After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Luke 10:1–2
Before even reading the words that follow here, take a few minutes and ponder that special moment in your journey when God called you to America. You can close your eyes if that helps you. If you are like the overwhelming majority of other Christians in the United States, that moment doesn’t exist. There are no memories, no feelings, no clarity – just an awkwardly silent void where should be certainty. While you come to terms with the fact that God has never ‘called’ you to America, consider the reality of the world around you.
An unreached people group is simply a linguistically or culturally distinct population suffering from a dire lack of access to the gospel. That concept is easy enough to wrap our mind around. The facts about unreached people groups and who is trying to reach them are, on the other hand, mind-boggling. The words of Jesus echo so painfully true in our day: the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
There are approximately 7,000 unreached people groups, consisting of roughly 2.8 billion people. This is around 1000 times the entire population of America, and represents over 40% of the total population of the earth.
There are about 2.2 billion Christians worldwide (Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Protestant, etc.).
There are 5.5 million full-time people in full-time ministry, and there are an estimated 400,000 missionaries. Approximately 13,000 missionaries (3% of 400,000) and 20,000 local workers in full-time ministry (.37 % of the 5.5 million) currently labor among the unreached.
Therefore, add these together, and we realize that of the nearly 6 million in vocational ministry world-wide, only 33,000 (.6 %) are focused on the 40% of the earth’s population that is considered unreached.
That number – 33,000 – is just .0015 % of the total Christian population in the world. Truly, the laborers are few.
What does this mean? If everyone is obeying God’s ‘calling’, then God is ‘calling’ 99.9985 % of His people on the earth to either stay exactly where they are or to minister to the 60% of the earth’s population with dramatically greater access to the gospel. When we compare this to the final words of Jesus before His ascension and the witness of the apostles, we come to the realization that we are not talking about God’s calling at all. Instead, we are staring at an almost incomprehensible issue of disobedience on the part of the Church.
“And Jesus…spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18–20
There are some who the Lord has clearly directed to remain in the United States and shepherd His people or serve His body. This is a noble thing, and faithfulness to serve in America is just as commendable as faithfulness to frontier missions when we are truly obeying the leading of Jesus. Yet unless you are among these, it is time to stop propping up your comfort with a fabricated version of the will of God for your life and seriously grapple with the billions who languish with little or no access to the saving truth of Jesus. How should you respond? These are not just statisitics. It’s real. Real places, real people, and a real King on the throne in the heights of the heavens who desires an inheritance from every tribe and tongue. It is time to behold the Lord of Glory who redeemed you with His blood and try to explain to Him why the affluence of American life and popularity contest of Western ministry is more important than billions giving Him the worship that He is rightly due.
And don’t placate your conscience with the hollow argument that because you were born in America, that must be where God wants you. If the early Christians had followed that logic, you would not be saved right now. The only reason you are a Christian today is because throughout the history of the church, the Great Commission has been obeyed by people just like you who were compelled to leave their homeland and go share the gospel with those living in regions where poeple had not yet heard.
If you have been living contently for twenty or thirty years in America without any special calling from God to do so, then you don’t need a special calling to go serve among the unreached for two years, or five years, or ten years, or for all your days. You don’t need a dream, you don’t need a prophetic word. There is nothing to ‘discern’. The estimated 66 thousand who will die today without knowing Jesus are enough. The biblical imperative of a witness to all nations is enough. Most of all, Jesus is enough!
Actually talk to the Lord of the Harvest, and see if you can convince Him that this is extreme or irresponsible. If you can’t, then it is time to set your eyes upon the nations and change the conversation. Instead of telling Jesus He has to commission you to go, ask Him to make it clear if you need to stay.
Of course there are needs in America. There are many people in this land who need to hear the truth of the gospel and be saved. Yet there is simply no comparison whatsoever with the spiritual condition of the United States and the plight of billions living in countries where there are no Christians to share with them, where it is impossible to get a Bible, where there is no access to gospel truth on the internet, and thousands of people are dying every day without ever hearing the name of Jesus once in their entire life.
We have no right to dilute the horrific nature of that reality in order to soften the biting sting of our callousness toward the worth of Jesus and real souls going to the lake of fire. And we have absolutely no justification in comparing the need in America where there are dozens of Bibles in every bookstore and a church on every corner to the work of frontier missions. It’s not the same. Obedience is obedience no matter where you are, but woe to us if we drown out the alarm of this crisis with the chatter of our self-importance or cheapen the sacrifice of those who have left all to make Jesus known in the hardest and darkest places.
If your hearts burns within you as you read these words, if you can no longer bear to make endless excuses, perhaps it is time to join the story of His fame that Jesus yearns to write in the nations.
For more information on the ACTS School of Frontier Missions, visit www.actsschool.com
*The statistics used in this article were based on those provided at http://www.thetravelingteam.org/stats/