Southern Baptists call for missions to endangered indigenous tribes
On August 16, 2011 At 7:30 am
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Following news that a remote indigenous tribe unreached by the Gospel, in the Brazilian Amazon region, might have been wiped out after an assault by drug traffickers, the Southern Baptist mission has renewed its urgency for evangelizing missions among indigenous peoples it terms UUPGS, that is, unengaged, unreached people groups.
The report by the International Missions Board of Southern Baptist Convention was with emphasis on the American continent which it estimates has roughly about 300 "UUPGS," with some of the groups as small as five individuals and others up to thousands. The International Missions Board (IMB) estimates that there are about 50 to 70 of such groups in the Amazon basin alone, and a statement by Terry Lassiter in charge of IMB strategy for evangelizing American peoples bemoans the misfortune of tribal groups that were not reached by the Gospel before they were exterminated. According to Terry Lassiter, tribal peoples who were exterminated before they were reached by the gospel represent a "new level of darkness" which "should break the hearts of any Christian" because if the gospel does not reach a group before it is exterminated they are lost forever and "don't have the hope of salvation."
According to Lassiter:
…That's really sad when you think that 2,000 years after the Great Commission we have people groups that don't have the Gospel and haven't even been contacted by the outside world. This is a whole new level of darkness. It breaks my heart and should break the hearts of any Christians to know that there are peoples like this that may have been exterminated — and they don't have the hope of salvation
The Southern Baptist mission, however, faces very daunting obstacles in the urgent mission to bring "eternal salvation" to indigenous people in "darkness" before they go extinct. Many of these groups, who, according to Terry Lassiter, are in "the darkness of the evil one for their entire existence," live in very remote locations far from roads, electricity, clean water and health care. Reaching some of these isolated groups may take several days journey and even longer because some of the tribes are nomadic and roam over a large area of government-protected reservations. There is also the barrier of language. According to Ryan Goodman an IMB missionary, there are at least 25 distinct languages in the area where he works. But most daunting of all the challenges to the missionaries are the spiritual problems they face in convincing people who are in the "darkness of the evil one all their lives" to see and embrace the new light of "eternal salvation" being graciously offered them. Lassiter says:
From a human standpoint, the physical barriers seem very tough, but we know God has given us a Great Commission to go to all nations. It is the spiritual battle that has to be won first, and that begins through prayer and seeking the Lord in how to reach these people.
The Brazilian government also presents daunting barrier of access to indigenous "UUPGS." Brazilian law prohibits access to some of the "UUPGS" by evangelizers whose primary goal is to provide them with "eternal salvation" before they go extinct.
While it is hoped that the authorities will provide access to endangered indigenous tribal groups by genuine organizations concerned with the more urgent need of protection of their rights and survival as people with valid indigenous cultures of their own, it is very questionable, indeed, that it is desirable to allow unrestricted access to endangered indigenous groups by evangelical organizations whose shocking profusion of insultingly derisive, pejorative, and blatantly ethno-racist language in describing the spiritual conditions of indigenous peoples reveals their utter disdain and lack of concern for the survival of their endangered cultures.
The rights of endangered indigenous peoples include respect for their secular and religious worldviews and providing them protection from groups who think that their way of life represents a "whole new level of darkness." Evangelizers who go to an endangered culture with such chauvinistic and patronizingly condescending ethno-racist pre-conception as that "these are peoples that have been in the (spiritual )darkness of the evil one for their entire existence," and that they need the Christian evangelist to bring out of a "whole new level of darkness" (being people who, otherwise, "don't have hope of salvation,") cannot be trusted to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.