Why are the unreached unreached? Part of the reason is that they are often hidden, buried in the spider-web fractures between the world’s majority cultures and languages. They are concealed in stone-age tribes within a day’s journey of great Asian cities, walled out by granite prejudice. They are hidden in plain sight in modern Europe, adrift on rafts of secularism and empty ritual. But, of all the camouflage hiding the unreached, the most subtle is often supplied by well-meaning Christian missionaries—the deceptive appearance of being reached.
Even a failed mission can appear successful for a time. When you throw Western Christianity at another culture, it often sticks quite readily to the surface, as pretty and thin as the finest patina. It is possible to dip an unconverted animist, Buddhist, or secular heart in a glaze of doctrine and lifestyle, even in the waters of baptism, and draw out a lovely vessel—lovely until it falls to pieces in the firing.
This is why integrity is so important to AFM missionaries. In their work to reach the unreached, they pursue depth over speed. Before even beginning their evangelism, they spend great amounts of time and energy studying the hearts of their people, scrutinizing nuances of culture and language and documenting their findings in cultural studies so they can truly know and truly reach hearts across cultural divides. Then they pursue their ministry for years, discipling people far beyond conversion to help them develop a fully surrendered walk with Christ and a new, unique biblical culture in the heart their non-Christian society.
Forgoing this crucial work risks making skin-deep Christians of the unreached—the ultimate camouflage, the ultimate tragedy.