Algeria is a Muslim country with few Christians. Those from a Muslim background are fewer still. Most of the country is effectively unreached by the gospel. How can the people have an opportunity to hear of the Saviour?
Just by chance a Muslim in the country called Hussein heard a Christian programme on the radio. He was interested to find out more and so he wrote to the station asking for some more information. After a while he enquired if it was possible to meet a Christian. The radio station put Hussein in contact with an English teacher from the West and they started meeting and studying the Bible together. Hussein understood, but still didn't feel able to commit himself to Christ.
One day, an Algerian follower of Jesus came to join their Bible study and then invited Hussein back to meet some other national believers. Hussein saw that these people were just like him. When they met they prayed and worshipped Jesus together, read the Bible and thanked God; there was no evangelistic sermon. Hussein was so touched he committed his life to Christ that day. Afterwards, he said he would have done so sooner had he met Algerian believers before!
the Westerner seemed to have a foreign religion and a foreign god
Why did Hussein not become a believer during his Bible studies with the Westerner? He didn't believe, because the Westerner seemed to have a foreign religion and a foreign god. The model was not only alien, but difficult to comprehend. Our Algerian brother thought he needed to become a Westerner to become a Christian! The believers from within the culture modelled what Christianity meant for Algerians in terms of modes of worship and fellowship, and demonstrated how the Scripture applied directly to their everyday lives.
What do we learn from this story? A strong indigenous fellowship is the best witness to the gospel in an unreached community. So, to see the gospel spread our focus should be on learning language and culture to share the message effectively, and with relevance, in order to establish self-led and self-supported reproducing indigenous fellowships.
What does the Bible say?
God loves everyone on earth. Revelation emphasises that there is a trans-cultural dimension to the church. John saw a picture of the church before the throne of God and it was made up from every nation, tribe, people and language (Rev 7:9). Furthermore, Jesus commands us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).
In the passage from Matthew, the word 'nations' in our translation comes from the Greek word ethne which is more accurately translated as 'people group'. Matthew could have used the word basileia to imply a political state or kingdom, but he didn't, because Jesus was referring to the many different tribes and cultures (people groups) that make up nation states.
This understanding is found throughout Scripture. The Tower of Babel, where God confuses the people's speech and creates many different ethnic groups, is immediately followed by God's promise to Abraham: all peoples will be blessed through you (Gen 11, 12:1-3). The promise is repeated seven times showing its significance. Indeed Peter and Paul see the promise is at the heart of the gospel (Gen 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14, Ps 72:17, Acts 3:25, Gal 3:8).
So what is God saying through the Scripture? The message is simple: do not ignore anyone. God's honour is at stake here; His promise must be fulfilled.
There is still much work to do! Looking at Indonesia as an example, there are lots of fellowships, but they are mostly among three people groups, the Javanese, the Batak and the Dayak. There are many hundreds of people groups in Indonesia with few or no fellowships. Each people group has a different culture and language and few Indonesian believers have gone to learn the culture of another people group to take them the Good News.
What do we know about people groups around the world?
Over 30 per cent of the world's population would describe themselves as followers of Jesus. Last century saw tremendous growth in the Bible-believing church worldwide - 11 per cent of the world's population could be described as evangelical in their attitude to the Scriptures.
This hides a complex picture: about 40 per cent of the world's population live in cultures and ethno-linguistic groups where the church is not strong enough to evangelise the rest of the culture effectively without outside help. We call these cultures and ethno-linguistic groupings unreached or least reached people groups ("unreached" for short). Many of these groups have no fellowships whatsoever. Nearly 86 per cent of the unreached people groups live in N Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, SE Asia and western China. In terms of population, 97 per cent of individuals who belong to unreached peoples live in these regions (see www.joshuaproject.net).
If this was not bad enough, there are nearly 200 Muslim people groups over 100,000 strong that have NO cross-cultural workers (as far as we know) sharing the gospel in a culturally relevant way, with the intention of establishing networks of fellowships amongst the group. Some of these groups are several million strong! This is a challenge for the church today (see www.peoplegroups.org for latest data).
Out of a cross-cultural protestant workforce of approximately 150,000, only a small minority (around 10,000) work amongst the unreached/least reached people groups to establish fellowships. That's a ratio of about four workers per million people! With so many people groups with no one working among them a new generation of apostles are needed to complete the task God has given us. (US Center for World Mission stats, www.uscwm.org).
The biblical imperative, combined with these statistics, makes it clear that we as a worldwide church need to focus on unreached people groups. This does not mean that the worldwide church should cease to care about reached regions and cultures. There is always a need to share the gospel and disciple believers in each new generation amongst these "reached" cultures. But we cannot ignore our obligation, which is born out of love. We have been entrusted to take the Message to unreached groups who have little chance of hearing it.