Roundup #228

No Roundup next week. It’s Thanksgiving week in the United States, and I’ll be on vacation.

Music to improve your day: What Child is this + Child of the Poor.  Youtube

New Events

East Africa

Somalia: the need for greed.  SomTribune
… a fascinating article whose analysis I am insufficiently knowledgeable to affirm or deny. But it makes some logical sense. I’m not sure it’s either positive/negative for Kingdom efforts, but it should give some insights into the complexities and difficulties emerging Somalia faces.

More than 1,000 killed in the past six months in S Sudan.  Al Jazeera
… communal conflicts …

Sudan will decide the outcome? FP
… This is a well written explainer with graphics for the conflict … 
… TPLF, dominated Ethiopian politics for decades … 
… since displaced & sidelined as Abiy consolidated power, 
… and made peace with TPLF enemy Eritrea … 
… TPLF has not gone quietly … 
… quite a bit in here about farming, ethnic conflicts, and the Blue Nile …
Another explainer, this one a 5 minute video from the Guardian, very good. Guardian
Another perspective: Tigray’s war is about economic power. FP
Explosions rock major cities amid growing fears of wider civil war.  Independent
… Conflict widens as missiles are fired at airports.  NYT
… Rockets target Eritrea’s capital.  Al Arabiya
Red Cross: ‘Immense suffering, risks spiraling.’  ICRC
… Aid groups plead for access to refugees.  Boston Globe
… Hunger looms as conflict rages.  DailyNewsEgypt
4,000 fleeing Ethiopia fighting to refugee camps in Sudan, daily.  National News
… Refugee camps ‘lack basic necessities’.  Dabanga
Ethiopia cracks down on the Internet in Tigray.  WPost
… telecomm blackout … but lots of new Twitter accounts sharing data …
… Ethiopia shuts down telephone, Internet services in Tigray.

Northern Africa

Libya’s political talks stall.  AllAfrica

Tunisia, Libya to begin travel bubble 11/15.  MEMO

Sudan’s partially answered prayers.  CT
… an interview with Abp Ezekiel Kondo on religious freedom and more …

Russia to build a naval base in Sudan.  MiddleEastEye
… I guess they didn’t want to let the Chinese have all the fun …

Western Africa

Nigeria: Igbo synagogues burned, bulldozed amid civil unrest.  Fast Forward
… many Igbo believe themselves descended from a lost tribe of Israel … 
… have taken on certain Jewish practices …

Nigeria’s police brutality crisis: what’s happening now.  NYT

Eastern Asia

China urges new era of mass migration–back to countryside.  WSJ
… Antipoverty push: Xi wants to repopulate rural towns with entrepreneurs and consumers

N Korea orders tightening of anti-virus measures.  Reuters

Kim Jong Un faces a bleak N Korean economy.  Link

South-Central Asia

Afghanistan braces for worst as US troop withdrawal accelerates.  WSJ
… Taliban gloat, government loses grip amid wave of violence …

Second wave of Covid hits Afghanistan, public places shut.  Link

Iran will impose severe restrictions across the country.  Link
… in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus … 
… limiting inter-city travel, banning private vehicles at night, more…

300 killed, thousands injured during anti-government protests in Iran last month.  Independent
… reports Amnesty International …

Pakistan grants Gilgit-Baltistan provisional provincial status.  Diplomat
… residents will now become Pakistani citizens … 
… India rejects the move …

Coronavirus adds to reasons to leave Tajikistan.  Eurasianet
… the terminal state of the economy remains “paramount” …

South-eastern Asia

Indonesia’s tourism industry suffers S$9.5b losses due to Covid-19.  Straits Times

Myanmar military still using children for fighting.  Reliefweb

10,000 pro-democracy protesters march on Thai police HQ.  Guardian
… Thailand’s protests shatter taboos but produce little change.  Straits Times

Western Asia

Lebanon enters 2-week lockdown as virus cases surge.  Link
… curfews, business closures, hospitals run out of space …

Iraq, Saudi Arabia reopen land border after 30 years.  MiddleEastEye

Saudi Arabia ramps up surveillance at holiest sites.  CodaStory
… “new government app threatens Mecca’s undocumented residents” …

Northwestern Syria in photos: Life in the time of Covid.  SyriaDirect

Syria faces worsening bread crisis as regime rations supplies.  MEMO

Turkey introduces partial curfew, shuts schools.  Daily Sabah
… schools closed for remainder of semester … 
… nationwide weekend curfew from 8pm to 10am … 

UAE approves golden visa: 10-year residency for certain professions.  Link

North/Central America/Europe

US megachurches outgrowing their sanctuaries..  CT
… perforce, they are moving to multisite. 70% are multisite, another 10% considering it. 
… 90% consider small groups “central to… Christian nurture & spiritual formation”

Rising Covid cases, deaths among US clinicians.  JAMA
… in many places, including USA, losses amongst doctors will make it harder to treat Covid …
ed. note: wrong link in the emailed version. corrected here.

The US will re-open to refugees. Is the US church ready?  CT

USA: hospitals in half the states facing a massive staffing shortage.  Stat
… “People are going to die” … the bleak article makes the point that it’s not about beds – it’s about doctors & nurses to care for the people in the beds. Covid has a CFR of ~2% in optimal conditions. Even with hospitals overloaded, many cases will not be bad – but for those that are, without ICU beds & doctors who care for the sickest of the sick, the death rate will surge amongst those who need ICU care, and overall as a result. This same pattern can be found in other places, especially in the poorer parts of the unreached world.

