Most of today’s least-reached peoples have not heard the gospel because it remains so difficult to reach them! Many barriers (geography, language, culture, religion, politics, economics, spiritual darkness) leave them hidden or overlooked. These unreached groups generally will not hear the good news until someone reaches across the barriers to share and demonstrate the love of Christ, until a Church grows among them. Pioneer mission work is hard, expensive, and takes time. It requires great cultural understanding, commitment, and spiritual warfare through prayer. Many unreached peoples have small populations, and Christians know very little about them because they are so isolated, or because they appear to blend in with larger groups. Ask God to reveal Jesus to these smaller, more vulnerable groups. When Jesus commissions the Church, He assures the believers of God’s power and authority, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The work before us is great, but not so vast as the greatness of God, who promises to go with us and empower us.
The majority of the least reached are last to hear the gospel precisely because they are the most isolated from witnessing Christians and the most difficult to reach. This is due to a combination of geographic, linguistic, political, religious, social and spiritual barriers. In order to hear, they will generally need cross-cultural gospel input from workers called of God, at least until there is an established Church among their people. Pray that they may have a revelation of the grace and power of God for effective, growing churches to be planted.
Mission agencies. Protestant and Independent missionary-sending and support agencies have multiplied over the past two centuries; this is a worldwide phenomenon of great significance. Pray for:
Few of the 6,645 least reached peoples have no known Christians among them, but Christians generally constitute a very small minority - on average 0.4% of the population. In coming to Christ, and especially in trying to reach their own people, they face many pressures and even persecution. Pray that these Christians may know the sustaining grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit as they endeavour to evangelize their own people.
- Effective strategies to evangelize each people group or society, based on a detailed understanding of their beliefs and way of life, a clear understanding of God's purpose both for life and salvation and an understanding of the ultimate goal of making disciples. Without adequate preparation and understanding, enthusiasm and resources can be wasted with results that dishonour Christ.
- Adaptability in a rapidly changing world. Missions are aiming at a fast moving and changing target. The lifestyles and conditions of the world's peoples change rapidly due to economics, ecology, urbanization, culture shifts, information technology and complex patterns of migration. Religious fundamentalism is resurgent, and many nations seek to exert their authority by controlling or eliminating the Church. Mission agencies must be constantly alert to field contexts and be flexible enough in structure and strategies to seize opportunities when they arise.
- Leadership in mission agencies. Leaders need great wisdom in setting clear objectives, guidance in selecting and placing workers, ability in giving pastoral care, and skills in maintaining good relationships with secular authorities, other missions and national Churches.
- Relationships with national Churches. Most missionary work is now done in contexts where indigenous Christians exist, gather and even minister in their own evangelistic capacity. Expatriate Christians must learn to serve in harmony with the local church where it exists, as each acts in humility and grace toward the other. Tensions and misunderstandings can occur and cultures can vary greatly, but each needs the other to see the task fulfilled.
- Effective cooperation among missionary agencies honours God by eliminating unnecessary duplication and unbiblical competition between agencies and denominations. Too often, the theological fragmentation and ethnocentrism that plagues sending churches are exported into foreign contexts, where such histories and issues are largely irrelevant. This is a poor testimony and presents a confusing message.
- The formation of networks and collaborative strategies is crucial in areas where missions must operate in a circumspect manner. When a host of agencies work separately in areas wary of or opposed to Christian mission, they can soon appear as an external threat. Networks that provide overall strategy and broker the work of many agencies and churches on a field can be highly effective for Kingdom advance. Within such larger frameworks, the different nationalities and agencies can understand and apply their unique strengths and giftings for the benefit of the overall mission effort and the national Church.
Missionaries. The harsh realities of spiritual labour soon dispel the imagined glamour of pioneer missionary work. Both the missionaries and the churches that send them need to have realistic expectations, adequate support on every level and unflinching devotion to the task. Pray for:
There are many very small groups by population size - 574 have less than 100 people, 3,040 have less than 1,000 people and 7,930 have less than 10,000 people. For many, information is inadequate to understand their needs, their culture and the urgency of outreach to them. This highlights the need for good national and international research teams to find out the needs so the Church may be activated to bring them the good news.
- Vital, supportive home fellowships of believers who are willing to pray the missionary out to the field and keep him or her there through the years of greatest effectiveness. This is difficult to maintain with rapid changes and turnovers in membership and in the pastoral team in most congregations. Congregations must see themselves as local launching pads for the essential task of global mission, rather than as local institutions where foreign ministry is an optional add-on.
