I Can't Unsee the Nations
In a matter of months, my family and I will step out of a plane and into God’s calling to serve the unreached in the Middle East.
"Me? A Missions Pastor?"
Four years ago, I would have been floored if you told me my family would be planning to be long-term, cross-cultural missionaries. Not to mention that I would have never anticipated being a Missions Pastor ten years ago, either. However, we serve a good Heavenly Father who calls us to His kingdom, not ours.
My wonderful family and I look forward to making Christ known where he is utterly unknown. We will help plant a local church in a particular region of the Middle East where few churches exist.
Admittedly, I look back on the last 10-15 years of my life with much of the Lord's humbling. I never gave missions the proper respect it deserved. The God we serve is missional at His very core. At the very foundation of the world, we see him commission and bless Abraham to be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:1-2). Later in Genesis 22, we hear the Lord’s heart for all peoples to know Him. "I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” (Genesis 22:17)
In my time in seminary, missions courses were more or less a requirement to complete the degree rather than a method of letting God’s entire Word wash over and guide me. Great information was provided by incredible professors, but in the back of my mind I thought “missions” was for those other people. I acted as if I had a choice to love what our Heavenly Father loves. Little did I know in those seminary years (when I seemed to ‘know’ so much), I had missed a central, undeniable theme in God's Word - Him calling all nations back to Himself through his Son Jesus Christ to worship Him for eternity (Rev. 7). All Christians should have a role in loving the nations, whether we are sending or going. Nonetheless, I regret my posture towards Missions during those years.
Eyes Opened to the Unreached
However, much would change in the Lord's gracious and perfect sovereignty in the years following seminary. As a new Missions Pastor, I went on an exploration trip to our now beloved Philippines partnership with missionaries of the International Mission Board (IMB). This partnership involves a high priority of engaging an unreached pocket of the Philippines. In contrast, many of the easily accessible places of the world are reached. Many of the remaining unreached, hard-to-get-to areas will require much physical, emotional, and spiritual sacrifice to share the hope of Christ.
Today, tears still well up when I think about the 90-year-old Filipino man asking our team and me, "Have I done enough to be with God when I die? Are the good things I've done good enough?" My heart sunk with this sobering question. He had no idea of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This new reality opened my eyes to the sheer lostness of this world, especially among the unreached and those without access to the gospel. Yet, I was filled with joy because our team had the answer to his question. I was carrying with me a great treasure - the treasure of Christ that God has made available through the proclamation of his truth by his people (Rom. 10:13-15). As a team, we faithfully shared the hope of Christ with him, and by the Spirit, he became a believer that day. Following our conversation, we connected him with our partnering Filipino church planters. I can still see his face exuding joy as he began to taste and see the good news of the gospel and the weight of self-morality lifted. Because Christ was preached, he would receive instant justification, experience sanctification, and would be known as a righteous child of God for eternity. Minutes before our conversation, he was dammed to hell in his unrighteousness, despite the many good works he’d done. Praise the Lord! Only God knows his heart, but I trust that this man now has salvation in Christ alone.
A Stark Reality
In my journey of learning about God's love for the nations, I realized how great the need was in the world. I realized how much I did not know about the great lostness. Through experience and new missiological understanding, I saw firsthand the realities of the "unreached." Missiologists define the "unreached" as a people group sharing similar language and culture where there is less than 2% evangelical presence. Today, upwards of 7,000 unreached people groups (UPGs) are waiting on faithful laborers and disciple-makers to share the good news of the gospel with them. Jesus said it best, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2) 41% of the world remains unreached, and 96% of the unreached are in the 10/40 window (from West Africa across Asia between 10 degrees latitude north of the equator to 40 degrees north). 3.28 billion unreached people live without the hope of Christ. What does missionary engagement look like among the unreached? Roughly thirty missionaries go to work in reached areas for every one missionary going to the unreached. That's a 30:1 ratio. (Statistics: The Traveling Team) How could this be? What a tragedy when we hear stories like a missionary asking a lady from an unreached people group if she had heard of Jesus and hearing, "Who is Jesus? I don't know him."
My experience and what I was learning were startling. I couldn't unknow, unsee, or unlearn it.
- I couldn't unsee the Filipino man and him asking if he had done enough good.
- I couldn't unhear the woman who had never heard of Jesus' name.
- I couldn't unlearn there are over 3.28 billion unreached in the world today with only 2% of these living in North and South America combined.
- I couldn’t unlearn about the missionary field clamoring for more faithful laborers to come.
I hated the idea of people perishing without knowing the love of the Father. What was I going to do with this experience and information as a Missions Pastor? How would I personally pray, give, go, mobilize, and welcome internationals living in my area? How would I lead and mobilize my church to grow in loving the nations and God's world?
The realities of the unreached gripped my heart and still grip me today.
I had gone on mission trips to the Dominican Republic and Germany, but this was different. This was not about people rejecting Christ. This was about giving people the opportunity to receive or reject Christ (Acts 17:32-34).
A Joyful Calling
So, through God's Word, His Spirit, and His church, He began to call and affirm me, my wife, and two kids. He has kindled a fire inside of us to help the unreached come into relationship with the living, triune God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is still making Himself known among the nations, and His glory is being spread across this entire earth as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).
It is safe to say the Lord has done significant work on my heart through the last several years. He has graciously and kindly called my family to joyfully serve those who do not know or have access to knowing Him. It is our joy and privilege to put our faithful "yes" on the table. As Paul mentioned, we are honored to spend and be spent for their souls (2 Corinthians 12:15). Why? So "those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” (Romans 15:21)
I encourage and invite you to consider what joyful faithfulness looks like for you in loving and making disciples of all nations. As we faithfully pursue the nations, our joy in Christ will be filled to greater depths as we align our hearts with God's heart. For those of us who stay and "send," you are precious and vital to those going. You are needed to support and "hold the rope" of those going by praying, giving, encouraging, visiting, remembering, mobilizing others, and helping receive sent ones back. Not all of us can or will be able to go, but we should all consider and pray about going. The Great Commission has already called us: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Perhaps now is not the time. But maybe in ten years from now the Lord will make a path for you to go. If He has cleared a path, then go. Take a faithful next step to explore going until he closes the door. You’ll have your answer if the door remains wide open.
We are all like a mist on this earth (Hosea 13:3). Yet, when we look back on the final days of our lives, how will we have loved the nations as senders and goers? May each of us be faithful in seeing the nations sing God's glory.
“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!” -Psalm 67:4-5
Photo Credit: IMB
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