By Lydia Gingerich, RMM staff writer
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” Matthew 28:19
Two thousand years later, this task remains unfinished. Out of the 16,560 people groups that make up “the nations” of our world, 6,698 are still unreached—with little, if any, access to the Bible, Jesus Christ, or his followers. These groups make up 42.1% of the world’s population—roughly 3.1 billion people—living predominately in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.1
Joshua Project defines an unreached people group as one “among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize without outside assistance.” For these people to ever hear about Jesus or understand his love, followers of Christ need to purposefully go to them. Rosedale Mennonite Missions (RMM) has made these people groups a priority—to engage with and show them the hope of Jesus Christ.
Hopping on a plane and quickly traveling overseas to evangelize one of these groups is not easy. Making a lasting impact takes time, creativity, and commitment. There are also numerous geographic, linguistic, cultural, spiritual, and political factors that make it a difficult endeavor. Many of these unreached peoples live in “closed countries” where it is challenging for westerners to reside because Christianity (associated with the west) is unwanted or illegal. RMM workers in these locations face added challenges. Often the unreached are unreached because they are hard to reach.
While these issues are challenging, the need to share the love of God and the message of Jesus with these people is critical. If you feel like God is calling you to this kind of work overseas, RMM would love to hear from you to discuss possible opportunities.
If you do not feel called to go abroad, but still feel compelled by the large number of people who have not yet heard about Jesus, there are many ways to engage these groups near to where you are. Millions of individuals and families from unreached people groups are moving to North America for school, work, and asylum from war, giving God’s people here an exciting opportunity to show hospitality and build relationships with them.
Art and Paula Shore,* RMM workers living in Ontario, are doing this type of work among an immigrant population in their city. They moved to North America several years ago after spending almost fifteen years living in the Middle East. Their story gives insight into what it can look like to reach the unreached within our reach:
We have chosen to live in an immigrant community so most of these relationships with the international community happen naturally right here in the neighborhood. My husband is also teaching English as a second language in various locations throughout the city. Interesting relationships have developed with some of his students, especially students from the Middle East whose countries we have previously had occasion to visit.
As Canada has recently taken in 25,000 Syrian refugees, we have been involved in training and assisting with initial orientation and ongoing input relating to Middle Eastern culture and Islam for the sponsoring churches or groups.
I (Paula) have chosen to get involved in programs at the local community center, which is located right in the heart of our neighborhood. I meet with a group of ladies every Thursday with the aim to assist them in orientation to the community and the related health, educational, and social services that are available. This group often provides the initial meeting point for future follow up and many rich relationships.
Walking through the neighborhood or working together on a community garden provides additional opportunities to do life together. I love to walk and often meet people on the street; in fact, I choose to walk for most of my errands and many of my neighbors do the same. Some of my walking is done with friends, part of a fitness plan, and some is more reflective in nature (prayer walking).
Some of the avenues for ministry are informal—such as being aware of the needs of the newcomers and becoming family for them. In one case I provided support for a new mother and her infant. Imagine the excitement of your first child, but without family to share this with. Helping students in their English language study is also a part of ministry.
Other times these opportunities are more formal. For the Christmas meeting at the community center I was asked to share on the various symbols of the Canadian Christmas; what a privilege to share of the “Good News of Great Joy for all People.” I was also involved in a summer vacation Bible school which happened right at the community center.
Singing in Inshallah (“God Willing” in Arabic), a multicultural choir, has been another door of ministry. We sing songs of worship, prayer and celebration in many different languages. One of the concerts was held at the city hall complex. I have recently invited my neighbor from the Congo and also a Syrian immigrant to join our choir. Both of these ladies sang in choirs back in their home countries. This choir, being therapeutic for me in my journey of readjustment back into Canadian life, will perhaps assist these ladies in their journeys as well.
Holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, are opportunities for further contact and ministry. A few of us rent the community center in our neighborhood for this event. Christmas Eve will include a potluck supper, an impromptu drama presentation of the Christmas story, carols, and a talent show. Prior to the celebration a few of us will go up and down the street caroling with a specific invitation for each family.
Relationships have developed, a Sunday evening Bible study group has formed, and some have chosen to follow Jesus the Messiah and are currently being discipled in our home. In fact, a mature Iranian believer (whom we first met in the Middle East and later as a newcomer in our neighborhood) is currently leading the study in the Farsi language. Our group has become a “family” for some of these immigrants.
To get involved in a community near you, spend much time in prayer and do some research about the specific neighborhood. Then, consider moving into the neighborhood. Jesus was our perfect example, “…becoming flesh and living among us.” Living in community with people results in natural relationships that prepare hearts for the “Good News.”
