I was recently at a missions forum put on by the International Mission Board (IMB). This forum happened a couple of days after I blogged about reaching unreached people groups in US cities. The opening session was led by David Campbell of the IMB and the title was “Challenges to Reaching the Unreached”. I want to share some of David’s talk and use that as a springboard to go a bit deeper into what I previously wrote about reaching the unreached.
According to various sources (IMB, Joshua Project, etc.) there are something like 11,600+ people groups in the world today. The IMB definition of a people group is “the largest group through which the gospel can flow without encountering a significant barrier”. About 6,750 of those people groups are unreached (which is defined as a people group with less than 2% evangelical).
David listed physical, religious and safety issues as some of the challenges to our missionaries in other nations.
- Travel time – Many of the unreached peoples of the world are in areas that might take 2-5 days to get to.
- Climate – Some of these areas take a lot of adjustment (high altitude, rainy, extreme heat or cold, etc.).
- Daily life – It’s just a different pace and a different way of life for some people of the world.
- Isolation – Once a missionary gets to the field it might be months or years before he or she can make contact with friends and family back home.
- Health concerns – I’ve been on more than one short-term mission project where participants went home with deep illness. Water is almost always an issue in some hard to reach areas.
- Physical exertion – I’ve trekked through the Andes from one village to another and the high altitude almost killed me.
- Animosity toward Christianity – Some missionaries cannot serve in some areas because there is animosity toward Christianity. It is viewed as your religion.
- Lack of Access – In fact, there are some countries that have deported missionaries and won’t allow anyone in to share the gospel.
- Repression of the Gospel – Some countries send someone in behind a missionary to “undo the damage” and indoctrinate people away from the gospel.
- Persecution of the believers – If repression doesn’t work, many countries will martyr or imprison believers in an effort to stop the advance of the gospel.
- Internal Conflict – Civil war and other conflict often hinders missionary activity in country.
- Hostility toward US citizens – It may have nothing to do with Christianity, but some countries just don’t like Americans and won’t let a US citizen gain entry for any purpose.
- Criminal Attacks – Finally, some countries just don’t have the same kind of police force that we are used to in the US and some missionaries (short and long-term) end up getting robbed, kidnapped, or murdered.
- Limited resources in heart language – There are still many languages that have no Bible, Jesus Film, or other materials in the language of the people.
- Orality Issues – 2/3 of the world are oral communicators and won’t or can’t communicate any other way.
David Campbell’s job in that opening session was not to paint a hopeless picture of global missions. In fact, the rest of the forum was designed to help churches meet the challenges and engage the lostness around the world. I think the above challenges serve to show that the only way disciples will be made of all peoples will be as the Spirit moves and overcomes these obstacles in His power. Look at the Book of Acts. On day one, the Spirit empowered the disciples to overcome the obstacles that would’ve hindered them from proclaiming the gospel to thousands of people from dozens of nations.
Looking through the above challenges I want to make one point clear: The peoples of this world are important enough for us to rise to these challenges. We need to take the gospel to every corner of the globe.
Overcoming the Challenges
But, I also want to make another point similar to the point I made in a previous post: Few of these challenges exist in our US cities! And we know that reached and unreached people groups are living in many of our cities. In my city there are people from at least 62 unreached people groups and virtually every nation in the world. Those nations may be closed to Christians or closed to Americans but they’ve sent their best and brightest to the US to learn or work.
Language challenges are still an issue but in many cases the peoples that are moving to US cities are making an attempt to learn our language. We could potentially reach 62 unreached people groups just by saturating New York City with the gospel.
Of course, there are many reasons why we need to continue overcoming the challenges to take the gospel to the unreached in their own nations. But we need to focus just as much (or more?) of our resources on making disciples and multiplying churches throughout the cities of the US. In our great cities the unreached are within reach. We should do everything we can to greet them at the doorstep with the gospel.