Reaching Uncontacted Tribes

Kent Shaffer —  May 30, 2008

Uncontacted tribes still exist. It is hard to believe a group of people can exist for thousands of years without having contact with the outside world. But currently over 100 uncontacted tribes are scattered throughout the world.

Yesterday, new photos of an uncontacted tribe on the border of Peru and Brazil were published. When the tribe saw the airplane, they tried to shoot it with arrows. Unfortunately, contact with such tribes also brings them in contact with deadly diseases they have never known. Survival International reports many uncontacted tribes are fleeing their land as colonists, loggers, oil crews, and cattle ranchers come.

So how do we reach these uncontacted tribes with the gospel? It is not an easy question to answer, particularly when contact could expose them to diseases. Each tribe is unique. One missions organization that does well reaching people who have never heard the gospel is New Tribes Mission. If you want to see what evangelizing and discipling a remote tribe looks like, watch the following two videos about the Mouk tribe of Papua New Guinea.

Evangelizing the Mouk Tribe

Discipling the Mouk Tribe

For Discussion:
- How do you think these uncontacted and remote tribes can best be reached with the gospel?

[via Yahoo! News & The Daily Mail]

Kent Shaffer

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I live in an RV with my wife and 2 kids and work with OpenChurch.com to help Christians collaborate and build a global Church library of free, open content.

32 responses to Reaching Uncontacted Tribes

  1. I’ve never understood WHY they needed to be contacted in the first place?

    If they’ve survived this long as is why are we invading their sacred land, risking possible illnesses and struggle?

  2. @James

    From a Christian missions perspective, the point of contacting them would be to share the gospel message with them, so that they might have the opportunity to accept Christ’s gift of salvation.

  3. As a follower of Christ myself, and one who has become very disillusioned with what our supposedly “Christian” culture has become…

    HOW in the world can WE possibly judge ANYONE about whether or not they need OUR interpretation of Christ’s salvation?

    What have WE done with the grace of God? How many so-called “Christians” use their faith not to love others as He commanded, but instead to have power over them?

    How do we NOT know that these people have Christ already? MUST they call him “Jesus Christ”? Scripture tells us that even the rocks would cry out His name, if need be.

    It doesn’t matter if we call him “Jesus”. That’s not even the REAL pronunciation of His name anyway. If we want to be literal, we should be calling Him “Yeshua” in our prayers and services.

    For all we know, this Brazilian tribe is more “Christian” than most of the Christians of our modern world.

    Leave them alone. Let THEM choose on their own whether they want what we’re offering. Because truth be known, sometimes I don’t even know anymore if WE know what we’re offering, either.

  4. Dr. Larry Garman, Nazarene missionary doctor in Peru could answer that question.

    http://ext.nazarene.org/mpo/pb.exe?job=fp&rgn=NN&key=6530

  5. @Chris

    I disagree. I think Jesus was very clear in Mark 16:15 when he said, “Go and preach the good news to everyone in the world.”

    See:
    http://www.youversion.com/cev/Mark.16.15

  6. To preach the good news, we must first BELIEVE the good news.

    I wonder how many of us really do that…

    No wonder so many lost in this world see “Christians”, hoping to look at them and find something *different* than what this world offers, only to see them with the same fallen nature and lusts for power and material wealth.

    Can we honestly blame the lost of this world for not having faith in God, when they see too many of us not having faith in Him either?

    “For God so loved the world…” and would not will that any of His children be lost to Him. If He wants to reach these people – IF He has not done so already – He will provide that way. But I seriously believe that the rest of us should think LONG and hard and more importantly PRAY before we see this tribe and our eyes practically light up with opportunity.

    I’m already reading where some Christians want to be missionaries to this tribe, for the express purpose of making sure that “EVERY tribe” is reached so that Jesus can come again. See, that’s the COMPLETELY wrong motivation. It’s one that corrupts a lot of what we do as professed believers. It’s NOT the attitude of a missionary that I would want to send to these people.

    Like I said: we need to pray HARD before even considering going to try to contact them. And examine ourselves and WHY we want to do this. I know what scripture says… but how often throughout history have Christians taken scripture and twisted it to their own ends?

  7. @Chris

    I do agree with you that Christians need to pray hard before attempting to reach an uncontacted or remote tribe. I think it is important to feel “called” by God to do this kind of ministry, particularly when one might endanger a tribe with new diseases.

