We’ve Heard. They Haven’t.
By Randy Hurst
Sept. 2, 2012
Why do more than 4 billion people still wait for an adequate witness of the Savior?
The number of people in the world today who have not had an adequate witness of the gospel is five times greater than it was in 1914 when the mission of the Assemblies of God began.
If humanity is lost, eternity is certain, and Jesus is the only way of salvation, then everyone must be told. It’s as simple as that.
At the 1921 AG General Council, a resolution stipulated that our mission would be guided by “New Testament practices.” Among those practices was: “The Pauline example will be followed, so far as possible, by seeking out neglected regions where the gospel has not yet been preached” (see Romans 15:20).
It is tragic and unacceptable that more than two-thirds of the world’s population has not been given the opportunity to hear the message of Christ. The issue is access. Because of tribal, language or social barriers, entire groups of people have neither a Christian neighbor nor anyone willing to become one in order to share the gospel with them. Any serious contemplation of the billions of unreached must address the reasons why.
Most of the world can be physically reached within a few days, yet missionaries still deal with daunting challenges to reach people in remote places.
Missionaries Joil and Leah Marbut take the gospel to the Shuar people in the remote Amazon basin of Ecuador. Their work requires flying in a small plane, traveling by canoe, and traversing the jungle for hours by foot. Many jungle villages still have not been reached because of their inaccessibility.
Similarly, Bob and Lisa Holloway, missionaries to Venezuela, lived for a time in the Amazonas region among the Yanomami Indians. Often their trips involved venturing for days up rivers to reach a particular village, only to learn of another village even farther away. This experience has led the Holloways to head up a national church ministry to train Venezuela Assemblies of God missionaries for work among the nation’s indigenous people groups. “We have had the privilege of sending out the first Venezuelan family to live in the jungle,” says Bob.
Tucked away in the mountains of northwest Nepal are villages with no known believers. Traveling to this remote area requires a 21/2-day drive from Katmandu, Nepal’s capital city. The only road to the main town washes out during monsoon season, making it impassable much of the time. The scattered villages are accessible only by foot.
But a young missionary couple is willing to make the trek. Fueled by a passion to reach these forgotten people, they have launched a church planting effort, using storytelling to share the gospel.
“People in this culture are aural learners,” they say. “They remember songs and stories easily and are able to retell them.”
Taking only a backpack each, the couple spends up to two months at a time traveling from village to village, visiting homes and telling stories. They have found the villagers open to their presence and hungry for the gospel.
The September 2011 World Missions Edition of the Evangel highlighted a place in Central Eurasia known as the Zero Zone. Rugged and isolated, this area has zero churches, zero believers and zero access to the gospel. But God is awakening a burden for the Zero Zone and calling believers to make an eternal difference.
After that Evangel was released, 300 young people expressed an interest in serving in the Zero Zone. “Eleven young people have followed their hearts and their Father’s heart to join us, and three more are preparing to come,” says John*, who works in the Zero Zone. The team has just begun ministry there, yet their aim is clear: to show the love of Christ in practical ways. Already their impact is being felt.
After playing games with street children, the group met with government officials who blessed them for helping to keep the youths out of trouble. From this meeting, a team member was able to share the truth with the bodyguard of a provincial governor. The man had never heard the gospel or met a Christian before that day.
Several team members also engaged in conversation with a woman who told them how she thought truly good people should live. Though she had never met a believer or seen a Bible, her description matched that of the Good Samaritan. The team is praying for more opportunities to continue their conversation. They long for the day when the “zero” in Zero Zone will be replaced with a continuously increasing number.
People may seem hard to reach, but they are not unreachable.
In Jesus’ day, Jews shunned Samaritans and lepers. But Jesus reached out to touch lepers and associated with the despised Samaritans.
Today, more than 2 million women and girls are trafficked into India or within its borders every year. Some women are duped by the promise of a better life. Others are sold by their families simply because they are not male. These modern-day slaves, some as young as 7 years old, are then tortured, beaten and repeatedly abused into submission. They work as prostitutes day and night, seven days a week, and are given over to fear and spirit worship. Most women die before they come close to regaining their freedom. Through the efforts of organizations like Project Rescue and Bombay Teen Challenge, these rejected women and girls are being reached and changed by the power of the gospel.
Some people experience rejection simply because of who they are. In 1944, Josef Stalin expelled the Tatar people from Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, claiming they had conspired with Hitler’s forces during World War II. Most were forced to relocate to other Soviet republics, but in the process more than 20 percent of them died. The Tatars were allowed to re-enter Crimea in 1990, yet their cultural differences still set them apart from mainstream life in Ukraine.
A team of six families — four from the United States and two from Central Eurasia — are now in Crimea to share the good news with the Tatars. Since 2010, a central church and four house churches have been planted, and other outreaches are being organized.
A Teen Challenge center for Tatar drug addicts opened in a village where a house church is located. When construction began in September 2011, the team met Seran, an alcoholic. Everyone in the village knew him as a hopeless drunk. As the center was being built, he lived with a Teen Challenge worker. Tatar truck drivers who made deliveries to the site could hardly believe the change that took place in Seran’s life as the weeks passed. Seran told them that at first he could hardly sit upright on his own power, but Jesus changed him from the inside out. Today he is a student in the Teen Challenge program and is training to work at the center.
