During GCOWE ’97, 400 South African pastors —all delegates—received WMC’s The 100 Least Reached People Groups of Southern Africa: It Can Be Done book and, in turn, commissioned WMC to put together a strategy to reach those 100. The result was Project FOCUS (Facilitating of Churches to Unreached Strategies), launched in April 1998.
The objective was to establish at least one self-reproducing cell church among each of those 100 least reached groups by December 31, 2000. The strategy involved creating 22 Hubs—networks of local South African churches—to partner with the national church leadership in the 22 African countries on or south of the equator, including the island nations in the Indian Ocean. These pooled their resources and coordinated their efforts, each targeting the people group in these countries.
Another part of the strategy were specially trained missionaries able to penetrate those resistant unreached people groups living in geographically inaccessible areas. Fifty-one people from various countries and denominational backgrounds received training in bush survival, cultural sensitivity, strategizing outside the box, as well as sound Biblical principles and truths. The six-months of training was known as the Live School.
While the first Project FOCUS Team was being trained in the Live School in Pretoria during the first half of 2000, another 483 people were also receiving missions training in seven other countries across southern Africa. On the last Friday of that training, teams of these students headed to one of the over 40 locations where they spent the next four months trying to reach an unreached or least reached people group with the gospel. Each team was under the covering of the respective Hub and national partner. The teams did community uplift projects such as setting up micro-businesses, providing medical assistance, planting food gardens, teaching basic health care, and distributing Bibles, all of which opened spiritual doors in those communities.
As a result of Project FOCUS, the Hubs and partnerships, and FOCUS Teams, 99 of the 100 people groups found through WMC’s research had been reached with the gospel by the end of 2000. By the end of 2001, all 100 people groups had believers among them.
The FOCUS Team in Madagascar
On July 17, 1998, after an exhausting 25-hour drive dodging potholes, oncoming traffic, and random cattle, the first FOCUS team arrived in Toliara on the southwest coast of the island. A few days later, with a Malagasy boy named Emmeleon to help them, they drove 130 km north to the village of Ampasikibu where they were immediately welcomed by a circle of inquisitive faces. Some in the village had never seen a ‘vaca’—foreigner or white—and never grew weary of staring at them.
From the basecamp they set up outside the Ampasikibu, the team trekked the sandy paths northward between the baobabs and brush for two days and about 40 km. They had been told they would find Mikea in this direction. Another 12 km and they walked into the small village of Patrickville. It was here they met Samsen, a Mikea who offered to take them deeper into the forest to his own tiny village, 8 km further on.
Later, the team moved the base camp from Ampasikibu to under a group of massive baobabs just outside Patrickville, 12 km from the nearest water source. Often, half the team would go on three-day hikes to another Mikea village Samsen had scouted deeper in the forest. Those at base camp settled in to wait on what God would have them do, as all the ideas, methods, and wellplanned schedules proved to be worthless. Yet, their daily routine of praise, worship, prayer, and simple survival spoke volumes to those who were watching their every move.
Soon, the Mikea in Patrickville and Samsen’s village were asking for medical care. One respected, wealthy villager sent his son to ask for prayer for his asthma. Laying hands on him, the team prayed. For the first time in a year, the man got a good night’s rest. Later, the team found out that his wife had challenged him not to take the medication, just to see if this Jesus was as powerful as the team said He was. In those villages, relationships were strengthened as days flowed into weeks. The team were now no longer foreigners, but “relatives”.
Meanwhile, the other village was not as receptive, but continually demanding proof of the team’s sincerity by asking for material goods. Instead, the team claimed wherever their feet stepped for Jesus. This including the outcrops of black rock used as sacrificial altars by the villagers beyond the perimeter of the village. On one of those high places, the team symbolically built an altar and placed a wooden cross to the Lord as a declaration of God’s victory over Satan’s power. Later, Emmeleon told the team he had had a dream in which he had seen that wooden cross sprouting leaves, and when the bark was removed, Christ’s precious blood had seeped out. In his dream, the black rocks around the cross had uprooted themselves as demonic powers fled. Encouraged, the team prayed all the more and eventually the village chief’s resistance broke down, even agreeing to let them show the Jesus film on their last night in the village.
Back in Patrickville, there was a night none of them would ever forget. As they were singing and worshipping around the campfire, they sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit leading them into spiritual warfare. As they sang, they clapped in faith. At that moment, rhythmic drum beats, followed by intermittent whistling and shrieking, rose out of the dark night to call up the spirits, and as if to challenge the Lord God Almighty. The team prayed more fervently, with hands uplifted and shouts of “Jehovah Shammah”—the LORD is there. The cries and the drumbeats echoed from one village to another across the plains most of the night. As they lay in their tents, the team continued to pray, the drums later echoing in their dreams. The following morning, they were told that the spirits hadn’t come. The drums had failed. And they were reminded of God’s power on Mt Carmel. They served that same God.
A short time later, the team showed the Jesus film on a white screen against the night sky to curious and expectant villagers. A number responded to the altar call—some boldly, others cautiously. Samsen, the team’s friend and guide, was among them. Upon their arrival back in Toliara, the team placed seeds and stones collected from the Mikea forest into the hands of local church members, symbolically handing over the responsibility and follow-up to the church there.
The FOCUS Team was not just a short-term missions outreach. It was a model of how an unreached people group can be reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was the model for the teams trained and sent out to the 100 least reached people groups in Southern Africa for Project FOCUS in 2000, as well as all for the thousands of teams that have since been sent out as part of the Live School.