  8. I think it is best that these people receive the message of Christ in a way that doesn’t interfere with their unique culture. It would be a process that require a lot of thought, preparation, and prayer. This is the sort of thing that Wycliffe Bible Translators has been moderately successful with. Should we Westernize them, modernize them, change their language or customs? Never! We do have an obligation to give them the same opportunity that we’ve had to hear the gospel, though.

  9. I think it’s best that they be left alone. Humans are an egotistical bunch… why we feel the need to stick our nose in EVERYONES business is beyond me.

    Why not learn FROM these people instead of invading their sacred lands to “teach them a lesson”.

    I’ve never understood the need to make everyone think like we do. I’ve seen countless documentaries of missionaries invading a “lost” tribe, only to teach them of shame and sin and turn the culture of the tribe into nothing but a jungle version of our western culture.

    Obviously if they needed the help, they wouldn’t have lasted this long.

  10. @ James

    “I think it’s best that they be left alone.”

    So what? By what authority are you claiming that they should be left alone? That’s just your opinion.

    “Humans are an egotistical bunch… why we feel the need to stick our nose in EVERYONES business is beyond me.”

    And yet here you are, sticking your nose in our business. You must be egotistical. The lost tribes must be egotistical as well, since they are humans. Your use of the word “EVERYONES” is a logical fallacy since it is impossible to stick our nose in the business of every person on earth, not only in the present but also in the past and future. You’re painting with too broad a brush.

    “Why not learn FROM these people instead of invading their sacred lands to “teach them a lesson”.”

    Why are these lands sacred? What have these people got to teach us? If they teach us a lesson how is that any different from us teaching them a lesson?

    “I’ve never understood the need to make everyone think like we do.”

    Christians do not think like you do. The conflicting comments in this blog make that evident. You may feel the need to make others think like you do, as is evident from your comments, but you can’t speak for others.

    “I’ve seen countless documentaries of missionaries invading a “lost” tribe, only to teach them of shame and sin and turn the culture of the tribe into nothing but a jungle version of our western culture.”

    Countless? I doubt it.
    Invading? Wow, how objective.
    Guess what James? You’re a sinner. I’m a sinner. Everyone of those lost tribesmen are sinners. We’ve all offended an infinitely righteous God. If fact, we’re so ignorant in our sinfulness that we deny that we are sinful. That puts you in danger. You’re in danger of suffering eternal conscious torment under the just wrath of God because of your sin. That’s bad news. The good news is that God has provided a way out. That way is Jesus and he is the only way out. Repent of your sin and believe in Jesus and you will be saved.

    “Obviously if they needed the help, they wouldn’t have lasted this long.”

    The missionary’s goal is not about helping people live a long time on earth. Everyone dies. You will die. It’s inevitable. The missionary’s goal is about helping people live forever in heaven.

    Sincerely,
    Andrew

  11. I forgot, fighting with the righteous is a losing battle as it is they who have all the answers.

    How would you feel if you woke up to see a strange looking person, completely foreign to you and your people. Through your contact with these foreign people, they try every way possible to convert you from your beliefs, which you believe to be the ultimate truth… to theirs, which THEY believe to be the ultimate truth.

    I’m not saying that your beliefs are incorrect, but how do you know they’re THE beliefs (outside of raw faith)?

    What makes their beliefs less worthy to them than yours? What if they were Buddhists? Or Muslims… does that make them any more or less worthy of being “saved” by a Christian following?

    It’s an honest question.

  12. @James

    Good questions, James. It is a matter of faith.

    Ultimately, if someone is a-Bible believing Christian, he knows that Mark 16:15 says he should preach the gospel to the world. In other words, it is a Christian’s duty to tell people about the gospel. Tell not force. Trying to force someone to become a Christian is wrong because God gives each man the choice whether to accept the gospel or not.

    Most Christians do believe that their beliefs are THE beliefs because Jesus said in John 14:6 that He is the only way. This is why preaching the gospel is so important to sincere Christians.

    Unfortunately, there are some Christians who become overzealous, disillusioned, or off-track and consequently do bad things like the Inquisition, the Crusades, or being jerks. I am sorry about what those people did/do in the name of Christianity.

    I certainly do not have all the answers. But I believe the gospel message and what the Bible says, and I strive daily to become a better Christ follower.

    Again, great questions.

  13. where did these photos come from? are there more we can see?

  14. “I forgot, fighting with the righteous is a losing battle as it is they who have all the answers.”

    You’re right. It is a losing battle when you fight with the righteous because the righteous are led by the invincible God.