USA: State by State guide to coronavirus restrictions. Forbes

Iota is the strongest hurricane to ever hit Nicaragua.  AP
… (at least on record) …


Covid case data
… 11/20: 57.0m cases, 1.3m deaths (2.2%)
… 11/13: 53.0m cases, 1.29m deaths (2.4% CFR)
… 11/6: 49.1m cases, 1.24m deaths (2% CFR)
… 10/29: 44.8m cases, 1.17m deaths
… 10/23: 41m cases, 1.1m deaths
Trackers: Johns

IEA cuts forecast on oil demand for 2021. CNBC

New UNHabitat World Cities Report 2020.  Link

Refugee resettlement numbers fall to lowest in two decades.  UN


What first-time founders learned the hard way.  FirstRound
An interesting read with lessons that could be applicable to mission teams and strategies. Lots of strategies with regard to finding candidates whose values match yours, the best use of advisors, leadership hiring, etc.

How I read.  Link
… interesting idea for reading clusters of 5 books around a particular topic.
… Difficult part is identifying the five books, of course. …
… would be interested in recommendations on 5 key books for: China, India, Indonesia, E Africa, Pakistan, Nigeria

Everything you need to know about the Coronavirus.  Wired
… a really helpful long-read survey of Wired coverage of the virus: background, symptoms, masks, testing & treatment, epidemiology & tracking, etc.

Sometimes we don’t even eat: conflict+covid pushing millions to the brink. ReliefWeb
UN dips into emergency fund as first famines of the pandemic loom.  NYT

Losing elders to Covid-19 endangers indigenous languages.  NatGeo


The end of the pandemic is now in sight.  Atlantic
… two vaccines look like they will work, and more should follow … 
… medium length read on the tech behind the vaccines …

Performance Art on how to evade China’s big brother.  Sixth Tone
… dodging Beijing’s surveillance cameras takes almost superhuman ingenuity and determination…

South Africa: cold requirements for storing Covid vaccines will be challenging.  Link

In Cashless China, Criminals are punished with payment app ban.  Sixth Tone
… rather than jail time or hefty fines, China’s justice system is employing massive inconvenience. I’m sure someone will think of Revelation, but this really has nothing to do with loyalty or worship. Yet.

Roundup #227

Don’t Miss

Beyond’s next online Disciplemaking Nugget Training, 11/18: will focus on how to multiply churches toward movements. Come join with us as one of our field leaders facilitates the conversation. Some have asked for recordings. We don’t provide recordings–first, because of security reasons; and second, unique to nuggets, nearly all of the conversation is in small breakout groups as people read Scripture and discuss how to apply it in their own lives. It’s less a presentation and more a community discovering Scriptural truth together. This is a truly unique series of events; I’m proud of the people who work hard on it, and I hope you’ll join. Link

New Events

Northern Africa

Egypt: Tourists disappear, Bedouins revive ancient farming roots.  CSM

Following peace deal, talks on Libya’s political future begin.  UN
… breakthrough peace agreement between 5 senior commanders in Geneva last month … 
… peace seems to be holding, for now …

Morocco launches military operation in Western Sahara.  AP
… to clear a key road blockaded by weeks by supporters of Polisario Front …

East Africa

Military seizes airport as fighting rages in Tigray.  Al Jazeera
Ethiopia bombs Tigray arms depots, thousands flee.  Yahoo News
Sudan braces for 200k fleeing Ethiopia fighting.  Hurriyet
… Over 11,000 flee to Sudan as Tigray Region conflict continues.  Dabanga
Experts React: understanding the conflict in Tigray.  AllAfrica
Ethiopian police seeking lists of ethnic Tigrayans.  Al Jazeera
… fears over ethnic undertones of the conflict … 
… police chief orders ID of ethnic Tigrayans from NGOs … 
… Amnesty reports a massacre in Tigray …
Ethiopia withdraws 1000s of troops from neighboring Somali.  Bloomberg
… redeployed to help offensive in Tigray Region … 
… raising concerns of a security vacuum in Somalia …

Civilians reel as violence spins out of control in Mozambique.  Al Jazeera
… in Cabo Delgado, NE coast, on border with Tanzania … 
… conflict with ISIL …
With village beheadings, Islamic state intensifies attacks.  NYT

Somalia: Locusts swarm into Mogadishu’s pastureland.  Independent

Violence continues in South Sudan despite peace deal.  AllAfrica
… mainly fueled by revenge attacks, cattle raids, land grabbing …

Western Asia

And that’s a wrap on the war: Armenia surrenders.  Eurasianet
… Russian peacekeepers on their way to the region …

Ceasefire greeted by anger, disbelief in Armenia.  Middle East Eye

Iraq, in Photos: intimate glimpse of Arbaeen religious holiday.  NYT

200 Iraqi Christian families return to Nineveh.  MEMO

Iraq shuts down last ‘safe haven’ camps for vulnerable families.  Yahoo News
… 1.3 million still displaced inside Iraq … 
… rapid camp closures could leave 100k in limbo …

