaysia included a track for those working among unreached peoples. Participants felt global conferences were good but those ministering to unreached peoples needed a consultation area where they could focus on their area of ministry. The unreached people group (UPG) track issued a formal recommendation to have continuing “UPG-focused” discussions. On the last day, a number of people gathered to discuss how to carry this idea forward.
The implementation of this idea took shape at Singapore ‘02. More than two hundred people attended tracks and workshops and networked with others of similar interests. Out of this came three global options or “calls”: (1) a call for secure communication, (2) a reiterated call for ongoing gatherings and (3) a call for a global network of mission agencies that would focus on networking or partnering mission-focused entities at a global level. Sealink, a network of ministries focused on the unreached peoples of Southeast Asia, volunteered to convene a global committee to “foster the process of building a worldwide unreached peoples network.”
Since 2004 a number of planning meetings have evolved into a global network of regional leaders who have helped to push forward work among unreached peoples. Ethne was made up of a rotating steering committee; the core for Ethne ’06 was Sealink and focused on Southeast Asia. For the next Ethne meeting, the core could be from India, Africa or Latin America.
Uniqueness of Ethne Gatherings
Ethne is highly relational; most people find out about it by word of mouth. It is also a network. If someone makes a suggestion, members of the movement will often say, “That’s a great idea—how about you doing it?” Ethne is a low-resource environment and consists of a global network with no single corporate entity behind it, and no staff or funds for major projects. Even receiving contributions to subsidize some attendees is an interesting logistical hurdle; gifts must flow through various organizations related to the conference rather than through a single point.
Despite these challenges and logistics, Ethne ’06 participants gathered for a successful week of strategizing and networking in an unreached area of Southeast Asia. They heard reports from Latin America, the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, West and Central Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia. While celebrating progress, delegates were sobered by the reality of the world’s least-reached. Roughly a quarter of the world had no access to the gospel twenty years ago. This number has risen to twenty-eight percent. Meanwhile in 1900 one-third of the world professed to be Christian, a number which has not changed more than one hundred years later.
Delegates spent time during plenary sessions praying for the regions and then broke into four strategy tracks dealing with global issues: Harvest Linked Prayer Strategy, UPG Workers, Crisis Response and Holistic Gospel Movements. Participants spent nine hours discussing core issues, developing action plans and identifying people to carry these plans forward. During the last two days, smaller workshops and seminars were held on topics such as mobilization, resources, communication, member care and research. The Ethne resource room had many books in a variety of languages. (Note: A catalog of resources will be available on the Ethne website in the future.)
On the final evening, the delegates gathered for worship and heard reports from members of each track. Representatives from each of twelve regions served communion to the delegates. This was followed by a candle lighting ceremony. With many prayers and tears, the delegates closed the meeting, renewed in their passion to reach the least-reached.
Tentative plans are being made for another Ethne meeting. In the meantime, we pray that the momentum from Ethne ’06 will help leaders worldwide accelerate new initiatives for mobilizing prayer, workers and projects among the least-reached peoples of the world. When believers come together for the next “family gathering,” we hope that the number of least-reached peoples will be significantly smaller as a result.