I have often heard many of my Christian friends describe missions as a trip to the upcountry to preach the gospel or do some form of community service. To them, missions are short-term trips that enable them to bond as they reach out to the people upcountry. For example, in my church, we will typically plan short term trips to remote areas and pack food supplies. While there, people will share the gospel as they give out food to the needy. This model has been fruitful in giving people an opportunity to witness the needs of others and, in some ways, bear their burden. But, do these short term trips alone fulfil the command’s requirements in Matthew 28:19-20? What did Jesus have in mind when he said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”?
Over 1600 verses in the Bible talk about God’s passion for every tribe, tongue, and nation to know him and give him glory. God’s passion for the nations is evident throughout the Bible. He desires all people to see his glory and give him praise. “Missions exist because worship does not,” echoes John Piper. The goal of missions is to see people from every tribe, tongue, and nation worship our Great God (Psalm 67:1-4). Psalm 96:3 also reads, “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples.”
Long Term Not Just Short Term Missions
I recently met a missionary who had been in Wajir ministering to Somali Muslims. He spoke fluent Somali and he well knew the Somali culture. He served full-time amongst the Somalis, fasting and constantly praying for opportunities to share the gospel. However, after six years in Wajir, he could only lead a total of six Muslim Somalis to Christ. So, he was saddened when he found a note from Al-Shabaab militants at his doorstep threatening to blow up his household if he did not leave Wajir in the next seven days. The missionary wept bitterly over this and eventually took his wife, children, and possessions back to Nairobi.
If it took a whole six years to bring six Muslim Somalis to Christ, how much less a two-week mission trip? Also, since missionaries are frequently being evacuated due to heavy persecution, more is certainly needed to go and continue the long-term effort of declaring God’s glory amongst unreached peoples in places like Wajir.
Unreached With the Gospel
An unreached people group includes people that are least-reached people with the gospel. A group of people are unreached when they have few or no believing Christians and resources to evangelize each other. In other words, an unreached people group will not hear the gospel unless someone from the outside of their people group comes to declare God’s wondrous works to them. Therefore, we must be ready to go to the unreached peoples and tell them about Jesus Christ’s redemptive work, or else they perish (2 Thessalonians 1:5-9, John 3:36, Revelation 20:15).
A community ceases to be unreached when at least 2% of its population comprises evangelical Christians. There are 17,410 total people groups in the entire world based upon languages, dialects, shared cultures, and other factors. Seven thousand three hundred ninety-eight (7,398) of these people groups are unreached (42.5%). Most of these people groups are clustered in North Africa, West Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
THUMB – The Unreached
A simple acronym created to help us remember these unreached people groups for prayer and missions is “T.H.U.M.B.” THUMB stands for Traditionalist, Hindu, Unreligious, Muslim, and Buddhist. These are the five groupings of the unreached people groups across the world. The following stats can help us break down the groupings, hence understanding more deeply the need for God’s glory to be declared.
- T – Tribal (Traditionalist) – 161 million unreached people in 704 people groups. There are sixty missionaries for every one million traditionalists.
- H – Hindu – 860 million unreached people in 1,843 people groups. There are two missionaries for every one million Hindus.
- U – Unreligious – 121 million unreached people in 15 people groups. There are twelve missionaries for every one million unreligious people.
- M – Muslim – 1.3 billion unreached people in 1,344 people groups. There are six missionaries for every one million Muslims.
- B – Buddhist – 275 million unreached people in 227 people groups. There are 13 missionaries for every 1 million Buddhists.
How would they know?
When one looks at the stats above, it is overwhelming to think that so many people do not know the gospel of Jesus Christ. Romans 10:14-15 asks, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Such stats should prompt us to go and work together with the few available missionaries on a long-term basis amongst the THUMB.
May God stir our hearts to be found among those with “beautiful feet” (Romans 10:15b). May we even be willing to lay our lives down so that others can also know the joy of worshipping our great God (Psalm 67:3-4).
If you are interested in knowing more about missions, please download our Kuza App and read the devotional series entitled “Missions.”