Please pray for Art and Paula to remain focused on the Father and his heart for their neighborhood. Pray also that “the God of hope would fill (them) with all joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit (they) may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13). They desire to share this hope amidst the feelings of pain and loss for so many of these immigrants, especially the recent Iraqi and Syrian newcomers.
There are numerous resources available to help locate where immigrant and refugee communities are living near by. The Migration Policy Institute (migrationpolicy.org) has several different interactive maps that show information about the number of people from specific countries living in the United States. Another great resource is J.D. Payne’s free eBook: Unreached People, Least Reached Places: An Untold Story of Lostness in America. Payne casts a vision to share the gospel with unreached groups in the United States. For further ideas of how to engage the unreached groups in the United States, contact Andrew Miller, RMM Director of Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrew is in contact with several churches and individuals who are currently reaching out to immigrant families within their communities.
Another way to engage with the unreached while living in North America is through adopting a people group. Scott Miller (Oak Dale Church, Salisbury, Pennsylvania) and Paul Kurtz (Lighthouse Mennonite Fellowship, Unionville Center, Ohio) are currently working with RMM to encourage more churches and individuals to adopt unreached people groups. Through an adoption, a church would regularly learn about and pray for a specific block of people, asking God to open doors and reveal ways they can help bring Jesus to the area. This connection to another culture could lead to short-term exploration of the area, and could eventually lead to sending long-term workers to the region.
RMM hopes that many CMC communities will prayerfully consider adopting an unreached people group as an integral part of their church life. There are several useful websites that can help you be well informed before making a commitment: joshuaproject.net and finishingthetask.com both give updated information on the task remaining along with helpful resources. The Joshua Project also gives direction on how to pray specifically for a group. If you are interested in adopting a group, please contact Scott at email@example.com or Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sasha and Cordell* (Siloam Fellowship, Goshen, Indiana) have personally already adopted a people group in South Asia. This couple is in contact with this group that they have visited and hope to live among one day. Not everyone who adopts a people group has a long-term vision to eventually go to that group, but for Sasha and Cordell, hearing of the need and getting to know these people has formed a passion in them to move there when God opens the doors:
Our initiation with the area in South Asia that we work with was through leading a REACH team there last year. We spent five and a half months in South Asia spending most of the time at an orphanage teaching, discipling, and playing with the children. We also spent a month or so traveling around and visiting different churches with Mr. T, the church and orphanage director. Since we returned we still e-mail Mr. T on a monthly basis and are planning on scheduling a visit in the spring.
There are many physical and financial needs for this group in South Asia. For example, when we arrived at the orphanage, some of the kids were sharing twin-sized beds with nothing but a couple of blankets. Another need was educational resources in the public school at the orphanage, especially pertaining to computer and technological literacy, which is a valuable skill to have in their economy. There are endless needs in the church; the biggest is encouragement from fellow believers—a concept we would take for granted in our church culture growing up with so many mature Christians around us. Much of the South Asian church is only a decade or so young, and fellowship—even locally—is hard to find.
As far as plans for the future, we're preparing as much as possible for doors that God will open. Simply moving overseas and being a missionary is not as easy as it sounds at times, especially in a location where there is both governmental and local persecution against certain Christian organizations. As of now we plan to continue to visit South Asia at least once a year and we would like to look for opportunities involving more effective discipleship of the young church that has developed and utilizing business as missions to create financially self-sufficient churches involving short-term business investments.
If someone wants to get involved in a similar way, it is pretty simple: be willing to sacrifice yourself and lose control of your life. Become a learner and utilize the passions that God will give you. We live in the most influential culture in the world. If God gives us something in our resourceful positions, He wants it to be used to its highest potential, however creative that looks. God blesses us (especially financially) for a reason—to bless others. This is something we can lose sight of very easily, and I have many personal examples of this myself. Take advantage of the opportunities that are available to you, be a go-getter, and don't shy away from something just because it doesn't make the most sense at the time.
Please pray for Sasha and Cordell as they engage this group. Pray that they do not lose focus and allow their passions to dwindle. Strength is needed as Sasha raises their first little disciple, wisdom for Cordell as he balances a very busy schedule, and patience for both of them as they look for what the future may hold.
The work that is already being done to reach those who have not yet heard is exciting and encouraging. But there is still work to do. Please take some time right now to pray for these beloved brothers and sisters who do not know the love of Christ. As you pray for these groups, ask that God would provide bridges over language and culture so that his light can reach those who are living in darkness. Through the power of God and the work of his people, those who are unreached can be reached with his love.
“Global Statistics,” Joshua Project, https://joshuaproject.net/people_groups/statistics
*Names changed and last names omitted for security