This summer the Crimea team conducted three youth camps for 150 Tatar children who heard the gospel as they learned English. Four more families have offered their homes as meeting places. Once pushed aside and rejected, the Tatars are learning of the One who experienced rejection to bring them life.
As incomprehensible as it might seem, many people today are treated like the outcast Samaritans and lepers of Jesus’ day. They are deprived of the gospel simply because the church that is physically near them has neglected to care about their spiritual need or lostness. Without a convicting, deep work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s people that moves them to reach out with His love and compassion, even the lost nearby will remain unreached.
Spiritually resistant people groups have brought great discouragement and even heartbreak to missionaries. Though God uses the arduous toil of faithful missionaries, a breakthrough of His Spirit is needed before a spiritual harvest can begin.
In many countries, the message of Christ has flourished among some people groups, yet other groups existing beside them remain spiritually resistant. In Tanzania and Kenya, missionaries with Africa Inland Mission and later the Assemblies of God labored diligently to penetrate the Maasai tribe with a gospel witness but saw little apparent results. Not only were the Maasai people unreached, but for decades they were also considered virtually unreachable.
Over time a committed partnership of missionaries and national believers began reaching out to the Maasai, and the years of prayer for this resistant group saw fruition. A few young Maasai men came to faith in Christ and were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began bringing other Maasai to the Lord, and the church grew. Without long-term commitment to intercessory prayer by African believers and missionaries, and persistent evangelism, the Maasai would have remained unreached. Today, Assemblies of God churches with thousands of Maasai believers are scattered across the land of this great people group once considered hopelessly unreached by many.
Sometimes ministries of compassion provide the key that is needed to open doors to resistant areas.
In northern Kenya, an area plagued by relentless drought, a team of believers drilled seven wells in struggling communities. Normally opposed to anything associated with Christianity, the village leaders welcomed the group with open arms. In one village, a large tent was set up near the drilling rig, and about 200 people came to meet the team.
During their discussion with the village chief, the team asked about other opportunities to help the people. The chief eagerly listed several needs, including a medical clinic.
“And because you have brought us water,” he said, “you can speak to anyone in this whole area. Build as many churches as you want.”
Today a ministry center has been constructed in the area, and believers are active in outreach.
A similar occurrence took place in an area of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, after a HealthCare Ministries team held a five-day clinic in 2008. At the time, a struggling church was meeting in a tent and faced heavy resistance from the community. During the clinic, 1,500 people came to receive treatment for various illnesses, and 150 people accepted Christ. The congregation has since doubled in size, and a permanent structure has replaced the tattered tent.
“The neighbors hated the church before the clinic,” a national pastor said. “Now they love us.”
A sovereign work of the Holy Spirit penetrates even the most spiritually resistant cultures. We acknowledge and depend on the Holy Spirit to empower our message so it can bear the fruit God has promised.
Some missionaries are reaching the lost in restricted-access countries without living inside their borders. Others travel in and out as ministry opportunities arise.
In a delta area of Tanzania, a cluster of 12 villages exists outside the realm of mainstream life. No roads lead to and from them; their only access is by canoe or helicopter. The 20,000 people living there lack even the most basic services. To reach the nearest hospital, the sick must take a precarious four-hour journey by boat. Many die before they receive help.
Village leaders say, “We have only one religion. Everyone who was born here or comes to live here must follow it.”
But God called a national believer to move to the area to work as an agriculturalist while sharing the gospel. As interest in his message grew, missionaries helped him purchase a plot of ground for a church. Angered about the plans for the property, village leaders asked the believer to leave. Though unable to live in the restricted area, he returns regularly, traveling several hours by canoe to build relationships with the people. He is trusting the power of the gospel to penetrate all barriers that keep people from hearing the message.
Still other missionaries develop resources that empower national believers with creative ways to reach the lost. Global University in Springfield, Missouri, equips great numbers of missionaries and national ministers to communicate the message of salvation and disciple believers in places where the gospel cannot be publicly proclaimed.
Restricted-access areas are not the same as unreachable populations. God directs His servants in extraordinary ways to make His presence known. Worldwide, the most significant barrier to reaching the more than 4 billion unreached is government restrictions to missionary activity. Still, restricted access can be transformed into creative access as God opens doors of ministry opportunity.
Is it fair that more than 4 billion haven’t heard the saving message of Christ?
Remoteness, rejection, resistance and restriction are reasons people are unreached. But we have no excuse. None of these challenges can be considered an impossible task. Each circumstance can be overcome — with the help of the Holy Spirit. What we need is a level of commitment and sacrifice equal to Christ’s command to reach the lost and His promise of the Spirit’s enablement to do so.
Former AG World Missions Executive Director Loren Triplett once said, “If Jesus died for everyone, then everyone must be told.”
If eternity matters more than time ...?If Jesus Christ is who He says He is ...?Then nothing matters more than everyone knowing about Him and His offer of forgiveness and everlasting life.
RANDY HURST is director of AGWM Communications.
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