Imagine that overnight all Christians became expert evangelists. The next day, all of us went forth boldly proclaiming Jesus to all of our friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors. Surely, it wouldn’t be long until every person on the face of the earth had heard the gospel, right?
Unfortunately, no. Although it might be hard for us to imagine, there are some people so removed from the Gospel and isolated by barriers of language and culture that they still wouldn’t hear the Good News even if every Christian actively shared Jesus with everyone they know.
These people are Unreached People Groups (UPGs). Although other, more technical, definitions exist for UPGs, I like this one because it helps us see people and places rather than just numbers and statistics. The majority of UPGs live in Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. However, surprising numbers of these people have moved west to North America.
If it’s hard for us to imagine a village in the mountains of Nepal having no contact with Christians, it is much more difficult to imagine that, behind the drawn curtains of the apartment building beside Walmart, lives a woman who is just as unreached as her relatives in the Himalayans.
THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR
When immigrants or refugees move to the United States and Canada, they inevitably come with high hopes for a new life. They want something better for their children, and they are determined to do what they can to make their dreams a reality. Some of them press on courageously for years – overcoming tremendous hurdles. Others gradually lose hope that their own lives will ever be rich and meaningful. They abandon language study and throw themselves into working hard to provide for and protect their children. They spend years in jobs that most of us would barely endure for a season, going only from home to the workplace and back again.
Still others seek out friends from their homeland and sequester themselves in communities where they can shop at an Indian grocery store, eat at an Indian restaurant, and work at an Indian-owned hotel. These people enjoy their lives and surround themselves with friends, but like the others, they remain unreached unless someone reaches across the barriers of language and culture to bring them the Gospel.
COMING TO US - GOING TO THEM
These unreached peoples in North America do have one advantage over their friends in the homeland. They could decide to go to church if they wanted to. However, even if I can imagine myself a refugee in Egypt, I cannot imagine myself walking into a mosque with an open, seeking heart, much less finding anything in the Arabic words and unfamiliar rituals that would draw me back again. No matter how sincerely I went, without understanding, I would never embrace Islam. Plus, I wouldn’t go to a mosque if I were spiritually seeking, anyway. Even if I had wandered from my Christian upbringing, in a foreign land and already uprooted from everything familiar, I would go back to my roots. I would search out a church. I would try to fill my hunger in the ways familiar to me.
How can we expect anything different from the refugees in our towns? Their lives have been shaken, and though they seek peace and truth, they will tend to look for it in the places they have been taught to look. Does this mean their ears are deaf to the Gospel? Not at all! Even while they turn back to the religion of their childhood, they may realize that this religion has disappointed them. But where else can they go with their questions?
They can go to a Christian friend who has extended generous love and hospitality. They can go to a church that speaks their mother tongue. They can seek for answers in a Bible translated into their own language. They can find truth in a Christian home.
But they will not have these opportunities unless the Christian friend extends love and hospitality, opening their home to someone different from themselves. They cannot go to a church that worships in Arabic unless Arabic-speaking Christians haven’t been isolated as single converts in English-speaking churches. They can’t pick up an Arabic Bible unless it’s there on the shelf beside the English one.
It’s clear, then, that our responsibility as English-speaking Christians in North America is great. We have been passive for too long, hoping they will come to us. They have come – to our neighborhoods – but it is up to us to invite them into the Kingdom of God. We must actively seek ways to befriend and help the foreigners among us. This isn’t as hard to do as it sounds. We must open our doors, move out of Christian enclaves into cities, study a new language, and order Bibles in Hindi and Turkish and Arabic and Cantonese.
If we wait for the day we all wake up feeling unusually evangelistic, we’ll be waiting a long time. And even that won’t be enough. The Great Commission has always required action, intentionality and sacrifice. Go. Preach. Disciple. Do it in the uttermost parts of the earth. And do it here – in Ephrata and Mechanicsburg, Sarasota and Warsaw.
--H.L. (from a recent Near and Far issue)