- The supply of their financial needs. Mission is too often regarded by churches as a charitable extra - if there are sufficient funds left over from the local essentials. Many missionaries live sacrificially for Christ, in harsh and demanding contexts, with simple lifestyles and neither present nor future guarantees of income or security. This is especially the case for those from newer sending nations where churches do not yet appreciate the importance of financial support for mission. Missionary lifestyles also need to be sensitive to the living standards of the contexts in which they work.
- Adequate preparation for missionary work. This is arduous and long - theological training, ministry experience, language learning and adaptation to a new land may take years before an effective ministry can be exercised. Those years can be traumatic and discouraging. The significant number of missionaries who fail to return for a second term of service is indicative of possible deficiencies in selection, preparation, structure and pastoral care. With the increased amateurization of mission, training and preparation are increasingly compromised for the sake of getting people "on the ground" as soon as possible. But it is more training - and not less - that will see healthy, growing, culturally appropriate churches planted in cross-cultural situations.
- Cultural adjustment. Many prospective missionaries cannot make the adjustment to new foods, lifestyles, languages, value systems and attitudes. Some return home disillusioned and with a sense of failure; others react wrongly on the field and hinder fellowship and witness; yet others go too far in their adaptation and compromise their health and sometimes their faith. Wisdom is precious in such situations, as is an authentic biblical love for the people and culture where the work is occurring.
- Spiritual vitality and a rich devotional life. In the role of spiritual leadership, as a living testimony to the efficacy of the gospel, often in isolation from other believers and as an ambassador of God's Kingdom in dark places, a missionary cannot afford to exist with a tepid spiritual life.
- Protection from Satan's attacks. The powers of darkness are real. In many areas, Satan's kingdom has never before been challenged. Missionaries must be more vigilant on the field than in home situations. They need to be able to discern between cultural differences and spiritual opposition, but the spiritual authority to resist evil attacks is even more vital. These can come through many means, including physical health and disease, attacks upon the mind and attitude, in relationships and in physical threats such as violent attacks and hostage taking.
- Family life. For singles, the missionary call may mean foregoing marriage for the sake of the gospel - loneliness can be a heavy burden to bear. Yet, singleness on the field can also bring rapid language and culture acquisition and flexibility of lifestyle and ministry. For others, family life may be made difficult by living conditions, inadequate amenities or lack of finance; long separations, many visitors and excessive workloads may disrupt it. Missionaries' children may be separated from their parents for long periods because of education; children's educational needs bring to an end the field ministry of countless missionary families. But family life can be a real asset for integrating into the target community as well as a great opportunity to demonstrate the gospel through family relationships.
- Calling and commitment. The assurance that God has guided one to a particular ministry is often the only anchor to retain workers in difficult situations, misunderstandings, broken relationships and "impossible" crises. Pray that none may leave a place of calling for a negative or superficial reason, but only because of a positive leading from God.
- Built-in obsolescence. Missionary presence on a field could end suddenly for a host of reasons; when expatriate workers make themselves irreplaceable this can spell disaster for the health of fledgling churches and movements. Success should be understood as having been achieved when the missionaries are no longer needed for the role for which they came. The ideal goal of all missionaries should be to train their own replacements from among local believers.
- Re-entry - temporary or long-term - which can be traumatic. Returning missionaries need adequate debriefing, preparation for reverse culture shock and the continued support of God's people; these help establish an effective rapport with churches at home, build a fruitful ministry on the home end and prepare for a return to the field.
Churches around the world need to gain a vision for unreached peoples. Peoples - or ethne in NT Greek - are the fundamental units in God's plan for the redemption of all humanity; this is a non-negotiable biblical reality. Sadly, in the post-AD 2000 world, many have moved on to other, more "trendy" ways of regarding the world's need, each of which is helpful and important, but without the primacy of the biblical concept of ethne.
There must be disciples made from every people on earth, made clear throughout the Old Testament, the Gospels and Revelation. This implies the need for a body of believers in every people and, more, a Church that impacts every part of that people. This goal is the essence of the Great Commission and the crux of God's purposes for humanity. It is also linked to the coming again of the Lord Jesus for His Church. Pray that the Church may passionately pursue this goal to conclusion and then be the generation that brings back the King!
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.