The three largest non-Christian religions in the world are rooted in Asia; they are also the most challenging for Christians. In Asia, there are 1.1 billion Muslims, 950 million Hindus and 470-920 million Buddhists (the higher figure if the Chinese, Japanese and other intermingled ethnic religions are included). Pray for renewed fervor in intercession, vision for mission, and all the resources required for a new wave of Christian workers sent to these nearly 3 billion people in need of Jesus.
While we praise God for great strides in the evangelization of Asia, the remaining challenge is awesome. Asians comprise:
- Over 81% of the 4.7 billion non-Christians in the world.
- 85.4% of World A - unevangelized individuals. Asian countries represent 9 of the world's 10 largest unevangelized populations.
- There are also 680 million Asians with no formal religious affiliation who present a unique challenge in their own right.
Of the 37 countries of the world that are less than 10% Christian, 32 are in Asia. Of the 14 countries that are less than 2% Christian, 12 are in Asia.
The least reached peoples on earth are predominantly Asian. The Joshua Project lists 16,350 ethno-linguistic peoples. Of the 6,648 least reached peoples on this list, 5,150 are in Asia.
The unreached peoples of Asia can be grouped by Affinity Blocs of language, race, culture, geography and history. The salient needs of these blocs are briefly outlined here.
- The Arab World. Population in Asia: 112 million with 166 peoples. The majority of the 12 Arab countries have either shrinking churches due to emigration or small Christian populations with little visible presence. Points for prayer:
- Arab believers need courage to use opportunities to witness and to trust God that Muslims can be saved and become committed believers. The increasing radicalization of Islam in this region can create a climate of oppression that prevents open witness.
- The Internet is probably the most exciting medium where ministry is having an astounding effect. Opportunities for evangelism, apologetics, Bible study, discipleship, worship and fellowship are countless, and the gospel impact in the Arab world through the Internet is truly amazing.
- Satellite television programmes, broadcast daily, are watched by millions of Arabic-speaking Muslims. In many countries, nearly every home owns a satellite dish. As with the Internet, this technology defies boundaries and borders and is bearing unprecedented fruit.
- Radio broadcasts also reach into this region from abroad. Many listen and then receive tactful follow-up ministry.
- Christian films, including the JESUS film, The Passion of the Christ and others, yield remarkable responses.
- There are many opportunities for Christian expatriates to serve in Arab lands and live for Jesus. These range from the humble but profound influence of Asian domestic workers all the way up to more socially elite roles such as diplomats, businessmen, academics and doctors.
- The Iranian-Median bloc. Population in Asia: 146 million; 213 peoples. Major people clusters: Persian (46m); Pashtun (48m); Kurds (28m); Baloch (10m). These include some of the least evangelized peoples on earth. Major opportunities for witness:
- Expatriate Christians serving in these lands - openings are few, but they do exist.
- Millions have been uprooted because of war, oppression and poverty. Christians and churches have been planted among many of these who have found their way into another nation.
- Media ministries. Persian peoples are seeing the same kinds of phenomenal responses to Christian radio and satellite television broadcasts, Internet ministry and Christian literature. But the other people clusters have few materials translated into their languages, few opportunities to interact with those materials - and few responses.
- South Asians are the largest of these eight blocs with 1.5 billion individuals, nearly 800 ethno-linguistic peoples and 3,400 ethno-cultural groups that incorporate ethnicity, language and caste. There are three major components - the Indo-Aryans, Dravidians and Tribals. While there have been significant turnings to Christ among a number of groups, most such responses are from those outside the caste system (Tribals and Dalits) or from the lowest of the castes. The upper castes, the ruling and the middle classes remain largely unreached. Reaching them is a completely different challenge requiring a different approach.
- The Turkic bloc stretches from southeast Europe to northeast Siberia across most of Central Asia. Population in Asia: 149 million with 209 peoples. Most Turkic peoples were under Communist rule for much of the 20th Century, but spiritual responsiveness in Central Asia and the Caucasus since the end of the Soviet Union dwarfs what has happened in Turkey itself. Major opportunities for witness:
- Opportunities for expatriate Christian witness are limited and must be carried out with great sensitivity and wisdom. There are many openings in a tentmaking capacity; several hundred, if not thousands, serve in this way already.
- Indigenous believers have rapidly increased among the Turkic peoples (possibly over 60,000 in 2010), but from a baseline of nearly zero just a couple of decades ago, such totals are relatively modest. Among each of the Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Uzbek and Azerbaijani (especially in Iran) peoples, believers now number over 10,000. Yet the total number of evangelicals amounts only to around 0.04% of the Turkic population in Asia.
