When Serge missionary James Taber* first moved with his family to a remote area of South Asia six years ago, he didn’t know a single local who was a Christian. There were no churches in any of the 500 small villages in the region.
Taber and his wife opened a medical clinic in the area. Every morning, hundreds of people showed up to the clinic. Taber and his staff would help meet their physical needs, but he was always aware of their deeper spiritual needs.
“I love to see medicine used to heal people,” he says, “but I also love to see medicine used as a venue to open up doors wide so people can hear what they really need, which is the gospel.”
In an area where the government makes it difficult to openly evangelize, the clinic serves as an “incubation point” for telling people about Jesus. In the last two years, the Tabers have helped start five evangelism teams made up of locals who have come to Christ. These teams have planted 70 house churches in about 50 different villages in the area. The Tabers have a vision to see a house fellowship start in each of the 500 villages in the region.
Taber stresses that there are incredible opportunities for spreading the gospel all across Asia, not only where he is working.
“I really believe that South Asia is the next location where God is going to bring large-scale revival in the world,” he says. “If you’re wanting to do ministry in a place where God is really active, [South Asia] is the place right now to be.”
Serge has had ties to Asia since the 1990s—from working with the South Asian immigrants in Europe to partnering with other organizations to provide training and resources to Asian pastors. In fact, Serge has had a significant role in equipping one of the largest church planting networks in Japan.
But the marked growth of Serge’s on-the-ground presence there is more recent.
Josiah Bancroft, Serge’s Director of Mission, says that Serge wasn’t actively seeking to send teams to all the places they’ve ended up in Asia. But as partnerships grew and couples and individuals approached Serge asking about going, it became clear that God was opening doors.
“We assume God leads and guides us as much through relationships as through our strategy,” Bancroft says. “We think it’s important to have things we’re praying toward and working toward organizationally, but always stay open to the things He gives us.”
As Serge seeks to reach, renew, and restore the least and the lost, the mission agency is aiming to expand mission work in Asia.
“Part of how Serge operates is that we really do try to keep an open hand to see where God is working in the world,” says Patric Knaak, Serge’s Area Director for Renewal. “Asia figures prominently in the next 50 to 100 years of Christianity.”
In some areas of Asia, Christianity is expanding rapidly. Experts estimate that Asia’s Christian population will grow by 100 million in the next decade, and China is on track to have more churchgoers than the U.S. by 2030
However, Asia is also home to almost half of the world’s unreached people groups. According to the Joshua Project, there are more than 3,800 unreached people groups in South and Southeast Asia, comprising nearly two billion people who have never heard about Jesus.
This means that mission work in Asia must be tailored to the needs of each individual area. Currently, Serge has workers in four Asian countries and all have been sent over the past five years. These individuals and teams are working in different ways to bring the message of the gospel to the unreached, the persecuted, and the under-resourced.
Resourcing Gospel-Rooted Churches
Matt Allison, Serge’s Mobilization Director, says that countries such as Japan and China don’t necessarily need Western organizations to come in and plant more churches. Rather, organizations should seek to work alongside local leaders, who often need resources and training.
In the Philippines, Serge’s team has partnered with a local college to facilitate theological training and church growth. Serge recently fielded the first long-term missionary couple in Japan to assist with discipleship and church planting efforts.
“It’s about, ‘How can we bring the gospel of grace into things that are already happening in a way that sustains people, brings people to love well and really live out the life of Christ in a true way?’” Allison says.
Bancroft points out that in these regions and others, Serge’s goal is to equip church leaders to build churches rooted in the gospel.
“Our ability to talk about how the Christian life works from the heart out, and how grace affects every area of the believer’s life has been a unique offering we can take to the church in Asia,” he says.
Reaching People Where They Are
In many regions in Asia, such as where the Tabers work, people can’t openly enter the country as missionaries. In these areas, Serge teams are engaged in business, medicine, and education as avenues to serve communities and share the message of the gospel.
Dan Sheppard* leads one of Serge’s “business for transformation” teams in a large city in South Asia. A few years ago, Sheppard opened a Freedom Bakery and started hiring women who were coming out of the city’s red light district to work in the kitchen.
“A lot of the population we’re reaching now aren’t going to set foot in a church,” Sheppard says. “So meeting them in the workplaces is a pretty amazing thing. I’m around these people 40 hours a week. I know their families. I know everything that’s going on in their lives. We’re doing real life together.”
Sheppard emphasizes that as more Asian countries close the door to missionaries, those who have a heart for Asia have to get creative about finding other avenues to reach people.
“Meeting a felt need in a community is a powerful way to do that,” Sheppard says. “And it gives you credibility to share the gospel in a way that feels genuine.
The Harvest Is Plentiful, the Workers Are Few
As Serge’s partnerships and teams create more opportunities for mission work in Asia, Serge is looking for individuals and couples who are willing to go. Allison says there are short and long-term opportunities in Japan and other areas of East Asia.
“Anyone who has a heart for discipleship, who wants to see a deepening and enriching of the underground church and is willing to commit to something long-term, we want to have a conversation with them,” he says.
Serge also wants to expand business for transformation work in both open and closed countries. And, as Serge’s teams in Asia grow, Allison says there’s a need for overall leadership for the teams in the area.
“Probably our deepest need as organization—beyond workers in general—is someone who has experience working in East Asia who loves the values Serge represents, and who wants his or her contribution over the next 10 years to be leading and caring for Serge workers as more and more go to this part of the world,” he says.
Bancroft says the hope is to see people come to Christ, to see the church revived, and to see national leaders take their place in reaching local people. He wants Serge teams to respond to the open doors God is providing.
“God has given us an outsized influence in spite of being small,” he says. “What I want to do is be faithful to follow Him in the hard places of the world.”
For his part, Taber says that anyone who feels called to vocational ministry should first consider international mission work. The job of evangelism is often more easily done by local people, he says, but in areas with large numbers of unreached people groups, there simply aren’t yet locals to do it.
“We have a huge task before us just in proclaiming the glory of God to people who have never heard it before,” he says. “The blessing that God has given us is not something for us to hoard. But the blessing that God has given us is one that we are then to give to the nations.”
*names changed for staff security
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