I found this screenshot from a video called, "The Great Commission" on Youtube. In this picture (and if you watch the animation), you can clearly see missionaries coming from many different places and going to many different places. There doesn't seem to be much of a pattern to the travel. It is very different from the olden days when you would see the lines coming out of the West and going to all the world. Today, many Christians worldwide read the same passage in Matthew 28:19, "Go and make disciples of all nations..." Then, they take that message and apply it to their lives and go to another nation to make disciples. My suspicion is that these brothers and sisters who are on fire for God take the Great Commission and run with it. They read those words, make it their own, and go for it.
Is this the visual image we should see for the Great Commission though? My concern is that they "Go" without taking the time to fully understand the Great Commission. They read "Go" and so they go, but it might not be to the neediest country. They might just go to wherever they've heard about, or wherever they 'have a heart for', or wherever they have connections. Perhaps this explains why I've known of a Filipino missionary working in South Korea, a Jamaican missionary working in the US, and an American missionary working in Kenya, just to name a few. Should these missionaries be working in countries that are already highly evangelized and Christian? If the goal of the Great Commission is to make disciples of ALL NATIONS, doesn't it help to first find out which of the nations already have disciples? If the goal of the Great Commission is to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth, doesn't it help to know what areas His witnesses have already gone? In regards to countries like South Korea, USA, and Kenya, the Gospel seed has already been planted and grown to a full size tree bearing plenty of fruit. Why do we want to send missionaries to these countries? It doesn't seem to help fulfill the Great Commission.
In order to fulfill the Great Commission, we should be aware of the nations that are yet unreached with the Gospel. If we are indebted to our Lord and Savior, don't we at least owe Him the favor of learning about the task He has given us before we jump into it head first? I consider the Great Commission to be the 3rd greatest commandment. In fact, if you think about it, the top 3 greatest commandments are all intricately tied together. So if the the Great Commission is so important and if hundreds of thousands of Christians are willing to give their lives to God to be missionaries, shouldn't we take the time to learn about the Great Commission? If we took the time learn about missions, we would find that the "nations" spoken of in Matthew 28 are actually 'people groups'. It's a group of people with a similar language and culture. There aren't just 200 nations. There are actually 17,000 nations. About 10,000 of them have been reached with the Gospel and there are a healthy amount of disciples in those nations. 7,000 nations still have very few disciples. If you want to take part in the Great Commission, these are the 7,000 nations upon which you should focus. And we know exactly which nations these are and where they are located--all 7,000 of them. We know what language they speak as well. Wonderful researchers have made this information available to us. I like the database that Joshua Project has. So, if this information is so readily available to us, what excuse do missionaries have for claiming to take part in the Great Commission, yet failing to focus on one of these 7,000 unreached people groups? Certainly, there are admirable activities and causes that we should do among some of the 10,000 reached people groups, but in most cases, these should be of secondary importance. We need to do a better job of serving our Lord. We need to do our part in understanding the mission before taking part in it. What military in the world would send a group of soldiers on a top secret mission without first briefing them? Likewise, we should be faithful enough to brief ourselves about the mission that we are still trying to accomplish.
But what about the leading of the Holy Spirit? We shouldn't just follow the statistics, right? Don't we need to listen to where God is calling us? Good point to bring up. There's currently about 100,000 missionaries serving in a foreign country. If you ask them, I'm willing to bet that 99% will say they 'felt God calling them to serve in that country'. However, 90% of foreign missionaries work among already reached people groups (the 10,000). Only 10% work among unreached people groups (the 7,000). If 9 out of 10 foreign missionaries are working among people groups that already have a growing Christian presence, I have to conclude that they are not really hearing God's calling. Not only that, but up to half of Western foreign missionaries don't return to the mission field after their first term. Plus, foreign missionaries are only responsible for about 10% of all pioneer mission work. (National missionaries do about 90% of pioneer mission work.) My guess is that the foreign missionaries did not hear God's audible voice or they did not hear God speak to them in an undeniable way. Most likely they have combined some feelings of passion, emotion, thoughts, and their affinities towards a particular culture, which makes them believe they have been called to a certain place. If God speaks to you, it will be known. It's hard to comprehend how all 100,000 of the foreign missionaries have been called by God if they are going to the wrong places and not seeing fruit. The research and understanding is necessary, but should also be combined with deeper prayer and fasting. Let's take the Great Commission more seriously and do it.
So, we've now come to the realization that the Great Commission should focus on 7,000 people groups. These 7,000 people groups tend to live in one big area of the world. Below are some pictures to give you an idea of where these unreached people groups are.
Red or Orange dot = unreached people group
Green dot = reached people group
Grey dot = unkown
As you can see, the majority of the unreached people groups are in northern Africa, the Middle East, immigrants in Europe, and across the southern belt of Asia. India alone contains 1/3 of all unreached people groups. Here's some more images to get an idea of the needy areas for mission work. Though not focused on people groups per se, they are still helpful to look at.
With all these images, we can get a general idea of the areas upon which we need to focus in order that we can reach the unreached people groups. In general, it's the 1040 Window that you may have heard about before, plus some additional areas, like Indonesia. So, going back to our original graphic, we can now assume that the arcs should go from outside the 1040 Window to inside the 1040 Window, right? Not so fast.
Now that we know who we need to reach with the Gospel, we need to ask ourselves, 'how can we best reach them?' We can use technology like radio, the Jesus Film, and the internet, but we also need to send missionaries. Which missionaries can we send to them? Take a look at the "Christians and the Unevangelized" image again. Look at China, India, and Indonesia. You see how there are spots of blue in a sea of grey? Those are large populations of Christians that already exist in those countries. These Christians already speak the language and know the culture of those around them. Many of these Christians are first generation believers that are on fire for Christ. They are going to be integral in sharing the Gospel to those around them. When it comes sending missionaries, I subscribe to the school of thought that says, 'let's send the nearest available missionaries!' In many cases, there are already Christians within or nearby the unreached people groups who can reach them easily. They can be native missionaries to their own people. There will be instances where there just aren't enough Christians in an area to reach them, so in that case we can draw missionaries from the next closest area. For example, if there is not a healthy Christian population of believers in Mali, we should consider sending missionaries there from Ivory Coast. In very few instances will we need to send missionaries from thousands of miles away to reach people.
So, if we consider the first image at the top of this blog one more time, we don't need the arcs to go in all random directions, they should focus on certain areas with unreached people groups. Also, we don't need the arcs to travel thousands of miles. In most cases, the arcs will only travel distances of a hundred miles or so. The image should look more like the one below. (Even this image is partly exaggerated, but you get the idea.)
Let's be faithful to our Lord. Let's do the research. Let's pray and fast earnestly. Let's finish the Great Commission. God bless you.