In 2012 Phil went on a Serve Asia trip to Vietnam. At the UK Serve Asia debrief weekend he shared how it had impacted him personally and helped him to crystallise his thinking on the importance of unreached people groups.
How does God view the world?
We could answer- he sees a lost humanity, nations at war, individuals without salvation. Let me suggest another: God sees people groups, significant distinct groups of people, perhaps with their own ethnicity, culture, characteristics, spirituality, and often their own language.
We tend to view the world as political nations, but within one nation there may be thousands of people groups. Vietnam, though one nation, is in fact a colourful tapestry of 114 minority people groups speaking 106 different languages. Viewed this way, God’s world becomes richer and more complex than we imagined.
But why does this really matter?
People groups are woven in to the very fabric of God’s salvation plan. Let’s look at the Bible’s bookends. The first is the great promise given to Abraham. God’s plan is that through Abraham ‘all the nations of the earth shall be blessed’. (Gen22v18). This doesn’t refer to political nations, or mere individuals. This phrase ‘all the nations’ in Greek: pante ta ethne refers to all the ‘peoples’ – people groups (for more about this phrase throughout the Bible, read Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper). It was always God’s plan to bless not only the Jewish people group, but all the peoples.
The other booked, Revelation 7v9, displays God’s goal realised in full technicolour: ‘I looked and there before me was a great multitude… from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.’ The word ‘nation’ here is again ‘ethne’. This means that when Jesus died, he died for every people group. Revelation 5v9 – ‘with your blood you purchased me for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. This uses the same ‘people group’ language. When Jesus bore the fierce wrath of God, he bore it for the Hindi, the Arabs, the Nung, the Hmong, the Japanese, the Jews, the Timorese, the Anglo-Saxons etc.
Here’s the crunch for us who care about missions: if this is true, then we really are ‘facing a task unfinished.’ The reality is that 7,038 of the people groups in the world have no opportunity to hear the gospel. They are the ‘unreached’ people groups – those without enough Christians to effectively share the gospel with them. And for 3228 of these people groups, they are ‘unengaged’ – they have no Christians, and no-one from outside witnessing to them. The implications are eternal. They are without excuse for not worshipping God and right now, without the hope of salvation (Romans 1v20).
Phil – UK Serve Asia Worker
This article was originally published in Billions Magazine Jan-Apr 2012. Statistics have been updated using data from IMB Global Research.