The Widow’s Camp: Syrian women craft their safe space.  SyriaDirect

First COGIC Bishop to Israel meets opposition from counter-Missionaries.  CT
… interesting look at anti-missionary forces in Israel …

Eastern Asia

HK pro-democracy lawmakers resign.  BBC
… after Beijing forced removal of four of their colleagues … 
… leaves only pro-Beijing lawmakers …
HK resigning over Beijing resolution.  SCMP
… “Beijing has completely abandoned the Basic Law” …

Suicide spike in Japan shows mental health toll of Covid-19.  Bloomberg
… suicides up 15% in August, even more among women, school-aged children …

N Korea cracks down on local markets, overseas defectors.  Diplomat
… as Covid-19 continues to hamstring economy, NKoreans grow increasingly desperate 
… government moves to keep everything under tight control

South Asia

Food crisis deepens in Afghanistan: 42% facing acute hunger.  ReliefWeb

Overall civilian casualties in Afghanistan down, but ….  Link
… civ casualties caused by Taliban up …

String of attacks have Kabul residents pointing a finger at the government.  NYT

India’s Magh Mela: one of the world’s largest religious pilgrimages is moving ahead as planned.  NatGeo
… usually draws 10 million Hindus …

The cold requirements of Pfizer’s vaccine brings little cheer to India.  Link
… India’s crippling heat, erratic electricity and limited cold storage makes Pfizer vaccine a challenge 
… will apply in other countries in similar environments 

Iran struggles to cope with raging coronavirus pandemic.  RFE
… “caught second wind and returned with great ferocity” … 
… “death toll in recent weeks has skyrocketed” … 
… “40k officially dead, real number likely 2x as high” … 
… “called for 2-week nationwide shutdown, severe restrictions on intercity travel” … 
… “Tehran = half the deaths” …. 
… 700k cases = ~1% infected. 80k deaths = ~10% CFR rate.

South-eastern Asia

Indonesia to begin mass vaccination using Chinese vaccine late this year.  Straits Times

Typhoon Rolly impacted 250,000+ in Philippines.  UN

The monarchy is god: a Thai royalist in a divided kingdom.  Reuters
… looks at changing norms in Thailand with respect to the monarchy … 
… re deference: “The new generation and youth, they’re not into it”

Europe/LatinAm/N Am

Hurricane Eta thrashes Central American countries.  ReliefWeb
… 3.3m affected, 115k evacuated …

Barna American Worldview Inventory 2020.  PDF
… “American Christians redefining their faith: creating new worldview loosely tied to Biblical teaching”
Pair with this op/ed: US Evangelicals aren’t what they used to be.  NYT
… a historical survey of the interfacing between Evangelicals and politics … 
… loss of evangelistic focus …

USA: Biden pledges to raise refugee ceiling to 125,000. Link


Covid case data
… 11/13: 53.0m cases, 1.29m deaths (2.4% CFR)
… 11/6: 49.1m cases, 1.24m deaths (2% CFR)
… 10/29: 44.8m cases, 1.17m deaths
… 10/23: 41m cases, 1.1m deaths
… 10/16: 40m cases, 1m deaths
Trackers: Johns

Singapore-HK travel bubble to start 11/22.  Straits Times
China bans visitors from 8 more countries.  SCMP
… India, France, Russia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Italy, Nigeria, Ukraine, Britain, Belgium, Philippines …

Pew, 2018 data: govt restrictions on religion reach highest level globally in a decade.  Pew


A recipe to build, measure, learn.  Medium
… great short little read that includes a recipe for building “user stories” …

The vulnerable can wait: vaccinate the super-spreaders first.  Wired
This is a fascinating long read into the role of super spreaders in a pandemic. There are numerous takeaways in this piece for DMMs. In movements, apostolic agents (either cross-cultural or indigenous) have the same role as super-spreaders: many people in a DMM are “asymptomatic” (e.g. they show few or no outward signs of being a believer) and are not infectious (they don’t spread the Gospel). But a few are infectious, public, and well-connected. These super spreaders move it from household to household, and regardless of other things, people who have something within a household tend to spread it to those they are around ~24/7/365. (This also shows how movements can be stopped: neutralize the 16% most highly connected.)

How to stop restaurants from driving Covid infections.  Nature
… another interesting piece: mobile data used to confirm physical locations (because people congregate there) can be hotspots. Pondering implications for DMM. Some practitioners look at “edge” places where people from different groups congregate/mix, and Gospel transfer can occur.


Google launches Google One VPN.  Link
… $9.99/mo encrypts all online activity for Androids … 
… Mac/Windows apps coming soon … 
… (probably wouldn’t work in China, though…) …

Google Photos is shutting down unlimited storage of photos.  Link

New tools for managing photo storage in WhatsApp.  Wired
… I dislike how WhatsApp used to save all incoming photos into my phone’s camera roll. This can turn that off.

Completed early trials.  NYT
… “no serious safety concerns so far” … 
… “seeking US emergency use authorization” … 
… “50 million doses this year (=25m people), 1.3b doses in 2021” …
NYT Explainer: 11 things you need to know.  NYT

China clamping down [further] on its Internet giants.  BBC
… “increase unease in Beijing with the growing influence of digital platforms” …

China’s Big Brother is everywhere? not quite yet….  SCMP
… spent billions building camera surveillance networks, but not an all-seeing system … 
… tech not linked nationwide – but may just be a matter of time …

Covid is accelerating change in McDonalds.  Wired
… measurement, big data, “McDonalds knows you and when you are within shouting distance of a restaurant.” The technology changes and adoptions at McDonalds will impact other restaurants and industries.