- Media input has increased through Bible translation (IBT, UBS, others), literature, radio, satellite television (especially for Turks, Azeris and Central Asian peoples who understand Russian), the JESUS film and Christian materials on the Internet.
- The East Asian bloc. Population in Asia: 1.5 billion. Major people clusters in Asia: Han Chinese (1.2billion); Japanese (127m); Korean (74m). There is now a large dynamic Christian presence among the Koreans and most Mainland and Overseas Chinese communities. The challenges remaining are the much less responsive Japanese, the Chinese Muslim Hui, the Manchu and the Chinese majority in Taiwan.
- The Tibetan/Himalayan bloc of the Himalayas, Central Asia, northeast India, Myanmar and China. Population in Asia: 93 million in 762 peoples. Major people clusters: Burmese (32m); West China/Yi (21m); South Himalaya (7.2m); Tibetan (7.1m); Kuki-Chin-Naga (6.3m); Garo-Tripuri (4.9m) and Karen (4.8m). Many peoples in northeast India, Myanmar and Yunnan province in China have become Christian. The major challenges are:
- The strongly Buddhist Tibetans, most living in Chinese Tibet, Bhutan and north Nepal. Believers are numbered in hundreds only. Ministry opportunities are limited, but workers are nevertheless needed to witness to them.
- The West China/Yi peoples, mostly found in Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet. They predominantly remain practitioners of traditional ethnic religions, and their response to Christian witness (where it has occurred at all) is widely mixed.
- The South Himalayan peoples, largely in India and Nepal and overwhelmingly Hindu and Buddhist in confession. The large majority are unreached.
- The long-resistant Burmese have heard the gospel for two centuries. Few have turned from Buddhism to Christ, but the number of believers is beginning to increase. Many of the Tribal peoples (especially Chin, Karen and Kachin) have responded in much greater numbers.
- The Southeast Asian bloc. Population in Asia: 216 million in 539 peoples. Major people clusters: Vietnamese (75m); Thai (54.6m); Mon-Khmer (25m); Zhuang (18.8m); Miao/Hmong (10.7m). Most are Buddhist or animist. Responses to the gospel are varied. Some groups have many Christians, such as among the Hmong/Montagnard peoples of Vietnam, the Khasi of India and the Wa of Myanmar and China. Also, a rapidly growing number of Christians are among the Vietnamese. The special challenges are for:
- The Thai. Nearly 200 years of freedom to proclaim the gospel has resulted in low response, weak churches and unchallenged, entrenched spiritism and Buddhism. The percent of ethnic Thai who follow Jesus has remained stagnant for some time.
- The many Tai, Yao-Mien and Miao/Hmong peoples of China and Southeast Asia. In only a handful of the hundreds of peoples are there viable, growing churches.
- The Laotians. The authoritarian regime has been particularly harsh in repressing Christians - most of whom are minority peoples and relatively few ethnic Lao.
- The Malay peoples. The Malay family of peoples extends westward to Madagascar in Africa and to Polynesia in the Pacific. Population in Asia: 326 million in 910 peoples. Major clusters: Jawa (87.6m); Central Filipino (77.0m); Sunda-Betawi of Java (35.2m); Malay (23.9m); Madura (14.7m). The more outlying Filipinos, Pacific Islanders, eastern Indonesian peoples and the Malagasy are largely Christian, but the heartlands of Indonesia and Malaysia are largely Muslim. Christians are very few in most peoples. Of special challenge are:
- Sumatra, Indonesia - one of the world's largest islands with around 48 million people and a large Christian population only among the Batak and Nias peoples. The Aceh, Gorontalo, Lampung, Melayu, Minangkabau, Musi, Ogan and Pasemah clusters are largely Muslim and barely touched by the gospel.
- Java, with 140 million people, is the most populous island in the world, but it has a significant Christian community only in cosmopolitan Jakarta and among certain sections of the Jawa. The Sunda and Madura peoples remain unreached and largely resistant to Christian ministry.
- The Malay of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore number 24 million and remain resolutely Muslim despite large Christian minorities in their midst.
- The Muslim peoples cluster of Mindanao, Sulawesi and the Moluccas. They are among the most ardently Muslim peoples in the world, living alongside Christian populations from the same people clusters and at times engaged in brutal violence against them. They include the following clusters: Bugi-Makassar (9.7m, 28 peoples); Filipino Muslim (4.7m, 15 peoples); Toraja (1.6m, 20 peoples); Tukangbesi (1.0m, 18 peoples) and Gorontalo (1.0m, 5 peoples).
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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.