Last week at the Together for the Gospel conference, I had a new experience. For the first time, I heard Dr. David Platt sound his usual resounding call to the nations with me knowing I had to some extent answered. Don’t let me misrepresent myself. A little over a week, strange food, and jet leg are no sacrifice. However, I did get to look through the open 10/40 window and see at least, in part, what is before us. Due to a life-long friendship, I have a direct connection to a part of the world where one of the five largest unreached people groups still are lost in darkness, superstition, idol worship, and daily dissatisfaction with life. I’ve walked the streets, I’ve smelled the smells, I’ve seen the people. I’ll never forget my first impression of smells: incense, cigarette smoke, and human feces – in that order. I’ve heard the bells, the chants, and the cries of family members for their lost loved ones we’ve only read about in Operation World or on the Joshua Project. So, when Dr. Platt, president of the largest Evangelical mission sending agency in the world, once again issued the call for local pastors to continue in prayer, giving, awareness and going, I heard it in a way that I had not previously been able to. I felt an immense gravity and responded in tearful Godly grief as thousands of brothers rose to sing:
Facing a task unfinished
That drives us to our knees
A need that, undiminished
Rebukes our slothful ease
We, who rejoice to know Thee
Renew before Thy throne
The solemn pledge we owe Thee
To go and make Thee known
Where other lords beside Thee
Hold their unhindered sway
Where forces that defied Thee
Defy Thee still today
With none to heed their crying
For life, and love, and light
Unnumbered souls are dying
And pass into the night
When firemen respond to a blaze they are very purposeful about putting out a fire as soon as they can. I do not pretend to understand it all, but I know that to be most effective they aim at the hottest part of the fire and that part also takes the longest to extinguish. I think this real life allegory is helpful for understanding the current state of World Evangelization.
With that in mind, may I once again direct our attention to the place where the fire is the hottest? Within this geographical area there are over 2 billion people and approximately 6,000 unreached/unengaged people groups. There are people within this area that could go all day (if not a lifetime) without ever meeting a Christian unless one goes to meet them. The promise of Jesus Himself and the testimony of scripture itself is not only that they will hear (Matthew 24:14) but that some will respond and be around the throne (Revelation 5, 7).
I recently read one of the best articulations of this truth in Randy Alcorn’s Money, Possessions, and Eternity, “Christ is glorified not simply by the total number who worship him, but also by the fact that this number includes representatives from every tribe, language, people and nation. Therefore, we must be making concerted efforts to see that missionaries, whether from our country or another, reach the ‘hidden’ people who have not yet heard the gospel.”
Something else I was beyond privileged to see when looking through the window, is the immense passion and power of the local partnerships in the gospel. So, let me briefly elaborate on the allegory and Alcorn’s statement. When firemen show up to put out a blaze, it would be very unusual to not see cooperation and response from neighboring fire departments from different counties and municipalities. No fireman, and no fire department puts out a blaze alone. There is only one question a fireman has in those moments, “Does this guy know how to put out a fire?” If the answer is “yes,” you need him. Alcorn also emphasizes “missionaries from another country.” This is key, and let me be clear – I do not believe the people our Sovereign God will use to complete the task of the Great Commission will look like the average American. You see, too long we have been mistaken in our blinded way of thinking that Europeans and those of European descent have a gospel to take to everyone else. The reality is, the spread of the gospel is from the Church to the world. We are gentiles ourselves, after all. If I had to guess (and this is a hopeful guess) I rather think those to complete the task will look like the average Asian, or multiplicity of Asians. I say this with tears on my cheek, warmth in my heart and a smile on my face because I am thinking of people I personally know who are meeting in homes and baptizing in tarps. Praise be to God. The point is this: the task will not be completed without humility, and it never could have been.
So, go. However, a note, prepare to be uncomfortable. Dr. Platt often speaks of “death defying missions” but I will remind you that you will enter “comfort defying missions.” This includes and is not limited to language barriers, the possibility of having toilet paper – or not, a toilet – or not, strange food, strange smells, bad traffic, extreme weather conditions, the likelihood of getting sick, and most likely unreliable Internet if at all. Are you ready?
Pastor, even if it’s once and only once I promise you will never think of a missions offering or preaching the great commission the same way again if you have led a small group of nationals in a discussion of the great commission, or seen resources given to a local partner to make an evangelical outreach in a village happen and later hear the report that people heard the gospel for the first time and were saved.
That necessarily leads to give. Give. Give money. Not thoughts, money. If there is one resource the American church has – that’s it. (Praise God we have much, much more than that). However, there is no replacing your faithful giving to buy a bowl of rice and some chicken so someone many come to a gathering, to keep a family on the field, to buy needed resources, or to give local partners an opportunity to grow deeper in their faith and in fellowship with each other. These things are necessary and we should joyfully give to make investments in the bank of Heaven. On earth it will simply rot.
Let me include one more key observation. The fire is not just a fire to put out, it’s a fire to brave. You see, there are souls inside. Someone has to go in and brave the possibility of houses collapsing and backdrafts. That’s just part of it and it is very sobering, but it’s the only way people will make it out alive. That work, dear pastor and church member, is the work done by missionaries and most especially local partners.
So, pray, above all, pray. God will Sovereignly use your prayers to bring people to Him, to sustain those on the front lines, and raise awareness at home in a way we ourselves do not even realize. In one of the most encouraging and confounding scriptures regarding intercessory prayer the Apostle Paul writes,
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 2:8 – 11
When I think of the modern missions movement and consider the work of individuals and their teams like William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor and Lottie Moon, I am always astounded to consider, “they started in the right place.” It may be worth noting that more than one of the first Apostles are said to have gone to regions in India. The work started where the fire was and is the hottest, and the illustration is apt. We must contend for those tribes, nations, and tongues and preach the Gospel of the kingdom so they may erupt in white hot worship before the Lamb upon the throne before it is too late and they are plummeted to the fires of Hell.
As the old song says, “Millions [now billions] grope in darkness waiting for Thy word, set my soul afire, Lord, set my soul afire.”
Let’s let Dr. Platt have the last word,
“What will it take for the concept of unreached peoples to become totally intolerable to people in the church?”