“I see little reason to delay giving when so much good can be achieved through supporting worthwhile causes. Besides, it’s a lot more fun to give while you live than give while you’re dead.” ~billionaire Charles Feeney

“Busyness is an illness of spirit.” ~Eugene Petersen. 

Movements that plateau as distinct from those few…

Movements that plateau (as distinct from those few that have fizzled entirely)–they reach a certain size, and maintain it, yet don’t grow beyond it. Why? Because they hit various barriers which they fail to surmount, and then institutionalize to maintain their existing growth? Having institutionalized, it is then perhaps best to spin off a new movement (a “new wineskin”) to get her the barrier that the existing movement couldn’t surmount. In the long run, many movement practitioners note it is easier to start a new church than to try to teach an existing church to reproduce when it hasn’t in a long time. It may be the same is true of movements.

Covid-19 July Observations

I haven’t done a summary update related to Covid-19 in a while. I’m doing this one now, and will try to do a new summary observation post at least once a month.

The statistics surrounding total tests, infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are difficult to ascertain with both accuracy and precision. I am working on the following assumptions.

1. The total number of tests seems largely to be tracked in places where the statistics are most accurate (e.g. Western nations, as well as certain Asian countries like Korea). Very few countries seem to report the number of tests, but if they do, that number is probably both accurate and precise for the moment the snapshot was taken.

2. The total number of infections is almost certainly accurate in the sense that it is not exaggerated or deceptive as a floor. But there are problems with precision, some of which I outline below. And certainly, the case numbers are not an accurate ceiling.

  • In many places—especially the United States, where the most cases currently are found—there are not enough tests. Many infections are untabulated and often even undiscovered. It is impossible at this point to know exactly how many are being missed. Some studies are being done to try and ascertain this number, and these early studies seem to suggest infections are actually 10X known infections, at least in the United States.
  • In some places, such as Central and Western Asia, it seems very likely the total number of infections is being deliberately understated if not outright hidden. Observers have seen indications the number of cases and deaths far exceed the number being reported. So in these cases, the numbers are no less than what is reported, and very definitely more.
  • In some places, such as Southern Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), I have doubts about the quality of the number. I’m not sure there’s any conspiracy to hide case counts as there are demonstrably so in other places, but I also wonder, given the situation of these countries, if the numbers could possibly be so low.
  • In all places, we need to remember the numbers for infections or cases lag the actual infection point. One of the key elements to the spread of Covid-19 is the asymptomatic nature of the early stage of infection. Many people show no signs of infection–and yet are still infectious, able to spread Covid-19–for the first week or so of the disease. Once they have the disease, some will go to the hospital or to get a test, and some will not. (In some cases, if they have a mild case, some doctors will say “you are a presumed positive, go home, self-manage”–but they will never have a test, and so not enter the official statistics.) The time between symptoms showing up and going to the hospital/getting a test is another lag. And, there’s yet another lag in reporting (this especially shows up over the weekend). So today’s reported cases are really infections from at least a week, and maybe two, earlier; and today’s infections (as a result of transmission) won’t show up for another week or two.

3. The number of deaths is likewise challenging, though perhaps less so than counting infections. Deaths are obviously more visible than the first infections (especially due to the asymptomatic period). However, multiple factors nearly always contribute to any single death. A good article on how deaths are counted are “The Uncounted Dead.” Unfortunately, the total number of deaths has become a politicized factor, with some arguing that either deaths are exaggerated, because:

  • people who are older, or who have underlying symptoms, are more likely to be killed by Covid-19. For example, a 90-year-old with persistent asthma would be more at risk to Covid-19’s attack on the lungs and heart. Might they have died this year anyway? Did Covid-19 kill them, or did it aggravate the underlying symptoms that killed them?
  • some believe the numbers are being inflated because hospitals are “counting everything as Covid-19, to get more money.” I haven’t seen any instances of this, but I’ve seen lots of cases of hospitals being overwhelmed with cases.
  • Due to many infections not being reported, and indeed many Covid-19 related deaths not being counted as Covid-19 deaths, it seems to me far more probable that the death statistics undercount the actual situation. Studies in excess deaths are being undertaken to document this.

4. “Case fatality rates” and “Infection fatality rates” are calculated by dividing the total number of deaths by the total number of cases or infections. In the USA, 127,461 is 4.9% of 2.6 million cases. By comparison, influenza is estimated to have an infection fatality rate of 0.1%. Of course, if there are many more infections than we presently know about, the rate would be lower. Still, if infections were just 10X, the fatality rate would be 0.49%–some 4X worse than flu.

