“Since I was a child, it was always my dream to go to India and share the gospel,” said Emilie*. “I think God put this in my heart as I had no connection to India.” The vibrant colours and national dress fascinated her, whereas the knowledge that many had never heard about Jesus stirred a longing to go and tell them. “Four years ago, I read a book about unreached people and I started to cry,” Emilie described. “God broke my heart and I prayed: ‘Send me!’”
“But to this day, God closed the door,” Emilie (now in her twenties) stated. Her hopes of going on an outreach trip to India didn’t work out. It wasn’t until she attended REACH, OM’s intensive training programme (formerly MDT), in 2019, that she understood why. “I realised I wasn’t ready!” she declared.
It dawned on Emilie that the jump from her quiet European village to densely populated India would have been too great. Moving to metropolitan Birmingham for the UK-based REACH programme, in a Western culture like her own, proved a good steppingstone. While living in community with international participants, Emilie gained experience in a cross-cultural setting. “It showed me it is not so easy,” she acknowledged. “I learned how other people think and how to work in a team. It was a time of preparing.”
During a two-month REACH placement, Emilie volunteered with a multicultural church in another city that reaches out to the South Asian community. To her surprise, many of the congregation and those living in the area belonged to the Guajarati people, one of India’s least-reached groups. “I thought going to the unreached meant you needed to go far away,” Emilie expressed. “But in the UK, they are near you!”
Emilie found joy teaching in Sunday school, working in the church’s charity shop, speaking to individuals in the street and getting to know the Guajarati culture. She decided to join OM in September 2020, returning to serve with the same church (as coronavirus restrictions allowed) and starting to learn the Guajarati language. Emilie doesn’t know if she will ever travel to India, however, she knows her two years in the UK have not been wasted.
“God wants to use the things He laid in our hearts for His Kingdom,” said Emilie. “I have started to use what God laid in my heart, and I can see it is needed here!”
The goal for REACH in the UK is simple, said programme coordinator Arthur Magahy: “that every student finds their place in God’s mission story.”
“Emilie came to MDT with a strong sense of calling to share the gospel among an unreached people group in India—but without much in the way of preparation,” he explained. “The REACH programme explores God’s mission story (the biblical basis of mission) but also provides a safe place for students to explore their own story—to understand their own story in the light of the love God has shown to us.”
For participants like Emilie, life in Birmingham—considered the most culturally diverse city in the UK—prepares them to serve Jesus in other urban contexts. “UK has the advantage of being home to many of the world’s faith groups where we find the least-reached peoples. It is an accident of our UK history, but it provides us with the opportunity of understanding and building relationships with people of different faith groups,” Arthur explained.
REACH also includes many practical elements designed to enable students to understand culture and to be equipped in effective ways of sharing their faith across cultures. For example, “there is one gospel, but REACH will help participants understand that there are different ways of sharing the gospel to different cultural groups,” Arthur said.
During their time at REACH, participants learn from experienced Jesus followers who are actively sharing God’s love with those who have not heard about it. “We also seek to give students resources for their own spiritual and discipleship journey—an essential for anyone who will be immersed in an unreached people group,” he added.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, REACH in the UK was growing—with around 20 participants a year spread over two programmes: one in spring and one in autumn. Since 2019, 40 participants have gone through REACH in the UK. Programmes in 2020 and 2021 saw smaller groups of residential participants, due to the uncertainty of travel, pandemic restrictions and related risks. In autumn 2020, REACH in the UK ran an online version of the programme with participants from across the world, including the USA, Korea and Singapore.
“We cannot afford to wait until Covid has gone away,” Arthur emphasised. “God is still sending out workers and we are staying committed to training in a multicultural city where we have built up good relationships with mission practitioners (OM and others) so that everyone finds their place in God’s mission.”
For more information about REACH in the UK and OM’s other mission discipleship training programmes, visit om.org/reach.