Globally, 81% of all non-Christians do not personally know a Christ-follower.
How can this be when the global church in Africa, Asia and Latin America has grown so rapidly over the last 50 years? With radio, TV and the internet being used to share the gospel you might think missionaries are no longer needed. But you would be wrong.
The command to go into the whole world has not been cancelled. Jesus didn’t cancel it, the Holy Spirit didn’t cancel it, and nor did the Apostle Paul. So, if the command hasn’t been cancelled, then surely there is still work to be done. That begs the question: What is still to be done?
The world population is growing at a startling rate and much faster than our missionary efforts. There are still millions of people who have yet to hear of Jesus. Why is that? Well it has to do with access to the gospel. Some people groups have very little or no access unless someone is willing to go to them. As mission mobiliser, Oswald J Smith said: “We talk of the Second Coming; half the world has never heard of the first.”
In a country like Australia there is access to the gospel. There is a Christian witness; it’s you and me. There are churches, whose calling is to take the gospel to their neighbours. But in other parts of the world that is far from the case. We cannot ignore this fact. Let’s not confuse ‘evangelism’ with ‘missions’. Evangelism is the responsibility of the local church wherever it is in the world. Missions is taking the gospel to those who have never heard. However, many missionaries opt to work with local churches and not go to the least-reached. Don’t get me wrong; both are needed. But surely priority needs to be given to those who have yet to hear?
One of the church planting strategies used in WEC is to look at the world through the lens of people groups, to help us in our discernment process as we send missionaries. Using the socio-linguistic definition of a ‘people group’, there are an estimated 17,307 people groups (7.67 billion) in the world, 7,375 of whom (3.19 billion) have no access or very little access to the gospel. That’s 41.6%! Priority surely needs to be given to these least-reached peoples. However, only one in every 10 cross-cultural foreign missionaries ministers among the unreached.
The least-reached peoples live in some of the locations which are geographically the most difficult to reach with the gospel. And in many places it is prohibited to share the gospel openly. It will take time and a conscious effort to reach them.
So how do we choose which areas of the world to prioritise? Which of the 7,375 unreached people groups? For the purpose of this article let’s filter the database for the largest 50 unreached people groups. This gives us a sense of the huge need. Let me highlight just three areas for your prayers:
These are the unreached peoples of North Africa, the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula.
Two of the 50 largest unreached people groups are found here: the Moroccan and the Algerian Arabs. Islam is by far the largest religion in this area. Although Libya doesn’t make it to the top 50 there is great need there also. There are very few Christians, and because of the fear of being caught by the secret police it isn’t possible for them to gather publicly for worship.
There is great need across all the North African countries, where Islam has a strong foothold, to see the least-reached peoples come to know, love and worship Him.
Consider India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Why India? It is true there is already a lot of work going on here. However, the vast majority of the work is mostly in the far north-eastern and southernmost states. The central and northern states hold many unreached peoples; 21 of the largest 50 unreached people groups of the world are in India. One thing for sure is that if we want to reach this subcontinent our workers and those whom God calls will need to live simple lifestyles and, in many cases, accept poor health conditions.
The largest unreached people group in India is the Shaikh, with an estimated population of close to 85,000,000 and 0% Christian. Partnership with the local Indian church needs to be a priority to reach this nation.
Bangladesh is one of the largest Muslim countries in the world with a population of 162,309,000, of which 160,412,000 are considered unreached. Just like India, the largest unreached people group in Bangladesh is the Shaikh. The challenge is enormous and it is going to take much prayer to see this people group reached.
Consider Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen.
The Najdi Arabs of Saudi Arabia and the Yemenis of Northern Yemen are on the 50 largest unreached people groups list. The U.N. has declared the situation in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. The cholera epidemic, on-going war and qat addiction are just some of the obstacles to contend with in bringing the gospel to theses peoples.
The need before us is enormous as we look through the lens of people groups. The challenges to reaching the remaining unreached will take all that we have and will be costly. Each year the World Watch Research team of Open Doors publishes a list where it ranks the 50 countries where it is most difficult to profess and practise the Christian faith. Each of the countries mentioned in this article is on that list.
Are missionaries still needed? Absolutely!!
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:38)