More than 1.3 billion people — one-fifth of the world’s population — live in Northern Asia, and statisticians estimate this number will increase to 1.4 billion within the next few years. While the region often evokes images of tranquil rice fields, it also includes nearly 200 cities with populations topping 1 million. Its economy is growing rapidly, rivaling that of Europe and the Americas. Advances in communications systems in recent years have generated nearly 140 million Internet users.
A spiritual advancement is also taking place as the region experiences one of the great revivals of history. By the early 1950’s, many questioned the future of the church in Northern Asia, but it has emerged strong and vibrant. Some experts estimate that tens of thousands of people accept Christ every day and that the growing church now exceeds 100 million believers — an increase from less than 1 million 60 years ago. Most of the growth has occurred in the past 30 years.
Christianity was introduced in Northern Asia during the seventh century, but some evidence indicates that Christian concepts may have made their way to the region as early as the second century.
Protestant missionaries first arrived in 1807, and 100 years later — soon after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Azusa Street — A.G. and Lillian Garr came to share the Pentecostal message. Within six months, 200 people had been baptized in the Holy Spirit.
W.W. Simpson arrived in the region in 1892 and was baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1912 while on the field. He joined the Assemblies of God three years later. By the time he retired in 1949, he had ministered in every area of Northern Asia except the seven southern provinces. His son, W.E. Simpson, was martyred in 1932 while serving as a missionary in the northwest border areas.
Soon after the turn of the 20th century, Nettie Nichols began a ministry to homeless girls. Eventually, she built a home and chapel to accommodate her growing orphanage family. With the help of two other missionaries, she built Bethel Bible School in 1932.
In 1927, Victor Plymire, another early pioneer, buried a wife and child in an unreached corner of Northern Asia. The family had faced numerous hardships before Plymire finally baptized his first convert in 1924, after 16 years of faithful ministry.
Marie Stephany began her missionary service in 1916. She reached out with compassion to both abandoned children and adult opium addicts and planted churches, including one that grew to 1,000 members. Some of the orphans in her care became pastors and evangelists.
Since the Assemblies of God began in 1914, more than 400 missionaries have served the Northern Asia region. Through the years, they played significant roles in the growth of the church through evangelism, church planting, discipleship, Bible schools and compassion ministries. Revivals with signs and wonders swept parts of the region. This spiritual awakening is probably best described by one new believer who said that his sister’s healing and Spirit infilling convinced him that “there is a true and living God.”
UNREACHED PEOPLE GROUPS
Northern Asia’s nearly 500 distinct people groups reside in crowded metropolitan areas as well as in remote mountain villages. A number of ethnic minorities have been very receptive to the gospel, but many others have far less than 1 percent who claim to know Christ. Significant numbers are without a single church or known believer. Officially, the region is nonreligious or atheist, but many people practice forms of animism, Taoism, Buddhism and Shamanism. The 300,000 Naxis of the southwest, one of the region’s official minorities, are predominantly animists, with only about 200 claiming to be Christians.
One of the least-reached people groups is the Yi in the southern areas. They number nearly 7.8 million and include 120 distinct tribes and subgroups with numerous languages and dialects. Most are animists who strive to appease spirits and live in fear of demons.
About 9 million Miao live throughout the region and speak as many as 40 distinct languages, many of which are unwritten. Most are animists, practice ancestral worship and fear spirits.
Less than 1,000 believers are counted among the more than 3 million polytheistic Dong. The northern Dong have no written language, but the Jesus film and gospel recordings have been translated into the language of the southern group.
The nearly 2.6 million Nosu are divided into seven major groupings and live mainly in a southern province. Their religion is mostly a complicated combination of animism and polytheism, and more than 80 percent of them have never heard the gospel.
These six people groups represent only a small portion of the more than 100 million people in ethnic minority groups. The growing church in Northern Asia is turning its evangelism efforts toward the region’s unreached and is endeavoring to present Christ to the lost, whoever and wherever they are.
One of the great challenges of Northern Asia is its vast population. If estimates of 100 million Christian believers are accurate, another 1.2 billion still need to know the Savior. The lost are spread across a seemingly endless expanse of mountains, valleys and plains — more than 3.7 million square miles. Many people, especially in mountainous areas, are so remote that access is difficult.
Diversity of languages and cultures poses additional obstacles. Some people have never seen a Bible or Christian literature. While the region has one official language, people often speak only a tribal language that may have several dialects. Many languages have not been reduced to writing. Customs handed down for thousands of years have caused resistance to the gospel.
The church in Northern Asia is large, and the majority of believers are Spirit-filled. However, it is significantly untrained. Restrictions in the region hinder discipleship training and limit the education of pastors and church leaders. False doctrine has crept into some segments of the church, and poorly trained ministers are struggling to battle the onslaught of cultic practices.
While the number of personnel serving in Northern Asia has grown significantly over the past few years, the enormity of the task calls for hundreds more to join the team serving in the region.
ADDRESSING THE NEEDS
“Our goal in Northern Asia is to hear the voice of the Spirit and follow His strategy,” states Ron Maddux, Northern Asia regional director. “We have been praying that the Lord of the harvest would send laborers into this vast field. God is answering, and over the past few years our numbers have increased by more than fivefold.”
At the same time, evangelism efforts also are increasing. People are strategically placed where they can most effectively reach the lost — particularly people of influence who can significantly impact the region.
The strategy in Northern Asia is to use 21st-century technology to reach large numbers of people. This means utilizing mass media, including radio and other electronic media such as the Internet. These tools enable the gospel to go far beyond the reach of any one person.
We are addressing the need to train church leaders and laypersons through our partnership with Global University. These materials are delivered in book form, on computer CD-ROM and over the Internet. This makes Christian education available to significant numbers of leaders and believers in the region.
How to Pray for Northern Asia
The great needs of Northern Asia are that revival will continue and that God will raise up mature, dedicated men and women to pastor the growing church.
Additional prayer points include:
- More personnel to answer God’s call to serve in Northern Asia.
- Favor with those in positions of authority
- Influence of Christian cults to diminish.
- Restrictions against religious activity to lessen.
- Permission to establish Teen Challenge centers.
- Expansion of ministerial and discipleship training programs.
- Doors of ministry to open among unreached people groups.
- God is doing a remarkable work in Northern Asia. Certainly He has a great plan to evangelize this region — home to one-fifth of the world’s population. However, even with the great move of God that already has occurred, much remains to be done. Our personnel and national believers can only accomplish His plan in Northern Asia as His people faithfully pray.
(Source: Assemblies of God World Missions)
CCC Regional Directors
Scott & Megg Wheeldon