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Unreached

Most people in the world still don’t have access to the message of Christ

By Randy Hurst

No one communicated the truth about eternal issues as clearly as Jesus.

He poignantly revealed the heart of our Heavenly Father in His stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son (Luke 15). While the scribes and Pharisees were grumbling about the time He spent with sinners, Jesus startled them with His words: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, NASB). The proportionate ratio of 99 to 1 was a striking way of giving perspective to the tragic spiritual plight of the lost.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus revealed another compelling truth. In an attempt to justify himself, a lawyer had asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus saw through the question and addressed the heart of the matter. The story of the Good Samaritan was His way of saying, “You’re really asking, ‘Who is not my neighbor? Who is beyond my responsibility to love?’”

 In Jesus’ story, the victim of an attack was clearly a Jew. A priest and Levite who passed him without meeting his need were also Jews. But a foreigner, a Samaritan, was the kind of neighbor Jesus wants all of us to be. Why did the Samaritan care for the man who had been beaten and robbed and left half dead on the road? The motivating factor was not because he was a Jew, but because he was there. Jesus left His listeners — and all of us — to face the most important issue: “What kind of neighbor are you?”

When we buy a house, the neighbor comes with the house. Our neighbor is simply whoever is there. Followers of Christ have a responsibility to those within their reach.

But what about those who are not within reach? When lost people have no Christian neighbor to share the love and message of Christ with them, we still have a responsibility. Someone must get there.

When Jesus gave final instructions to His disciples just before His ascension, the man who would proclaim the gospel most widely was not yet among His followers. A zealous and self-righteous Pharisee consumed with fulfilling the law, Saul of Tarsus had no idea that his life’s purpose was being shaped by a carpenter from Nazareth.

Early Christians certainly would have considered Saul the most unlikely candidate to take Christ’s message to those who had the least access to its hope. But just as the Lord had chosen the Twelve, Saul of Tarsus was, in Jesus’ words to Ananias, “a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

The transformed Paul knew his mission. He “aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named” (Romans 15:20). Remembering his own spiritual lostness helped give Paul a fervent compassion for those who had never heard of Jesus. His commitment to preach the gospel in unreached areas was not merely his heart’s passion, but the clearly understood purpose for his life.

Paul’s plaintive appeal to the Romans concerning the desperate plight of the spiritually lost speaks just as clearly to today’s church: “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? How shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14,15).

The Bible teaches that there will be degrees both of reward (Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10) and of punishment (Matthew 23:14). It also teaches that every person faces only two possible eternal destinations … heaven or hell. In principle, no one is more lost than anyone else. But there is a difference. Not all spiritually lost people have the same access to the saving hope of the gospel. This fact compelled the apostle Paul to keep pressing into “regions beyond” (2 Corinthians 10:16) where Christ had not yet been proclaimed.

The priority of the unreached

When the Holy Spirit led our founders to form the Assemblies of God during the Pentecostal revival in the early 1900s, its missionary character and priority were clearly defined. In the first General Council held in 1914 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, our leaders gave eloquent and passionate expression to the missionary purpose for forming the Fellowship. Later that year during the second General Council held at Stone Church in Chicago, Illinois, our early leaders made an amazing declaration: “We commit ourselves and the Movement to Him for the greatest evangelism that the world has ever seen.”

World evangelization was “the chief concern of the church.” Even in the resolution concerning tithes, the Council resolved that after providing support for local ministry, any surplus funds should be spent for “the spread of the gospel throughout the world.”

Unlike many church bodies that focused missions efforts on certain parts of the world, our early leaders were compelled by the Spirit to obey our Lord’s command to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15).

The boldness of our forefathers’ response to our Lord’s command is astounding. How could such a small group of Christians even consider attempting to preach the gospel in all the world? They could because they understood the eternal destiny of the spiritually lost and took seriously Jesus’ command to reach the whole world. They also were convinced of His promise that they would receive the Holy Spirit’s power to do it (Acts 1:8).

The Fellowship’s priority of taking the message of Christ to the unreached was forcefully expressed at the 1921 General Council when church leaders declared that “the Pauline example will be followed so far as possible, by seeking out neglected regions where the Gospel has not yet been preached, lest we build upon another’s foundation” (Romans 15:20).

In just six years we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Assemblies of God. To review what God has done in the world through the Assemblies of God and its fraternal fellowships since its inception is a cause for great rejoicing and even amazement. Could our founders have envisioned that AG missionaries would establish churches in more than 200 countries and territories? Since 1990, AG World Missions has begun working in 81 new countries and territories. But the billions of unreached still overwhelm the number of those who have been reached.

When compared to the more than 50 million church members in Assemblies of God fraternal fellowships throughout the world, the estimated 4.4 billion people in the world who still have not had an adequate witness of the gospel is an ironic reversal of the 99 to 1 ratio in the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15. Those within Assemblies of God churches throughout the world equal just over 1 percent of the world’s unreached. Any joy over those safely in the fold is far overshadowed by the sobering reality of those still lost and without access to an adequate witness of the saving message of Jesus Christ.

