The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. documents the atrocity of six million Jews murdered in Germany during World War II. One beam of light chronicled there is the story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist. Schindler is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews, sparing them from the brutality and evil of concentration camps by hiring them to work in his munitions factory. At the end of the war, when Schindler realized more clearly the gravity of what had happened, he was filled with regret and remorse knowing that with a bit more intentionality and sacrifice on his part, he could have saved the lives of so many more Jews. He is reported to have grieved deeply, saying, “I could have done more… I could have done so much more.”
I was reminded of Schindler’s story at a time when I was in the process of setting new goals for our ministry to the unreached in Taiwan. I found myself switching Schindler’s words a bit—“I could do more… I could do so much more”—and then thinking carefully about the gravity of the situation that was before me and what my response was going to be.
You see, another atrocity is being played out as you read these words. People in Taiwan and all over the world are going to their graves without really having a chance to hear and engage the gospel. These unreached people wake up and go to bed every day, slaves to sin, unknowingly shaped by a world in rebellion to God. They are grinding out their lives in conflict with God’s design and, in the resulting mess, are turning to all the wrong places for help. The eternal consequences are grave—a Christless eternity is in store for each of them.
When Christians see the suffering and oppression in these places where God is not known, some respond with great compassion. They want to find ways to relieve the pain and agony of the unreached. They engage in ministries of mercy: caring for the sick, feeding the poor, educating those who lack learning opportunities, rescuing the oppressed, giving voice to the voiceless, opposing selfish power and privilege… They desire to do something concrete and significant to help meet these urgent needs.
These Christians give themselves to mercy ministries not only to address compelling social, physical, and emotional needs, but also with the hope that their loving actions will provide a platform for evangelism. They know that helping people come to faith is important. Their acts of love are first steps; they anticipate these first steps will lead to opportunities to share the gospel. Their expectation is that, as unreached people experience the goodness of Christian love, these lost people will want to learn more about what is behind that love.
One of the realities that collides with this expectation is what social scientists call “confirmation bias”—the tendency to interpret new evidence in ways that confirm one’s existing beliefs or theories. Most likely, the unreached will interpret our good deeds in ways that fit with their perspective on the world. In Taiwan for example, some people do good in order to gain a better standing in the next life or to indebt someone to them. So the goodness of a Christian, rather than calling attention to what is behind it, will likely be interpreted as something done to gain a personal benefit. The unreached require much more than our goodness and compassion… so much more.
What the unreached really need is God’s Word. The Bible is given to us to enable us to relate rightly to God, to ourselves, and to the world he created. This Word is living and active. It challenges, shapes, and empowers us—a powerful tool that enables us to see our sin and to turn to him.
One reason that people are unreached is that there is a distance between them and the Word. Geography, language differences, and social barriers can prevent them from physically hearing God’s Word. Cultural understandings or habits can lead many of the unreached to consider the Scriptures irrelevant or unnecessary for them. These obstacles can prevent the unreached from really hearing or engaging the Bible.
The unreached also need Christians to bring the Word closer to them. They need Christians who will prayerfully come and live in their world and listen to their stories… those who can isolate and then work to address the obstacles keeping them from hearing the Word… those who will work to understand their thoughts, feelings, and actions deeply and pinpoint deviations from God’s design… those who can appropriately, clearly, and accurately relate God’s law and his gospel to these deviations. Since laborers with these kinds of skills are not plentiful, the unreached also need churches and individuals who are willing and able to raise up and send out these kinds of Christians.
Has God been raising you up, giving you talents, training, hardships, experiences, resources, relationships, etc., in order to prepare you to join his “reaching the unreached” team? Does God want you, in the face of such an urgent need, to be a good steward of the unique gifts he has given you, by joining those working to responsibly bring the Word closer to the unreached that live around you and at the ends of the earth? Don’t let the seeming impossibility of the task hold you back. This endeavor is important enough that ways to break down the challenges into doable bites MUST be found.
We sin against God when we have the means to help the unreached, yet fail to intentionally and sacrificially involve ourselves in bringing the Word closer to them. When we confess that sin, the One who loves the unreached unconditionally loves us too and offers us forgiveness. Knowing that Jesus’ death and resurrection means we can be totally forgiven and PERFECT team members in God’s “reaching the unreached” team makes me, well… want to do more… want to do so much more.
Dr. Ethan Christofferson and his wife Sandy serve the Church of the Lutheran Brethren as missionaries to the unreached Hakka people of Taiwan.
Is God calling you to mission work? Contact: LBIM@CLBA.org