You may have noticed my new little widget on the sidebar here. It shows a photo of an “Unreached People of the Day” along with a few facts to inform your prayers. If you click on the photo, the link takes you to the Joshua Project website, where you can learn more. Joshua Project is a ministry that seeks to highlight the ethnic peoples of the world with the fewest followers of Jesus.
When Pete and I talk about missions, we are often asked about the phrase unreached peoples. “What do you mean, unreached? My neighbor here is unreached. He never goes to church. I don’t need to go anywhere—there are plenty of unreached people right here in my city.”
This type of confusion is what happens when mission researchers (who can be rather geeky at times) interact with the general public.
That neighbor of yours, who speaks your language and shares your culture, may be unevangelized, but he isn’t unreached. If he wanted to know about God, he could go to any local bookstore and buy one of a dozen Bible translations. He could go online and read from any of 32 million sites that mention Jesus. He could even ask you!
Maybe then, instead of the term unreached, we should talk about access. Your neighbor has access to the gospel. The people you see in my widget do not. There are no Bibles in their language. There are no believers among them who can tell them about Jesus. They cannot view the Jesus Film. They cannot hear an evangelistic radio broadcast. They literally have no way to ever find out that God loves them.
Over the last 2,000 years, missionaries have done a great job of spreading the gospel. Churches have been planted in most parts of the world. As those believers become mature, they evangelize their neighbors. Like a virus, the gospel spreads throughout that people until it is stopped by something.
There are many things that create barriers to the spread of the Gospel. Language is a primary obstacle. If you don’t speak Marwari, how can you explain God to a Megh woman? According to Wycliffe Bible Translators, there are over 6,900 thousand languages spoken around the world.
Caste is another significant barrier. It may be officially illegal, but the caste system still rules life for a billion Indians. Religious beliefs, mountain ranges, isolating governments—can all keep a community from learning about Jesus.
In order to bring the good news to these isolated peoples, someone has to intentionally cross these physical and cultural barriers. Missionaries have to learn new languages. Creativity may be needed to enter a country that prohibits “proselytizing.” This isn’t the sort of endeavor you can do short term. It’s hard. It requires sacrifice. It may be fatal.
Researches have varying opinions on the actual number of unreached peoples in the world, but it’s in the thousands. We know that when Jesus returns, there will be worshipers from every people and language gathered around His throne (Rev. 7:9). For that to happen, people from every ethnic group must have an opportunity to hear about God… and He won’t come back until they do (Matt. 24:14). Progress is encouraging, but we are nowhere near finished.
I posted the Joshua Project widget on my blog to remind all of us to pray for those who have no access to the gospel. It may not be all we do, but it’s a great place to start.