by Justin Long
Justin is the Information & Team Mobilization Strategist for Mission to Unreached Peoples.
Since you are reading this, you are probably—at least in some small degree—interested in missions. You want to know a little more about missions, and most likely your place in it. You are probably like many of us who feel prompted and maybe even challenged by the Holy Spirit to be involved in missions in some way.
Still, you are also probably like many of us who are grappling with what our specific role is. What, precisely, are we supposed to do? Where? For how long? And how do we get started in it?
Simply finding a need and working on it is a challenge, because no matter where you go in the world, whether close by or far away, you’ll find plenty of good things to do and plenty of people in need. With so many different causes clamoring for our attention, how do we choose?
Admittedly the easiest option is to stay where you are and work on the people closest to you. Perhaps the most tempting option is to go where it’s easiest and the harvest is “most ripe,” and work there! Instead, let me point out the examples of Jesus and Paul.
Examples from the Bible
In Luke 10, Jesus chose 72 disciples and sent them out in pairs “to all the towns and places he planned to visit.” (Luke 10:1) He didn’t put them to work in the town where he was presently ministering—he sent them to places that he (probably) hadn’t visited before.
In Luke 10:11 he warned them that some of the towns they would enter would not welcome them. This was potentially dangerous business: “I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3)
Paul, similarly, went to “other places far beyond you, where no one else is working.” (2 Corinthians 10:16) In such places it was impossible to know whether the harvest was “ripe” or not–because no one was there to examine the fields!
Unreached Places Today
Today there are many such places, clearly identified by research:
- There are over 2 billion people in unreached people groups (for exhaustive lists, see the Joshua Project website at http://www.joshuaproject.net). Many of these groups have churches and some Christians, but the local church is not large enough to reach everyone in the group on an ongoing basis (that is, foreign missionaries): they can’t reach the current generation and future generations on their own.
- There are over 1 billion people in unevangelized people groups (for exhaustive lists, see the World Christian Encyclopedia, 2nd edition). In many of these groups there is some missionary work going on, but it’s not nearly enough to reach the entire group even once: most of the people in the group are not likely to hear the Gospel in their lifetime.
- Finally, there are over 231 million people in unengaged people groups (see the Finishing the Task List at http://www.finishingthetask.com). These groups have no workers and no churches at all. Most of the people in these groups will slip into a Christless eternity because no one in the church undertook the difficulties to go to them.