Have you ever seen churches that put a sign on the exit of their sanctuaries that say, “You are now entering your mission field”? In many ways, this is a necessary corrective to simply doing overseas missions and not doing anything locally. We are all called to be witnesses of Jesus, wherever we are. We are all called to engage our local communities with the gospel of grace. But we cannot allow this saying to diminish the importance of overseas missions.
There are at least three reasons why we should continue to send long-term global missionaries—especially during this global pandemic.
1. Overwhelming Disparity in Resources
The first reason is the overwhelming disparity in resources for those in the United States versus those in unreached, or under-reached, areas.
There are 5.5 million full-time Christian workers in the world. Consider a few interesting statistics:
- 75.9 percent of work in a context of a majority, or large percentage, evangelical Christian population.
- 23.7 percent work in a context of greater than 2 percent evangelical Christians.
- 0.37 percent work among the unreached, where less than 2 percent are evangelical Christians
We need our best and most fruitful local missionaries, campus evangelists, and disciple-makers to serve in places where there is little to no witness of the gospel. Going to places where Christians are a minority isn’t the same as ministering to those from unreached people groups coming to us. Why? Because when folks come to us, they have access to Christians, churches, resources, relationships, and mentors. Those in unreached areas may live their whole lives and never meet a Christian. They have no access to discipleship.
2. We Belong to a Global Family
We send missionaries because we belong to a global family and our brothers and sisters serving in these unreached areas are asking for our help. Pastor Tetsuya Dedachi of Oyumino Christ Church in Chiba, Japan, reminds us that 99.9 percent of his country of 125 million people are non-Christians and most of them know nothing of the Bible.
Those in other unreached areas may live their whole lives and never meet a Christian.
He challenges American Christians and churches to pray and send missionaries into all the world. Supporting local Japanese pastors isn’t enough. There simply aren’t enough Christians—let alone pastors—in Japan to reach the nation. This is also true among many other unreached people groups.
Do we really believe in the holy catholic or universal church? Do we believe in the communion of saints? We’re saying in these statements that we are connected deeply with believers in Japan, India, China, Bangladesh, Thailand, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and West Africa. Therefore, we have a responsibility to come alongside our brothers and sisters in proclaiming God’s redemption.
This is an ideal time to join Jesus and his servants in sharing our faith in the least-reached places of the world. COVID-19 has opened doors for acts of compassion and mercy toward those in need around the world.
For example, in West Africa, COVID lockdowns forced many businesses to close, and without work many families were without food. In response, our missionaries and national partners have distributed relief in the form of rice, cooking oil, and basic hygiene to communities in desperate need, providing many opportunities to share the gospel with people who had never heard it before.
The gospel also is going out on new platforms: as many as 1,000 people per week are tuning in to a YouTube channel on which four West African pastoral interns take turns preaching. In this 95 percent Muslim country, people are coming to faith and the church is growing.
More than ever, people in unreached and unengaged areas are asking about the meaning and purpose of life. They—like us—are coming to grips with mortality and frailty. Now is the time to share and show the love of Christ to those in great spiritual and physical need.
3. Great Commission
We go because our Lord commissions us to do so, and we want to see his name exalted throughout the world. Jesus’s words to his church still apply today:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18–20)
Proclaiming the gospel and planting churches is our King’s strategy to accomplish his redemptive purposes for the world.
Now is the time to share and show the love of Christ to those in great spiritual and physical need.
There are 6,741 unreached people groups in the world. The definition of an unreached people group is a population that has less than 2 percent evangelical Christians. These 6,741 groups make up 42.2 percent of the global population—that is, 3.14 billion people. Less than 1 percent of full-time Christian workers are ministering to these groups. “We talk of the second coming,” Canadian pastor Oswald J. Smith said. “Half the world has never heard of the first.”
So then, why should we continue to send longer-term global missionaries? Not simply because of the overwhelming discrepancy in resources, not only because our brothers and sisters are asking for our help, but because our Lord Jesus, who himself was sent from heaven to earth to redeem us, commissions us to go and make his disciples among the nations.