Reaching out to the remote tribes in the world is not an easy task for anyone. Yet Reverends Karl and Jennifer Hargestam answered the call and have spent their lives fulfilling that mission. They share with us their journey in this interview.
Founders of Mission One Eleven, a training centre that equips Christians to take the gospel to the people groups and tribes who have not yet heard about Jesus, Rev Karl and Jennifer Hargestam have spent most of their lives reaching the unreached.
They also co-founded Joshua Campaign International, an organisation that works with churches and ministries to bring the Gospel to the world’s most remote areas. Rev Karl’s message, “One Chance for Every Person”, is a vision born from a conviction that every person on Earth should hear the gospel at least once. Through his ministry, thousands of churches have been planted in various parts of the world.
His wife, Rev Jennifer graduated with a BA in Missions from Messenger College in Missouri. She has also served as a missionary to Ethiopia, bringing the gospel to unreached people groups and helping Ethiopian women and children affected by HIV/AIDS.
Together with their family and staff, they brought spiritual change among African tribes that had never heard the name of Jesus Christ. During the Global Pentecostal Summit last November, the Hargestams shared their experiences and learning in their paper “Unreached People Groups And The Cultural Intelligence Model”, outlining how understanding the culture of the remote tribes, or having Cultural Intelligence (CQ), is essential in reaching the UPG.
The husband and wife team talked to City News about the ups and downs in their work with the UPGs.
Have you seen failed attempts at reaching the UPG because of a lack of cultural knowledge?
Rev Karl: Cultural intelligence, in some ways, could be traced back to anthropology or cross-cultural communication. We are taught some of that in Bible school or mission school, so it’s not a new subject. That model may have been developed more by the corporate world and we may have walked through and lived through it in some way in all our outreaches, but we just didn’t know it at the time.
The heart of our mission is always to partner well with indigenous or national movements. We have worked with a lot of pastors and leaders, and we tried to convince them that morality in certain areas is very important. We have made the mistake before, when it comes to behaviour modification; meaning that it was not just about preaching the gospel but also preaching culture change.
One of my saddest experiences was in a church of a tribal group. The mission movement we were working with had planted two churches. They were all nomadic, travelling people and they didn’t have many clothes. They looked very primitive but they were primitively happy.
Now, they built a church and we were there in a baptism setting. All these people came and they were warriors with their machine guns and no clothes. They came walking in and headed to a big box behind the church, where they put down their guns and put on choir robes. Then, they went into the church, and they sang songs in their choir robes, holding up a choir book.
I was sitting there, looking at these books, but the pages were blank. They could not read! This is behaviour modification: they think that wearing a choir robe and singing from a book is what Christianity is.
That’s why morality is so important: they need to understand who God is, the nature of God, the price of sin and every story pointing to the hope of the Lamb of God—the price of sin was death, so Jesus’ blood had to be spilled. They have to understand that, rather than justifying their faith by putting on some clothes and singing some songs.
Finding pastors who see the value of morality—that’s been challenging, and we are convinced that we can use a CQ model to maybe push everyone to self-evaluate. It’s not a revolutionary idea, it’s just going through the questions: “Is my drive really from the Lord?”, “Have I heard from Him?”, “Is my knowledge good or bad?”, “Am I trying to understand the people I’m reaching?”, “Do I have a strategy?” And based on those, I take action. It forces almost all of us as churches, mission groups, organisations and missionaries to evaluate ourselves. And that alone may be the success.
How did you receive the call to minister to the Unreached People’s Group? I understand you were just 21? What is it like working among the UPGs in Africa?
Rev Karl: I started in Tanzania at 21. We met in 1988—three years after we met, we got married and we went to Ethiopia in 1993. I did some work in Africa before that.
Rev Jennifer: We met in the States because Karl, after his time in Central Africa, went to the United States to learn to fly a helicopter (to reach the UPG). Our first appointment was to build the helicopter base.
