High-Tech, Least-Reached

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Many nations that are home to unreached peoples are also home to some of the most advanced technologies on Earth. By 2025, humanity will have the power to accomplish awesome, even fearsome, things. The executive summary of the 2005 State of the Future lists a number of future ethical issues that will be faced between 2010 and 2050. Among them:

  • Should religions give up the claim of certainty and/or superiority to reduce religion-related conflicts?

  • Do we have the right to alter our genetic germ line so that future generations cannot inherit the potential for genetically-related diseases?
  • To what degree should the rights and interests of future generations prevail in decisions of this generation?
  • Should a person be subjected to psychological, social or cultural mechanisms for having the propensity to commit a crime even if he or she has not yet committed such an act?
  • As the brain-machine interface becomes more sophisticated and global, do the demands of collective intelligence outweigh those associated with individual identity?
  • Do we have the right to genetically change ourselves and future generations into new species?
  • Is it ethical for society to create future elites, augmented with artificial intelligence and genetic engineering?
  • Do we have the right to genetically interfere with newborns or embryos because their genetic code shows a high probability for future violent behavior?
  • Is it right to create intelligent technological “beings” that can compete with humans or other biological life forms for an ecological niche?
  • Should we have the right to suicide and euthanasia?

Many Christians, of course, would have firm opinions about these ethical questions. However, these questions are not being faced by many Christians; instead, they are being faced by the unreached. Several nations in the 10/40 Window are investing the equivalent of hundreds of millions of US dollars in high technology, particularly in the fields of biotechnology, nanotechnology and space exploration.

Singapore is actively recruiting some of the world’s best bioscientists with, “unrestricted research, top-notch equipment and limitless funds” (Wired 12.08). India established a Department of Biotechnology in 1986 and has built several laboratories and institutions. Biotechnology is seen as a new growth area for Malaysia that is expected to contribute 5% to its GNP by 2020. China has dozens of research centers and hundreds of businesses engaged in nanotechnology development. Beijing has poured billions of Yuan into nanotech projects and established over 200,000 square meters of space for nanotech firms in Shanghai. Azonano.com estimates nearly 90% of all nanotech development in the world is in China.

Eastern Asia is not alone. The Middle East is making advances in biotechnology as well. Dubai-based Dubiotech is lobbying to create a free-trade zone in the Middle East for biotech, with tax incentives, long-term government backing and new facilities (including a $400 million life-science industrial park). The Qatar Foundation has forged partnerships with American colleges to accept premedical students at its branch campus. There are biotechnology institutions in Egypt’s universities. Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia all are working on biotechnology research at the Institute Pasteur, and Tunisia has an independent biotech center. These nations have registered patents on biotech developments, and while their contribution to the field is small, it is steadily growing. Morocco plans to build ten biotech centers in the next few years; Algeria, six; and Tunisia, five. There are several pharmaceutical companies in Jordan and a center for biotechnology development in Iran.

Africa is also contributing. Major biotechnology conferences held in Burkina Faso and Mali have called for the creation of a West African center for biotechnology. African centers are developing bio-engineered cowpea and transgenic cassava resistant to disease. Kenya is planting genetically-modified maize. A former Ugandan minister recently gave a speech endorsing the use of genetically-modified crops in Africa. Tanzanian-based Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI) is pioneering genetic experiments and South Africa’s acreage of genetically-engineered crops rose by 25% last year.

The impact of biotech, nanotech and other advanced sciences is not limited to a small group of elites in only a few nations. It is spreading throughout every strata and affecting unreached peoples. In the near future, experimentation, industrial accidents and the fruits of research will likely be felt by the least-reached long before they are felt in the West. In the long-term, majority non-Christian populations may have the means to accomplish some of the things listed above–and will answer the ethical questions far differently.

Last month, I noted that part of gaining momentum is to increase one’s “drive.” To be “driven” is to “follow a path with passion.” Of the two billion people who claim to be Christian, not many are passionate about following Christ in their daily lives, much less to passionately following a path which brings them to the ends of the earth. Many around the world have bought into the globalizing Western culture and are marked by a passionate desire for success and freedom rather than sacrifice and service.

This is evident in three of the “Ten Key American Values” that my friend, Stan Nussbaum, has identified: (1) “you can’t argue with success;” (2) “live and let live;” and (3) “enough is enough–stand up for your rights.” If we are to become passionate about unreached peoples, we could learn a lesson from the unreached themselves. Recently I came across a proverb of the Tuareg of West Africa, a group of two million who enjoy the nomadic lifestyle. They would look at the West and say prophetically: “Houses are the graves of the living.”

Our houses are spiritual tombs. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy them, then more time and money to fill them with things. We spend time in them, laughing, crying and building memories—until the houses become so precious that we never want to leave. Jesus said, “Go into all the world.” But we don’t. We use our money for mortgage payments and food to put on the table. We are afraid of being homeless, so we dare not passionately follow the one who had no where to lay his head.

We can hardly expect these high-tech, least-reached non-Christian nations to act according to Christian ethics. If a nation or ethnic group acts according to the self-oriented ethics of western materialism rather than the other-oriented ethics of gospel blessing, who is to blame? Isn’t it those of us who have failed to bring the gospel to them?


Justin Long manages strategicnetwork.org and is senior editor for Momentum, a magazine devoted to unreached peoples. He can be reached at justinlong@gmail.com.