by Tim Crouch
In today’s world, how do we live out what the King wants us to do next in the mission He’s on, even when it’s hard?
We want to see All of Jesus for All the World, but what remains to be done is probably some of the hardest work we’ve ever had to do. These are years in which we have had difficulty keeping boots on the ground in many places that were once some of the safest fields to do ministry. And many peoples still lacking gospel access live in places where it is hard for outsiders to bring gospel presence. There is a reason the world’s remaining unreached peoples remain unreached. It’s because they’re hard to reach.
Why Focus on Unreached Peoples?
It has been 50 years since Ralph Winter coined the term “unreached peoples” and encouraged us to pay attention to groups who do not yet have the opportunity to hear the gospel. After so many years, the question begins to rise: “Is this still a key approach?”
For instance, one new way of looking at our world observes how many people are on the move. Today, 300 million people are international migrants. One in every 26 people on the planet live in a country they weren’t born in. Missiologists and ministry leaders encourage a focus on how God is at work among—and through—people on the move. They are right to do so! Alliance Missions today, and many Alliance churches in the United States, have personnel focused on migrants and are partnering with God’s people among them.
At the same time, The Alliance must also remain focused on unreached peoples in their homelands. While migration has never been higher, only 4 percent of the world’s population is moving. 96 percent of unreached peoples live out their lives in homelands with little to no access to the gospel. And God is not done calling His own to live out gospel presence among them.
It’s been 2,000 years since Jesus said, “Let’s take the gospel to all peoples everywhere.” Yet there are vast portions of our world where, simply because of where they were born, people will live their whole lives without hearing the good news. I cannot think of a greater injustice.
This means that incarnational ministry among remaining unreached peoples is necessary but will be hard. There will be trouble, but it will be worth it.
Providing gospel presence among unreached peoples of the world should continue to guide our sending of those God calls. Out of nearly 700 Alliance international workers, 80 percent of them serve in locations where the world’s most unreached populations live. Over two-thirds of them serve directly among unreached people groups. They work with a long-term focus, which means we are going to stay the course in the dozen or more places we started ministry in the last 15 years. And we will diligently seek fresh opportunities God will open to impact new unreached people groups. Join us in prayer as we stay in hard places and ask God to identify the next places and peoples.
Pockets of Need and Opportunity
Often when Alliance personnel are present among one unreached people group, they also discover important subsets. Some of these pockets of people are distinguished by minority languages or ethnicity. Others are identified by different characteristics—just as they may be in our own society. These groups are present everywhere and often less well-impacted by the gospel than the dominant populations they live among.
Consider some examples. In our world today, there are 43 million blind people, 430 million Deaf people, 650 million disabled people, 300 million migrants, and 153 million orphans. 685 million people live in extreme poverty, meaning they live on less than $2.50 a day. 1.2 billion people also live in multi-dimensional poverty, which is based on their health, education opportunities, and living standards. 160 million people are addicted to alcohol or illicit drugs, with over 100,000 overdose deaths in the United States last year alone. LGBTQ+ people represent a growing subgroup globally. And in nearly every society of our world, we find cultural, racial, ethnic, or language minorities.
We may never be more like Jesus than when we serve the overlooked or outcast group in His love. The life-changing gospel of Jesus at work among the everywhere-present-but-often-overlooked is a powerful testimony. And seeing disciples from such pockets mobilized in ministry is a true vision of the priesthood of all believers.
This, too, is hard work. Needs abound, in number and complexity. Attention to minority groups is not always popular or understood, yet it often brings fruit in the larger majority culture. As unique needs are sensitively met and lives are transformed, the majority people are impressed with the love of Christ and power of the gospel among “the least of these, my children” (see Matthew 25:40–45). The needs of subgroups can be the key to opportunity throughout a whole society.
Alliance teams will pursue advance, not only with a view to unreached people groups but to important pockets of people among them. It may be hard, but it is ministry after Jesus’ own model.
Not Alone in This
One of the joys of this chapter in Alliance history, and in Great Commission fulfillment, is that we don’t have to do this alone. In fact, in the years ahead, if any of us tried to do it alone, we won’t get the chance. God is raising up and multiplying forces. Opportunities to do this hard work by joining together with friends are all around us.
This is especially true because our U.S. Alliance family is so diverse. We’ve got a lot of people from a lot of backgrounds speaking a lot of languages every Sunday morning. But not all of us are equally well-mobilized. These are days when God is saying, “I want to call all My Alliance people.” So, in these days, we’re doing hard work to help brothers and sisters see a place for themselves and to help ministry teams be communities where we can all belong.
A huge blessing of our day is the blossoming Alliance World Fellowship (AWF). Over 25 of the sister church networks of AWF are now sending international workers of their own. Our U.S. international workers often partner with these Alliance people from sending churches in different nations. In other cases, we are nearby one another, cheering one another on, and holding one another up. Many of these good friends carry passports more welcome, speak languages more helpful, and understand host cultures more intuitively. In our lifetime, there will soon be more non-U.S. missionaries than those from the United States. We welcome that day and invest in its coming even as we continue to send our own called ones. The work is hard but thankfully, the laborers are multiplying!
This is indeed a day when the remaining work is hard, so we will look for innovations and new opportunities to be leveraged. At the same time, we believe people lacking gospel access gain it when gospel people, called and gifted by God, live among them. And we believe God is still calling all His people into this mission.
We don’t do what’s hard simply because it is hard. We do what’s hard because He did it for us, because His people did it for us. We do it because many still wait for His children to now do it for them.
now. to the hard places
The world’s remaining unreached peoples have disadvantaged access to the good news of Jesus. Over 4,000 distinct people groups lacking gospel access remain in locations from which 90 percent of their population will never migrate.
Within each society of these unreached groups are also pockets of people with specific needs. These groups are often overlooked, though not by our God.
The time is now. for gospel advance in the world’s hardest places.
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