Rev Karl: The vision was very clear—our assignment has to be more on the frontier challenge. The Lord spoke to me from Revelation 5:9, and Matthew 24:14—the gospel of the kingdom will be preached as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come. So, I felt Jesus say to me, “This is your assignment. Will you give your life for this?” And I said, “Yes.”
After I came from Tanzania and went to the US, I had this vision and I saw a helicopter in it. So, I thought this was a tool we needed. Today, we still operate helicopters in Indonesia and in Africa. And we have one in the US. There are only a few places in the world that need it now. When we started there were more.
Can you share your most memorable encounters?
Rev Karl: We have a lot of great stories because we’re working with UPGs. I testify to what Paul says about always having signs and wonders when you build on God’s foundation because the gospel is established not by persuasive words.
In our early days, we worked in the mountains, and we used to gather church leaders from different movements to go there. There was this one mountain called Mount Hora that no one had penetrated. It was difficult and there was a witch doctor that worshipped the spirit of Hora—I didn’t know this story at the time. But we looked at the area and sent in local missionaries, who would go in and build relationships. Then we would fly in and do gospel outreaches as well. And then, we planted churches. We did a lot of this; this was maybe in 1995.
I was flying to the Tanana tribe, and I lost all pressure in the helicopter, and it started going down. The transmitter broke—this was before we had GPS, so I had no directions. Jennifer was with the children at home, and she had the HF radio. We used to call in every 15 minutes in case I crashed.
So, I lost all pressure, and we were landing in the forest. I was stuck there for three days, and I was running out of food. The radio doesn’t work, and my leg is swelling—I have this big infection on my foot. Then, I felt the Lord speaking to me about rebuking the enemy. This is a spiritual attack.
As we were doing so, the swelling went down, and I went to the helicopter with the thought that it was the pressure gauge. We found the problem and were able to start the helicopter to fly back home. It was almost like our home had this spiritual darkness when I arrived back.
I repacked my bags and flew off again because I had to go back up to Mount Hora for an outreach that was on the schedule. I was supposed to pick up an evangelist, and after I picked him up, he told me this story about a witch doctor on Mount Hora.
He said, “When we told him and the people we’re going to come and preach there, the witch doctor started announcing to the people, ‘Our God is stronger than theirs. We’re going to sacrifice today. And if our God cannot stop that helicopter, and those people to come, then we will hear what they have to say.’”
According to the missionaries and evangelists there, they had been killing over 20 cows, praying against us. This was why we were under this incredible spiritual attack. We’re flying in and landing on this mountain and we could see on their faces that they didn’t expect us to come. There were tens of thousands of people on that mountain.
I felt the Lord telling me to preach about the blood of Jesus because we were rebuking the enemy. I said to the people, “I’m protected. We’re covered in the blood of Jesus. We’re not here because we’re strong, but we are covered in the blood of Jesus. It’s more powerful than all the cows, you’ve been killing here.”
The first one to get saved was the witch doctor. And with him, thousands of people received Christ. Later on, he became this great evangelist who went from village to village, saying, “It’s only the power and the blood of Jesus.” We went back and had this meeting later on and saw the number of people who were saved. The witch doctor is now a bishop leading hundreds of churches. That is the story of working with UPGs, always. The Lord will do things that we almost can’t imagine.
How did Mission One Eleven get started? We understand it is a vision “born from a conviction that everyone should hear the gospel at least once.” How did God communicate this to you?
Rev Karl: There’s one problem and one big challenge with working with UPGs. Jesus said there’s only one problem—it’s not the money or how we can do it. It’s always, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send workers.” Mission One Eleven is about raising up people. For all the challenges with that many people, we need to train more people and we need to find a way to train people in local churches.
