I learned a few days ago that an American missionary attempted to get into an isolated country off the coast of India to preach the gospel to a previously unreached people group. Sounds good right? Well, not so much. You see the people group in question had been isolated for a reason. The government of India forbade anyone from approaching the island because its inhabitants kill any intruders on sight. Very little is known about this group, but everyone else knows enough to stay away from them. However, our aspiring missionary friend felt called by God to bring the gospel to this off-limits piece of God’s real estate. I cannot fault him for this. I also cannot fault him for his use of illegal transport (via local fishermen) to get to the island. The gospel call is to preach the gospel to every creature. And there are examples of similar situations in the past (Jim Elliot), where the gospel had been brought to indigenous hostile peoples and made a huge difference in the people and its culture. Jim Elliot died bringing the gospel to the people he felt called to. His son befriended the man who killed him. See the Point of the Spear.
It would be easy to say “These are just a bunch of savages, just leave them alone.” They do represent a unique people group, and as some suggest, they possess a completely unknown language, so it would take some serious effort even to be able to say, “Hello!” Because of this, experts claim that the people ought to be left alone because if anyone interfered with them we would be destroying a unique culture with Western values, and we’ve already done that with so many other indigenous cultures. This is an argument from moral equivalence. The way they do things is just as good as any other culture’s way of doing things. Just leave them alone. Funny I don’t hear that kind of condescension taking place with the anti-vaxxers.
We may not know much about their culture, but we do know this: they murder outsiders. Anyone who is not from their small community is sentenced to death upon contact. Whether this institutional or cultural, we have no way of knowing, that is to say, whether their chief has commanded all outsiders killed or it is in their culture to kill all outsiders, it makes little difference. Murder is the worst crime you can commit upon another person, and it is their chief point of contact. Do you really think they’ve got a handle on things? Are they morally equivalent? It would be one things if they made it very clear that outsiders are not welcome and threatened this with the point of a spear. It is another to simply kill all visitors on sight.
We also know that these people aren’t savages. They aren’t evolved from apes. They are human beings. As such, they are born with the same moral law as everyone else. Killing another human being is a violation of natural law. It is usually only superseded by 1) institutional directive, or 2) personal sin. You are either ordered to kill by a government or led to murder by personal sin. I am led to believe that their directive to kill is more institutional rather than personal. If they personally wanted to kill other human beings, they would have wiped each other out by now. So they probably have a cultural affinity to protect their culture from outside influence.
And that’s what this young man saw in them, morally liable human beings who need a Savior from their sin. If Jesus had not yet been preached there, then He needs to be, right? Does Jesus have a witness in that community? At this point, we have no way of knowing. But certainly some have felt the call of God to this particular island. Surely God has already spoken to some within that culture. Very likely they have a story of the creation of the world (as MANY other indigenous peoples have) that includes a Creator God, and maybe even a Savior? Could it be that the leaders of this island nation know this, and know that if a Savior is preached, they would lose their power? Could this explain why they shoot all outsiders on sight? Certainly, but we have no way of knowing. Do we have the right to know?
We have a command from Jesus to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every nation (people-group/ language/ ethnicity). This island of isolated people represent a nation that has not yet been reached. Thus, this is a people for whom Christ died and need to hear the gospel. Should we not send in the Marines, learn their language, and give them a choice?
This is a touchy subject for missiologists. Missions have traditionally been about transplanting western culture into indigenous populations, with the frequent result of that population becoming dependent on western generosity, with no real understanding about salvation and grace. Many say the words and attend the services because free food is available. Operation Christmas Child, which our church recently participated in, sends shoeboxes full of goodies for children, and accompanies it with a gospel presentation. Do the children listen and convert for the sake of the gifts or for the gospel? Western missions almost always associates gifts and gospel, and we don’t understand that indigenous cultures may not see them separate as we do. That’s why the same people convert to Catholicism, Pentecostalism, Baptist and Christian, because they are all offering gifts and building them churches. Whoever brings food gets the ears. And then those missions have to be maintained with western funds on a continual basis. Is that how Paul and Barnabas did it? If I read my Scriptures correctly, it was the peoples of the churches they founded that sent money back to Jerusalem, not the other way around.
So it seems to me that we ought to be going even into this island nation and learning about their culture. I could think of a few ex-military guys that I know in the church that would find this a challenging opportunity. There is a way to defend yourself without being aggressive. We have a base in Cuba after all. I would think this culture knows its island well enough that anything covert would be instantly spotted. So any approach would have to be made overtly, but well-defended. Such an approach would have to be well-funded and call for extreme dedication. But I think it would be do-able.
Let me put it this way. If Jesus will no return until every people-group has heard the gospel, is it at least as important to tell this people about Him as it is to build a Temple in Jerusalem?