    “How would you feel if you woke up to see a strange looking person, completely foreign to you and your people. Through your contact with these foreign people, they try every way possible to convert you from your beliefs, which you believe to be the ultimate truth… to theirs, which THEY believe to be the ultimate truth.”

    How I feel is irrelevant. What is relevant is: Is the foundation of their beliefs able to stand up to an internal criticism? Is the first principle of the tribesmen able to answer life’s ultimate questions? What is real? What is true? What is good?

    “I’m not saying that your beliefs are incorrect, but how do you know they’re THE beliefs (outside of raw faith)?”

    The Bible is internally consistent and answers the ultimate questions. It is the Word of God.

    “What makes their beliefs less worthy to them than yours? What if they were Buddhists? Or Muslims… ”

    All non-Christian thought lacks a valid starting point. Any belief that stems from a non-valid starting point cannot be valid.

    “does that make them any more or less worthy of being “saved” by a Christian following?”

    All Christians start off as non-Christians. No one, and I mean no human being, past, present and future, is worthy of being saved. We all deserve eternal conscious torment because of the evil we have done, according to God’s good standard.

    People are only saved because God in his kindness chooses to save them.

    Sincerely,
    Andrew

  15. @Brian

    Click on “Yahoo! News” or “The Daily Mail” at the end of the article for more photos.

  16. leave them alone. from the recent reports these people are healthy and prosperous. doesn’t that mean they have God’s blessing? what more should we give them except their peace and our prayers?

  17. Andrew Wheatley June 4, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    @chuck

    “leave them alone. from the recent reports these people are healthy and prosperous. doesn’t that mean they have God’s blessing?”

    They may be receiving a temporal blessing, but not because there is any good in them. They are receiving God’s temporal blessing because God is a kind God. But a temporal blessing is useless if you end up in hell.

    Are you forgetting the commission Jesus gave to the disciples to preach to the whole world? That’s our commission too.

    “what more should we give them except their peace and our prayers?”

    The gospel. If no one goes, they won’t know it.

    Romans 10:14-15
    How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

  18. Oi! Didn’t like my comments, eh? Did you not have any good rebuttals to my points? I guess not.

  19. Andrew said: “The Bible is internally consistent… ”

    How interesting then that you (incorrectly, I might add) accused another poster of a logical fallacy, yet seem to miss any sort of logic in your above comment.

    I will repeat one of my now-deleted (thank you!) earlier comments: What about the differing creation accounts, or the two versions of the 10 commandments, or the four (!) accounts of the gospel? How is that “internally consistent”? I can point out even more inconsistencies if you like. That is unless the moderators of these comments aren’t too scared to (again!) delete them.

  20. @Ric

    I deleted your first comment because I thought your wording was too disrespectful to the Bible and God.

    I don’t have a problem if you think it is nonsense. That is your choice. And I do not mind people politely disagree and asking challenging questions. Ultimately, I deleted your previous comment because it crossed the line from polite debate to insulting what I believe is the Word of God.

    I usually don’t mind if someone is rude to me, but at least show the courtesy to respect what I view as sacred.

    With all that said, you ask some valid questions. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to write a response for each one. If you Google each topic and run through the first 20 results, you are likely to read every single perspective on each issue.

    Ultimately, it is a faith issue. People have been debating these things for 2,000 years. You either believe or you don’t.

  21. I think that using a tribe’s first contact with the outside world as an opportunity to teach them about nothing but the Bible gives them a very skewed image of reality.

    A person does not truly believe until he knows there are other options, other opinions, other ways. It is only in the choosing of Christianity as the right path amongst many options that true faith and belief exist.

    When a missionary comes in and spends months teaching them nothing but the Bible, of course they are going to make the choice to become Christian.

    But what happens down the road when they encounter the rest of the world, other cultures, other beliefs? What happens when they realize they weren’t given the whole story?

    A person who is taught that Christianity is the ONLY way will one day realize the truth. With that realization will come bitterness, a loss of trust, and a great deal of doubting and soul searching. For some, the betrayal will cause them to leave Christianity. For these reasons, I believe that aggressive evangelism may do more harm than good.

    I think that Christian educational materials should be available to anyone that requests them. I think that evangelicals have the right to market their religion. But I don’t think they have the right to go into the jungles and indoctrinate innocents who don’t have an appropriate frame of reference for making a decision for or against Christianity.

    I think its fine for missionaries to go out in the world, do good works, and be an example of Christ-like behavior. But I think that the style of evangelism shown in these videos displays poor judgment and a lack of respect for these tribesmen.

