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Mapping the darkness for the mission of light
Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor
May 19, 2014

Mapping the darkness for the mission of light

Mapping the darkness for the mission of light
Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor
May 19, 2014

A.W. Milne was a “one-way missionary.” This early 19th century Christian and his wife, Rachel, packed up a few belongings – not in suitcases but in coffins. Hence, “one-way missionary.”

The Milnes sailed to New Hebrides in the South Pacific where they would live 35 years with indigenous people and also die there. Like any missionary, their goal was to share the love of Christ and to offer the gospel of light in the midst of a dark world.

As a 21st century missionary in Guinea, West Africa, Keelan Cook, assistant to associate directors of North American and international missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), was visited by a church from Virginia that came every year to do mission work among the Susu people.

Cook said, “One night by the fire, I asked a question, ‘So, there are about 10 people here, and about how much did it cost to get all of you here?’ They said somewhere between $25,000-$30,000.

“And I replied, ‘Do you realize that if you wanted to work with the Susu people, you could’ve put the same volunteers in a 15-passenger van, driven 35-40 minutes to Washington, D.C., and worked with them there with a much smaller budget?”

Cook shared that this conversation was a great paradigm shift for his visitors, and because of this experience, the church is now looking for and interacting with Susu peoples in D.C.


BR photo by Michael McEwen

Keelan Cook, assistant to associate directors of North American and international missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is working to map lost people groups in North Carolina and beyond.

Noting the fact that America has always been a melting pot of cultures, Cook said there has been a great shift in the past 20-25 years.

“A number of factors are in play concerning a massive explosion of a plurality of cultures, languages and people groups in American cities. Because of this shift in urban centers, it has fundamentally impacted the way we will church plant in those centers,” he said.

The burden to reach international peoples from within American borders is also a passion of Mike Dodson.

Dodson, assistant professor of church planting and evangelism and associate director of North American church planting for the Center for Great Commission studies at SEBTS, was invited three years ago to a meeting with North American urban strategists hosted by the International Mission Board (IMB).

“One of the conversations brought up [at this meeting] was that people group research is significant internationally, but on the North American side … the research was a ‘black hole.’ … My immediate thought was, ‘It doesn’t have to be that way,’” said Dodson.

In response, he has piloted a program at Southeastern called, “The Peoples Next Door: Mapping and Engaging People Groups in North America” (PND).

This program utilizes what is called, “Narrative Mapping.” Teams spread out across America’s urban centers to interact with local businesses, shops and everyday citizens to generate a “map” of both a city’s places and its people. In looking for districts or landmarks in an area, teams naturally build relationships with people by asking simple questions about a person’s life.

From these encounters, a team creates “points of interest.” These are places connected to a specific people group that build a foundation of what becomes a people group map. Also a part of this “Narrative Mapping” process is “points of engagement.” These are neighborhoods, communities and apartment complexes where a cluster of international peoples live.

The goal for PND is to move from “points of interest” to “points of engagement,” where deeper relationships with a people group are made for the purposes of gospel proclamation, Bible studies and ultimately, church planting.

Caleb Bridges*, an independent ethno-demographic researcher for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), is helping map the areas of Raleigh-Durham, Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem and Charlotte. He works with associational and strategy coordinator leaders in those particular areas. The information Bridges collects is uploaded to peoplegroups.info, which is a joint project of the North American Mission Board and IMB of the Southern Baptist Convention.

A similar mapping project was piloted in 2013 called “The North Carolina Metropolitan Areas People Identification Project” (NCMapID). This is a partnership among the Metrolina and Piedmont Baptist associations and the BSC.

NCMapID volunteers will talk with people in these metropolitan areas to try to learn who they are and where they are from. Information is then collected and entered into a database.

When the project is completed around December 2015, local churches will be able to access the people group data. The goal is to take this data and create an effective model that can be used in the other six North Carolina metropolitan areas.

“We are trying to locate where international people groups are and then attempting to mobilize local churches to begin church planting amongst these internationals,” said Bridges.

The 2010 U.S. Census reported that 74.79 percent (7.1 million) of North Carolinians live in the eight metropolitan areas of the state with 77.82 percent (1.7 million) of non-Anglo North Carolinians living in these eight areas.

Acknowledging these large numbers in need of engagement, Bridges said he is in need of “outward-focused churches rooted in the Word of God and are willing to sacrifice themselves for the Great Commission. We also want churches that are thinking long-term and not short-term. … We don’t necessarily need … professional missionaries.

“We just need believers who know the gospel and want to share it.”

Cook said mission-sending agencies such as NAMB and IMB and institutions like SEBTS are great for equipping individuals, “but … God gave the Great Commission to the local church.”

He also added that any church could do this mapping project. “It’s reproducible,” Cook said. “If you have churches in an area that care about who these people are, they can engage them with the gospel. Churches are in a position to develop real relationships through mapping that allows them to move seamlessly into church planting work.”

Legend has it that when A.W. Milne died, the villagers buried him and inscribed these words on his tombstone: “When he came there was no light. When he left there was no darkness.”

Southeastern’s “The Peoples Next Door” and the BSC’s NCMapID programs are more than tools for describing where international peoples work and live. They’re tools designed to map the darkness for the mission of light.

To learn more information or for upcoming trainings in Southeastern’s “People’s Next Door” project, email [email protected]. Also, for more information about the NCMapID project, email [email protected] or call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5654.

*Name Changed