John Ford
A Stirring for Unreached Peoples

I was in Scotland. It was a cold January in 1996 and I was sitting in a room with another 50 gap year students in a training session on leadership. In what seemed to be a throw away comment, the speaker mentioned that there were 16,000 distinct people groups in the world and over 7000 of them were significantly unreached with the gospel. (To put it another way, it is estimated that of the 7.75 billion people alive in the world today, 3.23 billion live in unreached people groups with little or no access to the gospel of Jesus Christ.) He noted the tragedy that nations with thousands of churches are not sending teams to live amongst these unreached peoples, in order to share the love of Jesus and the gospel. He then changed the topic and continued to talk about the need to raise up leaders. 

I remember walking back to my room, sitting down and praying, “God if you want me to be a small part of the solution, send me.” I took out my journal and started to write down what it could mean for me and the things I might have to give up. I was 19 at the time and from that day on a passion and a sense of calling to be involved in seeing the gospel reach those unreached people grew. I wanted to spend my life doing this. 

On my first date with Sophie, we talked about our dreams and I told her that I was going overseas church planting. (I suspect this is generally not the recommended topic for a first date!) To my great delight Sophie loved other cultures and was open to the possibility of God calling us overseas, which proved helpful as we ended up getting married. 

When I become one of the elders at King’s Church Kingston, the expectation was that within 3-5 years we would be moving overseas to church plant.

Fast forward to 4th July 2013 and Sophie and I, and our 4 children aged 6, 4, 2 and 9 months at the time, boarded a plane to Istanbul with 35 bags! We were leading a church planting team to Istanbul. Initially we spent the first two years settling our family, learning the language and the culture. Then in October 2015 our team started a church in Üsküdar, Istanbul. 

It was the most rewarding, exhilarating, painful and tiring adventure… and I would do it again at the drop of a hat. 

I cannot describe the joy of seeing the first people saved and baptised and realising that even though our Turkish was poor (think Yoda’s English and you have an idea of my competence!) and our grasp of Turkish culture was limited, God was drawing people to Himself and doing something beautiful, in spite of our limitations. Again and again I was reminded of Paul’s words, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:27-29).

There was pain in the midst of it. Some friends left and started a new church and some who made commitments to Jesus fell away. However, there was such a sense of amazement that God was at work building His church and we had a part to play in it.

There was no plan to return to living in the UK. Turkey was our home. And yet it wasn’t to be, as it became clear that two of our children’s educational needs could not be met in Turkey. Therefore, in July 2019, with tears and sadness, but armed with some prophetic words about returning, we arrived back in Kingston and were wonderfully welcomed again by King’s Church Kingston.

One and half years on, the church in ─░stanbul continues and a young Albanian is now leading it. Just after Christmas they saw a couple of people put their faith in Jesus.

As for our family, we are back in Kingston and we are still in the process of settling. Our children long to be back in Turkey (even though they have forgotten most of their Turkish). Yet God has been so gracious. I am working for King’s Church Kingston once more and they have released me to work one day a week with Andy McCullough for Unreached Network, for which I am so grateful. 

The Unreached Network represents a community of people across various Newfrontiers apostolic spheres and in different nations joined by a common commitment to reaching the unreached, through partnership, training, supporting and caring for cross-cultural mission partners, with the goal of seeing the gospel preached and church communities established that are contextually appropriate.

In the coming weeks, I’ll tell you more about the Unreached Network and then I look forward to writing from time to time to tell you about particular things we are doing that may serve those in your churches.