I have an atheist friend who seems to me to be the perpetual advocate for unreached people groups that I wish all Christians actually were.

We met on the Missions Blab, a regularly scheduled broadcast on Blab. As a former Christian, he often pops into the show with unique thoughts on the missions endeavor. On a recent live show entitled Indigenous Or Foreign Missionaries: Who Is More Effective?, his words seemed to me a powerful entreaty for Christians to focus on reaching unreached people groups. Here’s how the conversation went:

(Watch the conversation on Youtube here)

“When I look up ‘world missions’, and I look at the number of missionaries that varying denominations are sending, in this particular case to Papua New Guinea, the percentage of Christians in Papau New Gunea is higher than it is on Oral Roberts University commons. It’s 95%. So why are we still sending missionaries to a place that has a 95% percentile of Christians?”

I responded with this:

“I always love how you ask these questions that most Christians don’t want to ask but should be asking. Statistically speaking, we send 95% of the global missionary task force to already ‘reached’ areas where there has been a long history of Christianity. The reality is that we send 2% of the whole global missionary task force—armed with 1% of total missions giving—to unreached, or least evangelized areas. Those areas are the hard to reach areas, the final frontier of the missions endeavor. But we’re focusing huge amounts of energy and resource on already reached areas. I only share your concern in this matter, and my only answer is that we have a priority issue at hand.”

It seemed clear to my atheist friend, that the Christian Church needs to focus its energies on bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ where it is not. It seemed the most likely thing to do if Jesus’ call was to take his message from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria to the uttermost parts of the world.

There was of course, a distaste in his words when he continued by saying:

“To me then, it seems like the Church as a whole is literally sending people into these areas where they’re not needed for no other purpose than to be able to have marketing success stories. They would say, ‘Here’s a place we can send people where it’s going to be relatively easy to convert because Christianity is already established there. So let’s send the missionaries there so at the end of the year we can have a quarterly report that says some thing like, we converted 40% of the people we came in contact with.’ Well, if that’s the reason why you’re doing it, I’m sorry, but get out of the business!”

I had no choice but to respond, “Preach it, brother!”

He continued:

“If the motivation is supposed to be you’re bringing the good news to people who haven’t heard it, emphasis on ‘haven’t heard it’, then for Pete’s sake, go to the places where they haven’t heard it! Don’t go to the places where they have Bibles in 10 languages and a Christian bookstore. We don’t need you there. I don’t get that. Even as an atheist, I look at this and think, this is absurd. Who runs this organization? Why aren’t the people that are in the field—that is, the missionaries—pushing back on this, saying, “What the hell are you doing? I’m out here in the middle of China, or the middle of somewhere, I need some money to build a shack and I can’t get it because we have a bunch of missionaries in Puerto Vallarta.”

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Strong words, I admit. And I know that there are valid ministries the world over—not only in the 10/40 Window—that need to continue. But the fact is here that I agree with my atheist friend, that we have not made fulfilling the Great Commission to go to where the gospel is not. Others have shared this sentiment as well saying:

“No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once.” – Oswald J. Smith

Too harsh for you? The perspective may shift when Smith goes on to say:

“We talk of the Second Coming; half the world has never heard of the first.” – Oswald J. Smith

I share these sentiments, and also resonate with my atheist friend’s confusion at the priorities of the global Church. I continued with this:

“Take note, Christians, and you missional leaders: a self proposed atheist is propelling us to reassess the missionary venture questions. Is it just ‘no guts, no glory, no newsletter story?’, and that ‘we need a great report at the end of the year’? C’mon. There are people who are in need, whether it be physical or spiritual, who have not had access to the gospel. Sometimes we have a tendency to usurp God’s authority and purposes with our own concepts, perpetuating the reality of the lostness of man in the 10/40 Window.”

May God grant us a heart to see what he sees, namely, those who have never had a chance to hear the message of God’s glory and grace.

Want to be an overseas missionary? Check out Within Reach Global today.

David Joannes
Founder/President at Within Reach Global
David Joannes is the co-founder and president of Within Reach Global, Inc, which serves the advance of the Gospel in some of Southeast Asia’s most difficult places. He is the author of The Space Between Memories: Recollections from a 21st Century Missionary. David has a love for language, culture, and creative writing, and for the last 20 years, he has witnessed God’s Kingdom established in forgotten parts of the globe. David lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his wife, Lorna, and their daughter, Cara.
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