February 26 2010

Washington Post article
June 20, 1992

A Family of Missionaries in Va. Imbued With a Pioneering Spirit

Fletchers Spread the Word to World’s ‘Hidden Peoples’

by Carey Kinsolving

In the early 1970s, Ted Fletcher met people from all over the world in his travels as national sales manager for the Wall Street Journal.

That experience so fed his desire to share his faith with people from other cultures that Fletcher, then 42, resigned from the Journal to pursue his dream of full-time missionary work.

“I loved my job at the Journal, but when you consider the eternal destinies of peoples, all else became of no consequence to me,” Fletcher said at his office in Sterling. “There’s no comparison. I’m now doing something worth dying for.”

Fletcher, 60, and his wife, Peggy, applied for work with many mission agencies, but were turned down each time for lack of formal theological training. So the Fletchers launched their own mission agency in 1978 and called it Pioneers.

More than 300 missionaries are now with the agency – 255 Americans and 65 nationals (non-Americans serving in their own country). Among the more than 70 members of the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association, Pioneers is the fastest-growing organization.

Later this year, Fletcher plans to move the Virginia-based agency to Orlando, Fla., where the cost of living will be considerably lower for his staff of 19.

Fletcher said he chose the name Pioneers because he wanted to take the Christian gospel to people who had never heard the name Jesus Christ. His Star Trek-like mission, “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” was ignited by a speech he heard at the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism.

At the conference, mission expert Ralph Winter said that 50 percent of the world’s people groups (16,700 groups at the time) were being overlooked to avoid replanting the gospel seed where others had sown it and to focus on what Winter called “hidden peoples.”

The strategy of reaching people overlooked by others has attracted a certain breed of missionaries that Fletcher calls “risk takers.”

“Risk is the price you pay for opportunity,” Fletcher said. “The 1st century heroes of the church were martyrs. The first African missionaries were sent home in coffins.

So far, Pioneers missionaries have suffered no casualties. But Fletcher says that he expects losses in the future because many areas among the five people groups the agency has targeted – Chinese, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and tribal peoples – have a history of intolerance toward Christian proselytizers.

In a March seminar conducted at Dallas Theological Seminary, Fletcher stressed that his mission agency respects the call of God in a person’s life for certain places, peoples and various types of ministries.

Perhaps the Fletchers’ children are the greatest tribute to the desire to serve on foreign fields. All four have served on missions with Pioneers. Their only son, John, now serves as Pioneers general director.

For more than five years, John Fletcher lived along with the Kubo tribe in Papua New Guinea. When he arrived, the average life expectancy of the Kubo people was 25. Although Fletcher established a clinic and school, he was careful not to foist Western culture upon the tribe, which consisted of 700 members.

In response to the criticisms of some anthropologists who say missionaries destroy primitive cultures, John Fletcher said: “We are there to make a lasting impact. The missionaries are the ones that go there and love the people over a period of 15 to 20 years and learn about them and appreciate them for who they are.”

Fletcher said he derived immense satisfaction from seeing almost 200 Kubos become Christians. A missionary couple took Fletcher’s place when he left the tribe in 1988 to assume his responsibilities at Pioneers headquarters.

Someone once asked John Fletcher if all the effort to learn a new language and culture was worth it for only 700 people. The attitude of the Fletcher family is summed up in his response: “If you’re one of the 700, it is.”