Rev Jennifer: It happened organically. When we were in Ethiopia, we began to offer training in this orality (thought and verbal expression among people who cannot read). One training session led to something a little bit more formal, then we began to mobilise and equip people to work in this orality. We also invited people of the different tribes that we’re going to, to learn with missionaries in training from all over the world. That’s how Mission One Eleven started in Ethiopia.
We have a few core beliefs that the local church and the Christians near to the UPGs are where we want to have centres. We have centres—different expressions of centres—focusing on mainly the illiterate, oral-only people.
Rev Karl: We have a campaign called Operation 326, referring to 326 tribes. This is a number we came up with at the beginning of Covid in 2020. We believe that we had to take stock when everyone was shutting down—what do we do with the unreached? We thought about what is left on planet Earth that has no data. Meaning no Bible, no missionary, no gospel witness, no data on their language, no data at all. That number then was 326, so we launched Operation 326.
The goal was to visit the remaining places on planet Earth—the final frontier—and first get the data. Is there a local church? Is someone there? Because normally there’s maybe a neighbouring tribe or someone going in with the gospel that we don’t know. Our mission was to go, visit and fill the reports that the Joshua Project and its agencies use. For the ones that have no engagement and no one going in, we launch a strategy on how to plant churches.
That number is now down to maybe 240 or 230, so we’re working it down. We were just in Brazil and visited several of those tribes.
Rev Jennifer: And we do this within Mission One Eleven. We have researchers and pioneer missionaries that would go—boots on the ground—to discover and to collect data of people that are reached or nearby Christians. Just building the knowledge component of what are the challenges and to identify them.
Rev Karl: We even have a pilot training programme and a couple of things that help the tribes.
Rev Jennifer: Mission One Eleven has turned into more of a “depending on the unique needs of the UPG and the area we’re living” thing. We adapt to what is needed in the area we’re in.
That is a lot of work you are doing! How do you run so many separate projects and still keep up with your three children?
Rev Jennifer: Well, my children now are older but when they’re younger, they served with us in Africa. They all lived in Ethiopia and served with us. We have four children, the third is from Ethiopia—we adopted her.
Hannah, our oldest is 28 this year, and then our son is 26. Both of them are married now. Our Ethiopian daughter is 22, and then our youngest is 21. Hannah is leading the Mission One Eleven team. My youngest daughter is one of the students going back into an unreached people group.
My kids have been with us and served with us all the years. I have never had to put them in a boarding school. We have just adapted to their needs while answering the call. But the Lord has always provided, He’s been so faithful in this area that all four of my church children serve Jesus and they all in some way want to answer the mission call.
It must have been challenging when they were younger.
Rev Jennifer: When talking about pioneering and UPG, some of the call was challenging in so many ways. Besides the Bible, the book that guided my life was “Where There’s No Doctor”. I had to research a lot when the kids were sick and there was no doctor—what do I do?
But I look back and I just see again, God is faithful, we always had His provision. He was with us, but it was not without trials and testing of our faith, for sure. But if you ask my oldest two today, they are at home more in Ethiopia than they are anywhere else.
What would you say to parents who want to fulfil their calling in God but yet are facing so much pressure from society to help their children excel? We don’t want to shortchange our children but at the same time, we don’t want to shortchange ourselves of our calling for God. How should parents find that balance?
Rev Jennifer: I think the key is discernment—discerning where I need to resist society and to make a stand. There are times when you just have to make a decision, based on discernment, about going in another direction with the children. Even though they don’t fully understand it, when we truly have discernment, we trust the Holy Spirit. He will not mislead us.
That’s going both ways. There were times when we had to adjust the call because one of our kids needed special care.
Rev Karl: There were a couple of times we had to make decisions. I think that they were blessed. We felt like when we made decisions based on “seek His kingdom first”. I think that the Lord was caring for us when we were seeking Him first.
There were times when our children had to see that we chose them. We decided that if someone struggled, and it was obvious to all of us that they felt that they were not heard, we would prioritise them. The kids must see that while the Lord is first, the ministry is not.