With this basic context, here are some things I’ve observed from June’s trends:

  1. Understanding that the global numbers are a floor, not a ceiling, the current global number of infections–10.4 million or so–represent just 0.13% of the world’s total population. In the United States, 2.6 million is 0.78% of the total population of 330 million. Even if the actual number of infections were 10X higher, this would still mean only 1.5 to 2% of the population has been infected. For all it has done so far, the virus can go a lot further.
  2. Even if we reached infections of 0.5 million per day, the virus could continue for another 15,600 days (42 years!) before it infected everyone in the world (and that doesn’t account for children born during that time period). (A million a day would cut that to 21 years.)
  3. How do we stop Covid-19? There are two possibilities: (1) a vaccine, or (2) existing infected people are isolated until the disease has run its course without them infecting anyone else. A vaccine may be created sometime in 2021, but making it widely available will be challenging, and could take months or even years (worldwide). Isolation has worked in some countries (e.g. Southeast Asia, New Zealand, etc); in others, it’s problematic for logistical and cultural reasons. And, isolation only works if new instances of the virus aren’t imported from other places.
  4. Until Covid-19 is stopped, it must be “lived with.” How we live with it is a subject for national debate in some places, and national control in others. But one factor is: if our national policy allows us to stop it, what do we do to keep it out?
  5. Because different countries will have different approaches to the virus, travel barriers have been and will continue to be established. In some places, “travel bubbles” are being defined (e.g. travel between Australia and New Zealand but no one else). In other places, countries and states are requiring quarantines for arrivals from certain places. In still others, they are barring travelers from some countries (the most notable recent case is the EU’s barring of Americans).
  6. I anticipate that these travel barriers will almost certainly have enormous effects on the missionary enterprise in the next months to years. I think travel bubbles, barriers and quarantines will be one of the most impactful factors on us. I think it very likely they will decimate the short-term trip side of things–in many places, it will be simply impossible to take an effective 2-week trip anywhere. (This will also have impacts on tourism.)

If your agency used to do significant numbers of short-term trips, and you aren’t this year, and you don’t anticipate doing so next year, I’d like to hear from you. I won’t use your name or shame anyone (there’s no shame in this!) but I’d like to confirm if my view of this trend is true.

  1. The travel barriers will also make certain passports more important than others in certain areas (for example, might European divisions of some multinational agencies be about the only ones able to get around in the EU?). These passports will likely not be the traditional Western ones.
  2. For existing workers, the question of visa renewal is also very stressful. Many workers who have to leave their existing countries are wondering if they’ll be able to get back in.
  3. In this context, rising xenophobia is being noticed. People who come from virus-laden countries are being treated differently. In the case of Americans, globally accessible images of people fighting over being required to wear masks is not playing well. People who live in Korea, for example, have noted “we freak out over 40 new cases, and you have 40,000 new cases per day and don’t want to wear masks.” The people in countries where the virus is under control do not feel positive about the people traveling/immigrating from places where the virus is perceived to be running rampant.

Note that in some countries – like China and India – pandemic xenophobia is merging with other trends. China, particularly, seems to be a “perfect storm” that is leading to very strong barriers of entry. If you’re finding that to be true, too, I’d like to hear from you also.

  1. Long-term service will also be complicated. A 2 week quarantine is completely doable if you plan to be in country for years. (It might also make 90-day “tourist visas” more problematic in some places.) However, many of the places worst affected by the virus are also highly unreached countries. Being able to work long-term in the context of disease and lockdown will also challenge missions in the near future. For all Americans have bemoaned the lockdown in the United States, these have not been nearly as severe as some other countries have endured.
  2. The travel barrier/bubble is a rapidly changing story. I am monitoring for news articles and government releases on this topic, and would welcome any pointers people have for specific countries.