  22. @Everyone

    Good discussion for the most part. If you want to debate, show respect for the other person. Do not be antagonizing, particularly if you represent the Christian side of the issue.

    I’ve deleted two comments, one from each perspective, because they pushed the line from debating to attacking. This hijacks the comment thread into an exchange of angry words.

    I want to hear your thoughts, but don’t be a jerk. Be kind.

  23. @Tia

    I really enjoy hearing your perspective.

    Quite often missionaries do try to teach remote tribes about the outside world. However, telling the tribe about the gospel is their primary purpose.

    Technically, most of these tribes already have another option(s). For instance, the Mouk tribe from Papua New Guinea had their own tribal religion. And tribes may discover other religious beliefs through contact with other tribes.

    I think it is inevitable that anyone in the “civilized” world is going to encounter a variety of religious perspectives. Not only would it be going against a Christian missionary’s purpose to also educate a tribe about other major religious, but I also think it would be extremely confusing to take in all of that information at once. After all, the missionaries to the Mouk tribe needed several months just to give adequate teaching about the Bible so that the Mouk tribe could be sufficiently educated enough to choose between Christianity and their ancestral religion.

    Many people who accept Christianity but later hear about other religions do not stop having faith in the gospel. Of course, there are some who do.

    Every story that I have heard about missionaries witnessing to a remote tribe shows that the missionaries had immense respect for the tribal people. In many cases, the only way to effectively be a missionary to become an active member of the tribal community. You respect them. They respect you.

    That’s all the time I have to share thoughts at the moment.

  24. Entering into a remote community, regardless of the directive to spread the word, is historically dangerous to the peoples. There is NO recorded effort that such contact hasn’t resulted in the loss of culteral traditions, health, and destruction of the original community. Bringing the gospel to Indidginous people forces culteral assimilation at a much faster pace than would naturely evolve. It is normal for people to be curious and wanton of new things. Unfortuantly, when we enter these communities we can’t resist bringing clothes, toys, food, knowledge, etc….because we’re so nice.(as evidenced by one of you videos). We hasten the introduction of the modern world….a distructive process, at best. Knowing this….via historical evidence…and being compelled to continue, anyway, is disrespectful….which is contrary to what Jesus advises. God granted us with the ability to reason and make decent choices. Making the choice to aknowledge history, even if you personally aren’t one of the “over-zealous/disillusioned/off-track” ones who does bad things, is respectful. If we are willing to don our birthday suits and enter these communities without vaccinations, cameras, our own food, opinions, etc., the issue could be debated.

  25. I am so surprised that there are such groups like this that will take the time and expense to find and convert an uncontacted tribe. I find it destructive and cheating. There are many places in the world to go and preach, but why uncontacted tribes? Who are they offending and bothering. We could probably learn more from them than the reverse. Seems likes it is an easy catch as most tribes are probably fearful of white men and see them as gods, especially when you are bringing them all these great gifts and pushing your beliefs. They clearly do not need our help as they have sustained their culture for who knows how long.

    Why not try your hand in the prisons? Too hard for you? I’m sure God didn’t intend for your group to go out and potentially kill a whole tribe just to meet a biblical obligation. Hmmm, teach them about salvation, disease them so they die and then they will go to heaven – great plan guys! I say leave them alone – go to China, India and other places where they have strong beliefs and try your luck there, instead of a tribe that likely does not know any other way.

    And Andrew, don’t bother replying. I hear people talk about meaningful debate, yet all you do is hang on every little word and dissect each little sentence with your overly obnoxious religious views and disruptive comments instead of appreciating an alternate view. In all likiness, this post will be deleted since I sense a bit of censorship here to moderate a tone consistent with this groups beliefs and agenda. I have no problem with spreading the word, but at some point common sense should prevail. I am shocked and dismayed.

  26. @Surprised

    FYI:
    Very, very, very, very few Christians feel “called” and try to preach to these tribes. But there are quite a few that minister in China. And there are significantly more who do prison ministry.

    Christians already are focusing on China, India, prisons, etc. The reason why some try to evangelize remote tribes is because there are no other Christians doing it.

    People criticize Christians when they are “hypocritical” and don’t do what the Bible says, but this is a case where people are criticizing Christians for following Christ’s mandate to preach the gospel to ALL people.

    If you do not believe that the Bible is true, it is understandable that this might bother you. I certainly do not intend to shock, dismay, or offend you.

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