For the last 35-40 years the mission world has wrestled with phrases like “frontier mission” and “unreached peoples.” Today those phrases sound familiar to some people and strange to others, while still others dislike them and try to find other words to use! What are we talking about when we use those kinds of phrases, and why does it even matter in today’s flattened, globalized world?
Those phrases and others like them refer to the fact that some 2.5 billion people in the world today live in ethnic groups where there is no body of followers of Jesus within that group that is large enough to effectively live out and proclaim the good news to their own people. The gospel has spread far and wide in our world, with two thirds of Jesus’ disciples now living in the Southern hemisphere. Yet there are still many who haven’t heard the good news and can’t hear. One way to think about this is to realize that, if every Jesus follower today told everyone they know about Jesus, 2.5 billion people wouldn’t hear, because there is no one in their language and cultural group to tell them.
Furthermore, estimates are that up to 90% of these people are among the poorest of the poor and living in situations of oppression, both physically and spiritually. They tend to be in bondage to beliefs and forces that keep them in their situations. From their perspective, there is generally no hope of anything better.
At the same time, at most 1% of the resources of believers around the world are going toward efforts to see God’s kingdom come among these people. Our focus tends to be on those whom we see around us in our communities who have various needs. Or on fellow believers in other countries, especially when we have met someone from there who has moved to the US or has come here to study. They have compelling stories to tell us about the needs in their home communities, and we respond.
But who will speak for the people who live outside the realm of our everyday experience? Perhaps we know of people from a Muslim context who are here, but we often respond with fear or indifference to the thought of reaching out to them. Again, who will be the voice for people far removed from our context? That is the role that Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship (PFF) has taken up, to lift up the cause of people groups who cannot ask us to come to them with good news.
As disciples of Jesus we have the opportunity today to be God’s instruments in seeing the good news of Jesus Christ go to people who truly need to hear good news. And we have the opportunity to do it in ways the reflect the wholeness of that good news of the kingdom, that deal with needs of spiritual bondage and poverty and oppression. For the sake of those who can’t otherwise hear good news, we need to keep this opportunity before us, alongside the other opportunities we have.
As we do that, we’ll see changes in people as they are set free. For example, many Presbyterians have supported and visited work among Dalits (Untouchables) in India. In all my travels I have not seen people whose lives have been so totally transformed in every way. From seeing themselves as being little more than animals, they now see themselves as people in the image of God, the God who became one of them and died for them. They have established schools and training programs for various job skills. They work to live at peace with people who formerly treated them as animals. God is moving among them in wonderful ways. And there is a growing movement of people who follow Jesus and worship him in ways that look very Indian, not Western. The last figures I saw were growth from 10,000 in 1984 to over 2 million today, growing at over 10,000 per month!So why does it matter if we are concerned to see the good news of Jesus go to those who haven’t heard? I would say ask the Dalits whose lives have been transformed, or people in Central Asia or the Middle East who could say the same. Or ask believers here in the US whose lives have been changed through contact with some of those other members of the body of Christ! And follow them in seeking to see the realization of the picture in Rev. 5:9-12 and 7:9-12, of multitudes having been redeemed by the lamb, from every tongue and tribe and people and nation, and of their joining together around the throne of God in worship.