Gospel Vectors

  1. ‘Viral growth’ is a frequently-discussed topic today. This is true for several reasons. One obvious cause is the impact of Covid-19 over the past few months. But there are ‘ideas’ and ‘fads’ as well: Seth Godin wrote a notable book some time back about ‘ideaviruses’, and Malcolm Gladwell wrote his famous Tipping Point on the same idea.
  2. ‘Disciple-making movements’ (DMM) center around the ‘viral’ or ‘exponential’ growth of the church. The name ‘disciple-making movement’ or ‘DMM’ is new, but the theory isn’t. Jesus used the illustration of a seed falling into the ground, dying, and yielding exponential fruit. There have been many multiplying movements in history that have saturated whole peoples and countries.
  3. In summary, for any sort of viral movement (good or bad) to take off, three things are required: (1) people (virus carriers), (2) the contagion (the virus itself, in whatever form we’re talking about), and (3) a context (a place or platform) in which carriers can mix with the not-yet-infected. Without any of these, you won’t have a viral movement—be it Covid-19, Facebook, political ads or a DMM.
  4. The growth of the movement is driven by two factors: (1) how long a person is ‘infectious’ or able to pass the virus on to others, and (2) how easy it is to pass the virus. An easily-caught infection can still fail to multiply through a population if it is short-lived: if it only lasts in its host for a few minutes or an hour. (It doesn’t matter how excited a person is to share the Gospel if that only lasts for Sunday night, and the excitement disappears by, say, Monday morning.) A difficult-to-pass virus (for example, one that only passes through blood transfusions, or a discipling mechanism that requires a multi-year investment of time and money) will not rapidly spread even if it lives in the host for months or years.
  5. If a virus is long-lived and easily-caught, it will spread through a local community—and the mobility of people through a context can widen the viral spread. We see this illustrated sharply in the case of Covid-19: carriers spread out from infected ‘hot zones’ via air travel and ‘seeded’ the virus into other locations. The same principle is at play when dealing with mobile diaspora populations (such as students or international business people).
  6. Often, a virus will spread nearly invisibly in the early stages. When it is spreading from 1 person to 3, and then to 9, and then to 27, it is rapid but often unseen in the midst of larger populations. (This is particularly true of the ‘asymptomatic’ early infectious period of Covid-19: you could have it for as long as a week before symptoms show, and be passing it to many other people.) Suddenly, a virus will ‘go viral’ or ‘burst out into the open’—what this means is that lots of people have suddenly noticed it. By the time the virus has reached the stage where it is widely seen it is often far too late to be easily contained. (This is the point when governments, if they are opposed, will try to quash it—and have to do so ruthlessly.) This inability to ‘see’ viral multiplication well often makes it difficult to engineer its spread. Tech platforms often have an advantage because they know how many ‘infected’ people they have, and often who came to the platform as a result of who (e.g. they can see the contagiousness of the platform).
  7. So, if one wants to see a viral movement happen, how can all these factors combine together for maximum effectiveness? We must start with a ‘virus’ that (a) can be passed on easily, and that (b) people are excited and continue to want to pass on for a long time. (One movement leader told me, for example, that if a church were going to multiply itself, it would do so in the first four years; after four years, it’s easier to start a new church or group than to try to get the existing one to multiply. This is the ‘infectious’ period.)
  8. If you have such a ‘virus,’ the next thing to do is to ‘seed’ the virus into a context where there’s a lot of social interaction between people. An ideal context is one where people from other locations come in-and-out—where they can pick the ‘virus’ (idea, teaching, fad, whatever) up and then travel to other locations and pass it on. If you want to go viral, it’s vital to ‘seed’ the movement into a context with lots of local social interaction and outbound flow using super-spreaders. Repeated ‘spreadings’ will help catch new people moving in and out of the context.
  9. Most Gospel exposures today have more in common with a restaurant than a viral fad. People are being given bread to eat, but not seeds to plant. To spread the Gospel using this model requires something more in line with corporate franchising—one installation trains a manager and sends them out to launch another franchise in another location. Or, to use another analogy, you can be a professional corporate farmer with a huge installation, training up interns and apprentices, or you can help start a movement of community gardens.
  10. All of this has implications for multiplying the Gospel, evangelism, churches, and the Kingdom. If the method of ‘gospeling’ and ‘discipling’ is reproducible (e.g. infectious—can be easily passed on), we don’t need to work so hard at targeting every last neighborhood. Instead, we can choose ‘viral contexts’ with strong commercial and cultural linkages, and well-developed transport hubs. With a viral approach, to saturate a people group it may be more important to identify the most ideal places to ‘pick up’ the ‘Jesus fever’ than to try to systematically engineer where the individual ‘Gospel outposts’ are planted. If it’s infectious enough, it will organically spread to saturate the population.
  • Break down countries into provinces and districts.
  • Look at capitals of provinces, but also look for major economic centers.
  • Look for places with significant transportation hubs (airports, railways, etc) as well as colleges, medical centers, big cultural installations—things that attract people from other places.
  1. Using this approach, you’ll need to watch for ‘flame-ups’ in nearby and distant places, however—because of the often unseen nature of viral spread, you might be surprised how far the Gospel can go from one location. (In fact, to fully saturate a place, it might be best to try to seed Gospel super-spreaders into two or three transport hubs that intersect the same territories.)

Counting Missionaries

June 3, 2020

In the spring and fall, I frequently teach Lesson 9 of Perspectives. Whenever I do, one feature of the session that is often done, either at the beginning or at the middle break, is the ‘Worldview Demonstration’. Using coins and matchsticks (or some variant thereof), this presentation attempts to show people ‘visually’ the world’s population, the breakdown of religions, and how many of the world’s missionaries and the world’s mission money goes to the ‘more reached’ vs the ‘less reached.’

Inevitably, I often get asked how old the statistics are, and whether they have been updated. And the answer is, ‘fairly old’ and ‘sort of.’ In this brief essay, I’m going to explore some of the missionary numbers, why they are difficult to collect and analyze, and what the ‘current’ numbers might be.

First, let’s deal with a few issues in missionary counting and definitions:

  1. Which traditions count? Depending on how you define them, there have been generally five Christian ‘traditions’ that missionaries can come out of: Anglican, Independent, Orthodox, Protestant or Roman Catholic. There have been, historically, two major sources of global missionary totals: Operation World and the World Christian Encyclopedia. The former has published primarily totals of P,I,A (Protestant, Independent, Anglican) missionaries, while the latter has published totals of all. For reasons I’ll discuss later, I generally use the broader WCE numbers.
  2. Length of service? This is also known as ‘short term’ vs. ‘long term’. We don’t count people who go on 2-week short-term trips in the totals, for example. But, should we count people who go for just 2 years? Generally speaking, most missionaries count when they are in the ‘intend to be on the field 4 years or longer’ category.
  3. Home vs Foreign Cross-Cultural. It is straight-forward to count an American or an Australian or an Austrian who serves in India. But, what about an Indian from, say, Uttar Pradesh who serves in Bihar? These two provinces are stupendously large, the languages can be vastly different, and the sociocultural distances can be immense. It can every bit as big a distance from UP to Bihar as from America to Bihar, in terms of the complexity of mission. But does this count as ‘foreign’ or ‘cross-cultural mission’? For the most part, it does not. One has to leave their passport country and go to a different country.
  4. Getting Reports. Just the actual process of gathering the data isn’t simple. There is no central repository of data to which all agencies report their information. No agency is required to report their total missionary numbers, let alone where they are deployed too. While some of the larger agencies are well known, at least in name, (e.g. OM, Wycliffe, YWAM, IMB, Cru—not to mention my own, Beyond), there are thousands of very small ‘mom-and-pop’ agencies—e.g. small non-profits with just a couple missionaries—whose work is never well known or counted.
  5. Security. Especially since the 2000 Operation World, security issues around the collection of missionary deployment data have amplified. Even before 2000, there were some agencies that would say, for example, ‘Eastern Europe’ or ‘Middle East’ or ‘Asia—general’ without giving further details. This has ramped up significantly since 9/11.

For all of these reasons, it takes a significant amount of time and personal relationships to attempt to gather any sort of credible estimate of missionary numbers per country. Maintaining them over time—that is, looking for trends and ebbs and flows in missionary information—is even more difficult. Fortunately, we have two good, recent sources, both from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. One is the 2010 Atlas of Global Christianity and the other is the latest World Christian Encyclopedia.

The total number of missionary workers globally is estimated by these sources at 425,000. (Remember, this includes all traditions.) But the real question we want to get to is, what percentage of these workers are laboring among the unreached? And that’s where it gets even stickier.

  1. If we are to use WCE numbers, we need to remember the WCE uses ‘unevangelized,’ not ‘unreached’ (see this article for clarification). The differences aren’t huge in the final analysis, but it’s worth noting the nuance.
  2. Any segment (country, province, language, people group, city, etc.) can be categorized as “World A” (unevangelized), World B (evangelized non-Christian) and World C (majority Christian). The rules are:

A: <50% evangelized, based on the WCE formula/data.
B: >=50% evangelized, <60% Christian.
C: >=60% Christian, of any tradition.

  1. Here’s the sticky bit. We have missionary data by country. Every country is either in World A, B or C. The United States is a World C country; China is a World B country; Afghanistan is as World A country. However, within those countries, missionaries work with a great many different people, and the country hides a lot of this nuance. For example, China has many World A peoples (like the Uighurs), World B peoples (like the Han Chinese), and World C people groups (like the Lisu). So several thousand missionaries work in China, which is considered a World B country, and those ‘several thousand’ thus fall into the ‘World B’ column. But some portion of those work amongst World A peoples, some amongst World B peoples, and some amongst World C peoples. The data that we have does not enable us to easily tell what those percentages are.
  2. That said, it appears the vast majority of missionaries in any given country are likely working in peoples that are similar to the country itself – e.g. most of the missionaries in the United States probably work in World C people groups; most of those in India probably work in World B people groups. Further, as we roll these numbers up to regions and the global total, small sticky bits tend to get ‘ironed out’ in the balances of the global totals.

The Numbers. The WCE is for sale, and I’m not going to give away data that is part of the book—not at the country level. In talking with the WCE folks, what I am permitted to do is to give global and regional totals. And here, at the end, is what you wanted all along:

Globally: 425,000 missionaries

A392.2 billion (27%)11,940 (3%)
B503.5 billion (44%)87,000 (20%)
C1452.4 billion (29%)326,050 (77%)

Some 77% of the missionary work force is almost certainly not focused on the unreached. 23% of the workforce is in places where ‘unreached’ and ‘evangelized’ peoples are largely found, but the ‘core’ of the workforce focused on the really difficult, most unreached peoples is probably not more than 3% of all missionaries.

As to regional breakdowns of total missionaries:

I recognize some of these numbers are difficult. Go back and recap some of the issues involved in counting. I know someone will say, “We’ve got 2 missionaries amongst X unreached diaspora people in Europe—how come you say there are none?” The simplest explanation is there are no majority-unevangelized (World A) countries in Europe, so there can be no missionaries to World A countries in Europe. (I also recognize some will have a problem with that statement. But as they are defined, it is true.)

None of this changes the picture that, 2,000 years after Christ, somewhere around 3% or less of all missionary workers are deployed amongst those who have very little chance to hear (a factor in why they have little chance to hear), while three-quarters of missionaries work in places that are over-saturated Christian countries (albeit perhaps of a different tradition than the missionaries in question). While I do not doubt that places like Germany and England and France likely need evangelistic effort, this “out of balance” situation seems to me to continue to be one in need of reformation.

North Korea–knowing what we don’t know

Over the past several days, social media (especially Twitter) has been rife with rumors that Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea, is dead.

The rumors can be fascinating. It can even be exciting to consider North Korea’s potential “wildcard” futures. But it’s still important to know we don’t know. Anything presently being offered is largely on the side of speculation, with very little basis in fact.

The most we know: China has allegedly sent medical teams (although it’s worth asking why we would know this, considering China tends to censor news). South Korea says Kim is alive and well. We’ve gone days without seeing anything of Kim, but that’s happened before.