As with the apostle Paul, we must seek to proclaim the good news where Christ has not been named. It is both tragic and unacceptable that the message of Christ has not been given to more than two-thirds of the world’s population. How appalling that some people can hear the message again and again when others have never heard it once.

Not all unreached are inaccessible

A clear priority exists for taking the gospel to those who have no access to it — to what our early leaders termed the “neglected regions.” But there is another form of neglect. We must not neglect the lost who live where the gospel already has a presence.

Studies that establish the percentage of Christians among nations and people groups help to define needs in missions. But no percentage of any group is enough to satisfy the compassion of God for all lost people. The Great Commission stipulates no quota.

What God’s Word reveals about His heart for the lost negates the designation of a particular group of people as being “reached.” God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Led by a loving Heavenly Father, missionaries are compelled to leave the 99 who are already safely within the family of God and enter into our Lord’s mission to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). We will not withdraw from or diminish the activity of our mission anywhere as long as spiritually lost people wait for an adequate witness of Christ.

Those of us who have nonbelieving relatives should be unwilling to consider our family “reached” while any member is still lost. Likewise, the tragic circumstance of the lost in our own communities should challenge any sense of complacency.

Most Americans have access to several Christian television channels that broadcast 24 hours a day. At what point should we say that America has had “enough” of the gospel? Most of us have family members who are spiritually lost and not yet at the point of decision. Don’t we still hope for someone to be a witness to them so they will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus?

If our Heavenly Father’s heart has touched ours, we will be moved by the lostness of our neighbors and even more by the lostness of those who have no neighbor to reach them.

What we can do?

This Fellowship was formed because our founders knew we could only fulfill the Great Commission together. Every believer has a responsibility to respond to our Lord’s command. As we join our hearts and hands, marshal our resources to the task, and offer ourselves and our children to the Lord’s service, the mission will go on.

What can we do individually?

First, pray

Jesus said, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38, KJV). As believers pray, the Holy Spirit speaks to hearts about missionary service.

Intercessory prayer is both a privilege and a responsibility. As Aaron held up Moses’ hands, we can help sustain our missionaries as they faithfully work to bring the light of the gospel to people lost in darkness. What a marvelous opportunity we have! Though we are separated by many thousands of miles, through intercessory prayer, we can be fellow-workers with our missionaries on the front lines of spiritual harvest around the world.

Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Pray … that God may open a door for our message” (Colossians 4:3, NIV).

Prayer is essential to the proclamation of the gospel. As Pentecostals, we recognize that preaching and publishing the gospel are not enough. Hearts must be opened. Lives must be changed. The Church must be established. These can be accomplished only by God himself. Only God can open a heart!

Give

Assemblies of God believers are incredibly generous, but most of us can do more.

New missionaries are finding it increasingly hard to raise their support. If each of us who give weekly or monthly to support missions would exercise faith and sacrifice to increase our giving by 20 or 25 percent, it would make a significant difference in supplying our missionary force with the financial support they need to fulfill God’s call upon their lives.

Go

For multitudes of lost people in unreached nations, tribes or people groups, access to the saving message of Christ can be as simple as the vision and obedience of one person who is called by the Spirit.

In 1933, Gustav Bergstrom was reading the Pentecostal Evangel when God confirmed a call upon his heart to the nation of Brazil, where he served for 55 years and planted churches in more than 250 cities.

The January 2008 World Missions Edition of the Evangel included the story of Brandon and Vicki Forester, who just finished three years of ministry establishing the Hope Clinic in the jungles of Vanuatu. Brandon and Vicki felt called to Vanuatu after reading a story in the Evangel four years ago.

Possibly the Lord has been dealing with the heart of someone reading this article concerning missionary service. He may want to take you beyond praying and giving to going somewhere in this world where the lost are waiting for the message of Jesus Christ.

The eternal destiny of multitudes depends on the willingness of missionaries to sacrifice their life goals to follow wherever our Lord leads. Our culture’s propensity for quick and easy results isn’t conducive to the hard work and high cost required of missionary life. Leaving family, home and familiar surroundings to move to a distant land, learn a difficult language and adjust to another culture requires sacrifice to which most people are not inclined. Today’s world offers fast and easy travel, advanced technology and better medical care than were dreamed of by previous generations of missionaries. But reaching the unreached in today’s world is still an arduous task. We must facilitate the divine call on a new generation of missionaries in a time when both political and economic challenges in the world are greater than ever.

How can an unfinished task of such magnitude be faced with any hope of success? We need the same audacious faith of the earliest Pentecostal missionaries, whose divinely inspired confidence enabled them to venture forth with so few materials and human resources, but with an unshakable belief that God’s promises are as sure as His commands are clear.

What we must do is what we have always done but in greater measure. We must pray and give more. And more messengers must go to keep proclaiming Christ through evangelism, planting churches, training national leaders, and touching the poor and suffering with the compassion of Christ.

The day will come when the last name is recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Until then, our lost neighbors wait for us to share the message of Christ. And those who are unreached with no neighbor to tell them — wait for one to come.


RANDY HURST is communications director for AG World Missions.

E-mail your comments to tpe@ag.org.

In next month’s issue, we will explore why so many in our world are unreached as well as how they can be reached.

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