Your Global Impact: 20 feet
Over the last few years I have been thinking and praying a lot about what it takes to impact a nation. I have considered traditional strategies as well as the internet and the power of the digital word being broadcast out through so many channels like YouTube, Facebook, Word Press blogging and websites. Literally I have had readers of my blog in every country of the world on my blog site, except North Korea. However, what is my impact? Am I seeing lives changed though my digital footprint? Is it global?
I also considered the most common strategies for reaching Cambodia. I can’t tell you how many times, hundreds of times, that I have heard people talk about reaching Cambodia and their strategy is to simply plant a little church in Phnom Penh and put a flag up on the wall in their head office. Mission accomplished? Well, only about 10% of Cambodia actually live in the capital. While there are thousands of foreign Christian witnesses, hundreds of churches, and hundreds of ministries which have an office in Phnom Penh does that equate with “nation-wide impact”? Countless times I have also heard of strategies whereby all of Cambodia can be reached simply by starting one project/church/office or sending a staff member or church planter on a 3 day “mission” to each of the 24 provinces in Cambodia. Do you think Cambodia is reached then?
Welcome to reality.
There are 14,106 official villages in Cambodia, there are 2-3,000 unofficial ones that have been started in the last few years and have not been put on any map yet. There are 15 million people in Cambodia from 31 different indigenous ethnic groups. 1,800 new Cambodians are born every single day! Only about 5 indigenous groups have Christians living among them. More than 20 indigenous groups have never met one Christian witness, ever.
What has been the result of all these typical nationwide strategies? Phnom Penh could have as many as 1,000 worshipping groups. Nearly every single road in the entire city of Phnom Penh (more than 700 roads) has multiple churches on them. There are more than 40 churches within 1 km of my office alone. However, the average size of regularly attending worshippers in Cambodia is only 19 people. And I know for a fact, that while there are 3 churches within 50 meters of my house, yet none of my neighbors know anything about Jesus other than they are noisy (one church has a huge sound system).
There are 24 provincial capitals in Cambodia. Guess where the missionaries live? My educated guess: 95% in Phnom Penh; 1% in Battambang (the second largest city at 250,000 people); 1% in Seam Reap (the largest tourist town in Cambodia, home of Angkor Wat and many western restaurants, plus an international airport); 1% in Sihanoukville (a tiny little town of less than 50,000 people, but it has a nice beach!); All other 19 provinces combined have the remaining 1% (many of these places still don’t have electricity!). So, with such a strategy when do you think Cambodia will be reached? Do those 4 urban areas have enough influence to impact all of Cambodia with the gospel?
My personal quest:
I have been trying to reach Cambodia for years; nearly two decades now. I have planted churches in 19 provinces and I have ministered in every single province and nearly all of the nearly 200 districts of Cambodia. I never need a map, because I have been there before. . . where? Everywhere. Last year I helped to start a church in Poipet which is one of the fastest growing cities in Cambodia. There are a few Christian witnesses in this town, but not many even though it is the fourth largest city in Cambodia. The town has a bad reputation: Casino’s, gangs, drugs, human trafficking and there is no beach, but plenty of mud, mud, mud. Well, the little group of worshippers on the northeast side of town is centrally located in a neighborhood of more than 50,000 people who live within 1 km of the church. It is densely packed here. All the roads are mud. Most of the homes are just shacks made from recycled garbage and bamboo. Well, over the last year the church has averaged nearly three hundred people which is pretty large for Cambodia (remember the average size church is 19 people). So, I decided to track our “impact” in the city of nearly 150,000 people. Do you know what I found? Honestly? I found our impact was about 3 blocks! That’s it! Why only 3 blocks? Because nearly everyone walks to the church and literally they only come within a three block radius.
So are we reaching Poipet? Nope. Will we reach Poipet, even if we grow to a thousand member church? I doubt it. Realistically speaking. This caused me to ponder even more how it is possible to reach a country. It is easy to say we have a nation-wide or global vision, but how does one actually do it?
Last week I was walking what I called the “Freedom Walk”. This walk took me nearly 250km across Cambodia by foot. I primarily stayed on a main road (road number 5), but many times I would go off the main road into villages and meeting with people. Along my 250km journey I found so many churches. I was encouraged. Some were big fancy ones. Other’s clearly funded by Koreans with big gaudy red crosses on the roof. There were Christian orphanages. There was a Christian hospital. There were Christian organizations. There was also several Bible schools along the way. I was passed by multiple missionaries and their vehicles moving between population centers as well. Literally I only found one village along the entire 250km journey that didn’t have Christians, and that was because the lone Christian had just died. All of these things were on the main road.
Yet, when I walked off the main road; sometimes leaving the main road by only 100 meters I can tell you the whole spiritual atmosphere changed. Not only were there very few Christians, but I met people who had never heard of Jesus. They were just 100 meters away from a Christian thoroughfare. I even had one person tell me that she knew of Christians, “but they didn’t travel back where she was” (she was 5km off the main road! That’s only 3 miles!)
I thought and prayed about how to impact this nation. I thought about strategies brining in yet another church into the capital city. I thought about the “every province” strategy. I thought about the heart of Cambodian’s which always say they want “every village in Cambodia to have Christians”. It is a constant desire and prayer of the Christians. There is even an organization made just to promote that vision.
I came to an epiphany as I was walking. As a Christian I carry the Spirit of Jesus within me. Wherever I go, Jesus goes. Wherever any Christian goes, Jesus goes there too. Yet, he is only relevant to others when I do or say something which points them to Jesus. Just walking is meaningless. Driving by, or flying over a village has no value in transforming lives. Just staring at a map and plotting points is meaningless. Having one church of 19 people, or even a thousand, in the same geographical province is irrelevant to the other million people who live away from those followers of Christ. I only have an impact for Jesus when I stop and talk to someone. When I pray for them. When I say “hello” and listen to them laugh or joke about me. When I listen to their stories. When I care about them. I can really only do that within about 10 feet, or 20 feet at the most, of my present location. Then it came to me. . . I was convicted that my total global impact is the 20 feet around me right now.
Whether you are in the biggest city in Cambodia, or the smallest little jungle village you have the same impact as me: 20 feet.
I think our strategies have been in error. I don’t think you can reach a country, any country, through its capital city. I don’t think you can reach a province through its provincial capital. I don’t think you can reach a county or district by its county seat. Every one of the 15 million people in Cambodia are special. They are all made by God and they are all unique. The only way we are going to reach a country is to physically go (the big word is ‘incarnational’) to every person, within 20 feet, and present to them Jesus. Show them we care about them. To love them.
I am not going to reach Cambodia for Christ with a blog. I am not going to reach the nation with my thousands of hours of radio broadcasting. I am not going to reach this nation through our big church in the capital city, nor through any other national-strategy I have heard about. The only way I am going to have an impact on the larger nation of Cambodia is to get out of the car, move to areas off the main roads and go village by village meeting people within my 20 feet of space. Then and only then, according to what I do and what I say, will have an impact on Cambodia.
What is my global impact? Yep, its only 20 feet.
So, who is in the 20 feet around you? If you find that space is only full of family and the faithful followers of Christ, you’re not going to be much of a catalyst for changing the world. We are all going to have to step out of our comfort zones, leave the main highways and slow down and meet people. We need to get within 20 feet of people who are not like us, who are broken, who are impoverished, who are angry, who are addicted, who are hurting and be their friend. Then, in those 20 feet, we can change the world.