There are scenarios that he is dead. If so, North Korea is already in the midst of a leadership transition. The more likely scenario (in my mind) is that he is alive, but convalescing after some medical event.

If he is indeed dead, I won’t pretend to be able to predict who will be leader next. However, the most likely scenario is that there will be a leader. North Korea’s command structure is broader than just Kim; it is more like a mafia state. Someone related to the military–or possibly Kim’s sister–will almost certainly step up to the plate.

The one wildcard scenario I have allowed myself to indulge in (and yes, this is an indulgence): what if, in the midst of a leadership transition, China decides to step in – either to relieve North Korea of its nuclear weapons, or to take the state over entirely? I don’t pretend to know if that’s even a remote possibility, but it is one “wildcard” way for North Korea to open, in some sense, to the Gospel.

Higher case fatality rates can signal smaller infection totals

Apr 17, 2020

No one knows exactly how many “actual” Covid-19 cases there are in any given country. We know the number of “total” or “confirmed” cases, but these are just the cases that have been confirmed with a test. We can begin to estimate how many actual cases there are using the number of deaths.

If we have an estimate of the death rate (calculated as total deaths divided by total cases), then we can estimate the actual number of cases. If the death rate (case fatality rate, or CFR) were 1%, then 1 death would equate to 100 cases.

However, Covid-19, as with most pandemics, grows at an exponential rate. One person infects several others, who in turn infect others. Exponential growth is marked by doubling time: how long it takes the total number of infections to double. So far, Covid-19 has exhibited the ability to double about every 4 days.

The overall average “run” of the disease is about 3 weeks: it takes 3 weeks to go from infection to death. During that time, if the doubling time is 4 days, the disease will double 5 time.

So, with a CFR of 1%, a single death represents 100 cases three weeks ago. 5 doublings of 100 cases are: 100 > 200 > 400 > 800 > 1,600 > 3,200.

On the other hand, the WHO and others have suggested the mortality rate is higher than that. Globally, the CFR stands at about 3.5%. At that rate, 1 death is 3.5% of 28 cases. If 28 cases were to double 5 times, the result would be 28 > 57 > 114 > 229 > 457 > 914.

So, 30,000 deaths at a 1% mortality rate in the United States represents the possibility of 96 million infections (or something like 1/3rd of the USA). On the other hand, 30,000 deaths at a 3.5% mortality rate suggests 27 million infections. 30,000 deaths at a 4.5% mortality rate (which is more inline with the USA’s specific reality) suggests 21 million infections.

The actual death rate is far from certain because of the dearth of testing. But the fact that many different nations in many different contexts are seeing roughly the same kinds of percentages gives some weight in my book to the idea that the order of magnitude for the CFR is right, even if the precision is not quite there yet.

Out of sight

“Why Afghanistan became an invisible war” (New York Times) looks at factors that caused the war to be “out of sight and out of mind”:

  1. fewer soldiers = fewer veterans (living veterans are a potent lobbying force);
  2. minimizing deaths has been great for soldiers and their families—but ironically means there are fewer traumatic stories weighing on people’s minds;
  3. less money being spent on the war. All of this contributes to fewer headlines in the national press.

This article helped me think about why the unreached are likewise “out of sight and mind.”

  1. First, instead of “veterans” or “soldiers” think of “missionaries.” Because there are few missionaries among the unreached, there are few people to tell the stories of the unreached (when they retire, or when they are in their home countries on deputation, or through prayer letters, etc.)
  2. There are few missionary deaths. Obviously, we don’t want our soldiers to die. We don’t want missionaries to die, either. But we need to remember that deaths, martyrs, and stories of hardship and risk-taking resonate with people. Just finish this sentence: “He is no fool…”
  3. Little money is being spent on the unreached, and its difficult to make it into a “career.”

What can be done about this? I’m not suggesting that we need more deaths or more money aimlessly spent. But we do need more intentionality about telling the stories of the unreached, in order to counter these “gaps.”

How many Christians are among the American expatriates working abroad?

Have you read anything recently that estimated the # of Christian American Expats working abroad? Not missionaries, just people working but just so happen to be Christians?

No–and I don’t think it can be readily figured out, either.

The American government apparently doesn’t track how many people live overseas. This article cites estimates between 2.2 and 6.8 million.

It also says that while Americans live in 100 countries, 66% of American expatriates live in 10 (including Mexico, Canada, Israel, the UK, France and Germany). This article, from the Association of Americans Resident Overseas, estimates 6.32 million, and breaks it down by country (with 2.59 million in the “Western Hemisphere” and another 1.6 million in Europe).

Estimating how many are Christians is even more difficult:

  • We could theorize any population significantly large enough to be a randomized sample of the larger group would carry the same characteristics.
  • If you randomly selected a few thousand people from America, theoretically they would have the same % Christian as the American population as a whole.
  • But those who go overseas may not be a truly randomized sample.

It’s doubtful, to me.

Very few Americans have passports; not many go abroad.

Those who would be sent by a company to work overseas with a reasonable expectation of success in a cross-cultural environment may vary wildly from the general American population (unlike the Philippines).

So, I must confess to being a little stumped on this one. If anyone has reference to studies, feel free to comment. But at the very worst, I would start with the idea that the expatriate population would probably have a makeup at least somewhat similar to the American population as a whole–quite a few Christians, some of them quite public in their faith.