NEWS FEATURE: `Stealth’ Mission Movement Using Women to Reach Unreached in Danger Spots

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. _ They are stealth missionaries, often cloaking their work in secular names, sometimes fudging the truth to slip out of their countries and meet with allies in the cause.

Their devout belief in spreading the Christian gospel unites them, but so does something else: their gender.

A movement to evangelize some of the least Christian countries on Earth is relying heavily on women as foot soldiers. About 30 women from far-flung corners of the globe were in Colorado Springs last week (Feb. 7-11), brought here by a local church to speak to Western women about evangelization efforts in their respective countries.

Sponsored by New Life Church, an independent charismatic congregation of 6,000 people with a missionary focus, the second annual Women’s Summit on the Window drew 300 U.S. women seeking to network with their contemporaries from a region called the “10/40 window.” The rectangular-shaped area extends across northern Africa and Asia roughly 10 to 40 degrees above the equator. The region spans 61 nations and is mostly populated by Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and animistic tribalists.

The movement to convert those living in the window has strong ties to Colorado Springs. An evangelical network called AD2000 & Beyond is based here, and its international director, Luis Bush, coined the term “10/40 window” in 1991.

The focus on women is a calculated strategy. The rationale is that it’s hard to reach men in these countries because their livelihoods often hinge on loyalty to established religions, said Tricia Langley, outreach director at New Life Church. If women and children are won over, the thinking goes, ultimately they can influence the men.

Demographics are a factor, too. Women and children make up an estimated 80 percent of the population in the window, according to Christian groups working there.

But there’s an irony to the effort: Women are regarded as second-class citizens in some of these nations. The evangelism, then, is often subtle: sharing with a husband over dinner or leading by example through ministry to children or the poor.

“Our culture suppresses women, though we have so much potential and talent,” said one woman from India who ministers to prostitutes. She asked not to be named for fear of reprisal back home.

“I feel if the women are reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ, we will be a mighty instrument.”

Those active in the 10/40 movement are seeking to fulfill what’s known as the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to “go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” The goal isn’t necessarily to convert everyone to Christianity, only to make the gospel available. Some groups smuggle Bibles into countries and help establish underground churches, at times risking imprisonment or worse.

The 10/40 movement has been criticized by some Muslim groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who say it takes advantage of desperate people during natural disasters and war.

The conference aimed to “to marry the passion of the East with the financial resources of the West to create a synergy to propel the gospel,” Langley said. Discussions focused on practical matters, such as evangelism during crises and navigating local bureaucracies to plant new churches.

Justina Anny Sasteradinata, 39, who operates a children’s ministry in Indonesia, acknowledged it can be difficult to be a woman and a leader in her country, which is 87 percent Muslim. She said it’s also a challenge to motivate Christian women “to focus beyond her own local church, or herself or her family, to have a broader outlook.”

Sasteradinata named her ministry Rescue Our Chosen Kids, omitting any religious reference in an attempt to dodge potential persecution. Other women at the conference say they didn’t disclose the purpose of their visit to the United States before leaving so they wouldn’t jeopardize their tourist visas.

To sway their husbands, women must do more than talk about the Bible and Jesus, said Lydia Hashweh, 46, the wife of a Christian pastor in Jordan, which is almost entirely Muslim but relatively tolerant of other religions compared with some 10/40 countries.

“If you just raise your hands and say, `Oh, Jesus, I love Jesus,’ and at home you fight with your kids, how can they accept your word about Christianity?” she said.


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