What if you had never heard of Christmas?
Here in the U.S. almost every house in our neighborhood has some sort of decorations up. Santa is at the mall, and the stores have been pushing gifts for months. At least one radio station has been playing Christmas music nonstop since Thanksgiving. Our tree is up, the stockings are hung, and the calendar is full of invitations.
Yet, there are still cultures around the world for whom Christmas is unknown. These are people who have never heard the name of Jesus and who have never met a single Christian. There are entire “people groups” (ethne, usually translated “nations” in the Bible) who have so few Christians among them that there is no viable church. Missiologists call these peoples with few or no believers “unreached.”
In the case of many of these peoples, the good news about Jesus simply isn’t available. There are no churches to visit, no Christian bookstores, no TV or radio programs they can listen to. In many cases, the Bible has never been translated into their language. Even if someone did hear of a person named Jesus, there is nowhere they can go to find out more.
In an effort to make sure that everyone had a chance to hear the gospel, a list of “people groups” was compiled back in the mid-1990s. There are currently 16,543 people groups on this list. Of that number, 6,701 (about 40%, 3.11 billion people) are considered unreached.
There has been a lot of publicity about unreached people groups (UPGs) in the past several decades. New ministries and organizations were formed to encourage believers to reach out to these groups. You or your church could even “adopt a people,” promising to both pray for them and to provide support in the form of missionaries, Bible translators, finances, etc. As a result, most of these peoples have been adopted by at least one mission agency or church. In other words, someone has stepped up and accepted responsibility for making sure that the gospel is made available in a language they can understand and in a culturally relevant way.
However, some groups remain untargeted. No one has tried to reach them. Nothing is being done. In a very real sense they’ve been overlooked, abandoned by the church. At a recent conference we attended, Pete and I were given a current list of these peoples, “568 Ethnolinguistic Unengaged Unreached People Groups” (UUPGs), with populations over 5,000.
The list isn’t perfect. As with any undertaking of this magnitude, there will be omissions and mistakes. As the preface explains,
[This list] is made up of those ethnolinguistic people groups where there are no KNOWN workers reported at the time of this printing. All research information is changing rapidly.
These groups range in size from the Muslim Hindkos of Pakistan (population 3,910,000) to smaller groups such as the 80,810 deaf Swazis in Swaziland or the 6,200 Afitti of Sudan. If you include even smaller groups, there are closer to 1,371 UUPGs. You can see a list of them on the “Finishing the Task” website.
While 1,371 may seem like a huge number, it’s quite small when compared to 16,543 peoples worldwide, or even 6,701 UPGs. And lest you feel overwhelmed, remember—each of these names represents individuals who need to know Jesus.
As I read through the list of UUPGs, I feel a sense of urgent responsibility. I want to do something! But what? What can I, an aging American living in Colorado, without a lot of money or resources, do to bring Jesus—Christmas—to those who have never had a chance to hear? It’s not a hopeless question. I’ll give you my list of ways to get involved next time.