The Unreached: Location and Lens

By Jim M. Ramsay

For the past several decades, much of the focus in mission discussion has been around the idea of “unreached” or “least reached” people groups. About 32 percent of the seven billion people on the planet identify themselves as Christians. An additional 40 percent live in areas of world where there are churches and access to the Scriptures but do not self-identify as Christians. So, when we speak of the “unreached” we are talking about the nearly two billion people who have yet to hear the gospel for even the first time. These are people groups with no Bible in their language, no church or fellowship in their culture, no believer in their life. These numbers and concepts are fairly common in mission literature used in churches and have raised awareness about the importance of giving attention to the nearly one-third of the world’s population they represent. Unfortunately, estimates are that only two to ten percent of mission effort and funding from the United States is allocated to these areas. There are two angles that can help churches engage the unreached. I call these angles the location and the lens.

The majority of unreached people live in Southern Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. This is often referred to as the “10/40 Window” — the land mass comprising those areas between the 10th and 40th parallels north. While this does represent a large portion of the unreached people and thus is a helpful construct, we need to be careful not to limit our understanding of unreached ministry to these areas. Clearly a focus on the unreached has implications for geographic location. Without that, the default setting for mission will continue to be those areas of the world that are convenient to our own nation politically, culturally, geographically, and even religiously.

Many of these areas are closed to traditional mission approaches. So to obey the command of Christ to make disciples in all nations, we are prompted to come up with creative ways of finding ministry in these nations. Some of the ways for us to impact these areas is to send people as professionals — school teachers, engineers, and business people.

We in the United States may also have a role of assisting churches of nations with less political baggage in the training and sending of their own workers to unreached areas. I recently returned from a visit to Kenya where we were meeting with Kenyan church and mission leaders about their vision to reach the unreached tribes of Northern Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan. Those are places that would be difficult, if not impossible, for an American to serve due to global politics, but they are open to Kenyans. One Kenyan missionary told us incredible stories of sharing the gospel with people in a restricted Islamic area of a neighboring country. He told me, “My brother, you would not even be allowed to visit.” So the location perspective is not just for the Church in the United States, but for global church to take into account.

In addition to location, the other angle is that of lens. We as believers need to be aware of the unreached, and we need to identify where they are in our own lives and communities. Some missionaries in the Andes of Peru — an area that would be considered “reached” on the mission maps — identified people on the hillsides outside their city that for all practical purposes were not likely to hear or be exposed to the gospel message. The family left the relative comforts of life in the city and moved into the community on the hillside so they could be witnesses in that area.

Another area that is revealed when looking through the lens of the unreached is the vast numbers of people groups who study in or immigrate to the United States. In 2010 there were more than 150,000 Chinese and 100,000 Indian students studying in the United States. I live in a suburban Atlanta county where more than 25 percent of the population is first-generation immigrants, some representing unreached people groups. Yet I would daresay that most churches in my county either are not aware or simply do not know how to engage the people who are now around them. In another example, a church in a university town applied the lens and realized that 70 unreached people groups were represented among the student population of the local university! This new awareness can spur congregations into radically new ministries and mission.

For a church seeking to reflect God’s heart for the nations, attention to the angles of location and lens will enable a sharper focus. It will take the whole body of Christ applying these angles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit if we are to see more of the unreached hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

Jim M. Ramsay is Vice President for Mission Ministries of The Mission Society.