The National Pioneers Initiative (NPI) is a ministry of CV that aims to support 1,000 indigenous missionaries, called national pioneers, through local sending churches. We have learned three principles through the NPI paradigm: 1. National pioneers are uniquely called to impact their nations for Christ; 2. Local churches are the best partners in this pioneering initiative; and 3. The priority must be to put the last first.
Indigenous Pioneers are Uniquely Called
The beginning of the conquest of Canaan in Joshua chapter 1 is inspiring. The Lord commanded Joshua to “cause this people to inherit the land” (verse 6). Similar to Paul the Apostle, we have found that national pioneers are called to impact nations that do not know Christ (Romans 15:20). These people are usually more gifted as pioneers than as pastors (1 Corinthians 3:6,10), which means that pastoral care can have a strong influence on our pioneers.
An example of this is the story of David, one of the most effective national pioneers in Myanmar. He testified to the ongoing challenge he faced impacting a spiritual stronghold. Spiritual breakthrough only came after sacrificially handing over church leadership to his pastoral successor. Today, their local church is thriving, and pioneer successors are ministering in a former Buddhist stronghold.
Local Churches are the Best Partners
Despite their unique calling, we have found that the most effective national pioneers are sent out by local sending churches who can help to nurture the churches they plant. In conquering Canaan, Joshua understood the importance of working with all the tribes [churches]. He came into Canaan with all the tribes, including a half-tribe (Joshua 1:12).
Currently, we work with more than 50 denominations in our eight NPIs and church unity is a unique strength of these partnerships. In most of the places we work, this kind of church unity is unheard of and people need to witness it first-hand to believe it. In Myanmar and Sri Lanka, the NPI is the biggest partnership of churches in the history of the country, impacting their largest and hardest to reach people groups.
Putting the Last First is Priority
In the early days of the NPI, the President of East Timor expelled all 50 of our foreign missionaries, and none of them had a successor to leave behind. This caused me to go back to the Bible for answers to the crisis we found ourselves in. When reading through Matthew 20, especially verses 16 and 28, my paradigm of leadership shifted. I knew we had to put the last first by raising up the very people we were serving and sustaining to become leadership successors.
Joshua commanded the two and a half tribes who had already won their rest to go ahead of their brothers and fight for them until they had also won their inheritance (Joshua 1:14-15). Likewise, putting those we are fighting for first as successors is our top priority. In East Timor this meant first generation believers who had been traumatised by a genocidal conflict that killed more than one third of the population had to become our new missionaries.
A Paradigm Shift Occurs
When our first indigenous successors took over in East Timor, our local CV leader at the time exclaimed, “Brother, it’s a miracle!” with tears of joy running down his face. Indeed, it was a miracle.
In Myanmar, missionaries used to have little respect for the predominantly Burmese Buddhist community, saying things like: “Forget about them. They are predestined for hell!” Now, they have handed over leadership to their former enemies, and joyfully witness Burmese Buddhists accepting Christ as Saviour during the largest religious shift in the nation’s history.
In Indonesia, we have similar ‘last-first’ testimonies of local churches working with indigenous successors from Muslim backgrounds.
As our entrepreneurial CV founder, Lord Robert Edmiston, says, “Within crisis there is opportunity.” A beloved colleague of this ministry, Junior, says, “It is a great pleasure to share something that has changed my paradigm of leadership.”
For me personally, the blessing of being part of the NPI is to see first-hand how these nation-impacting opportunities arise amidst crisis. We have the privilege to witness a uniquely effective ‘marriage’ between pioneers and churches that births spiritual successors from these impacted nations. To God be the glory!