Growing up in an evangelistic church in the UK, the language of ‘mission’ was something I was familiar with. It was something of a rite of passage to go on a mission trip with your youth group. Maybe you went on a similar one. Maybe your church is connected to a family or another congregation in a foreign land. But I bet you anything, that those countries we all support are relatively ‘reached’.
Uganda, Ethiopia, Brazil, Mexico; these are all places with a fairly high proportion of Christians, where churches are able to meet and evangelise in relative freedom. There’s no question that these communities have needs, but with 87 per cent of foreign mission spending going to support people who are already Christian, perhaps these needs are being over-supplied? 12 per cent is spent on those who have already heard the gospel, but are currently unsaved, which leaves just one per cent for work among the unevangelised and unreached people. [Stats taken from Mark Baxter’s The Coming Revolution: Because Status Quo Missions Won’t Finish the Job.]
Are you shocked? The same study revealed that more than 70,000 people die every day having never heard the good news of Jesus Christ. And yet the global Church pours its money into places where the gospel is already known and spreading.
So why is this? Well, because the kingdom of God is a relational model, it means we build connections with people and places, which we then invest in on an ongoing, long-term basis. That’s good. I’m not advocating a ‘swoop in and clear out’ missional method, but it’s not good enough to answer for why so much of the world is still relatively unreached.
Another factor is education. If you don’t know of the opportunity available, then you can’t take it. And again, the relational model makes this difficult. We rely on knowing someone who knows someone in that area, or a family that has long had that country ‘on their heart’.
But a colossal factor is risk. A lot of these people groups are unreached because the location is difficult to get to, or because they appear hostile to the gospel. Saudi Arabia, Bhutan, Somalia, North Korea – none of these places are ideal holiday destinations, and they’re certainly not ‘classic’ Christian missions locations.
However, they are still God’s people. Not-yet believers. And if someone doesn’t go and tell them the good news, what will happen to them? We can’t just ignore that reality, or hope that one day it might be easier to get into those places. What about the 70,000 that died yesterday, having never heard of a perfect saviour who took their place in death for them?
Something to think about the next time we pray for the nations, give to a missionary organisation or look to go on a trip.
“Why should anyone hear the Gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?” – Oswald Smith.
For more information, check out The Joshua Project.