Where should we be sending the laborers?
First, let’s look at where in the world the majority of the people are.
Here’s a map showing the world based population density, that is, how many people live per square mile (or kilometer, as most of the world measures).
Let’s divide it roughly into three sections.
In the left section of the map, nearly every country has a robust indigenous Christian presence, yet it’s where the United States continues to send the vast majority of its resources and cross-cultural workers. Am I happy that people are giving themselves to the Lord’s work in North and South America? Absolutely! The harvest needs laborers, and we should keep sending people there. I’m grateful to have been a part of wonderful churches that directly support work and send teams to those areas. Today, I just want to say that it’s not the only place we should be focusing on.
In the center section of the map, most of the countries have at least some significant indigenous church presence, with the exception of some of the Arab North African states and parts of East Africa. On the right section of the map, comparatively few of the countries have a strong local body of believers, which is unfortunate considering they are where most of the world’s population resides. The map is dominated by China, which has mostly atheistic communist adherents (but a strong Christian minority estimated around 5-10%) and India, whose government has been tilting increasingly toward Hindu fundamentalism over the past decade.
Here it is, visualized slightly differently, by population.
It would make sense that the United States would send most of its cross-cultural ministers to the eastern third of the map, but it actually sends the least there.
Why don’t we?
Why are we not sending more people to the eastern third? I have some thoughts.
- It’s far. There’s a greater distance not only in terms of miles of ocean but also language and culture.
- It’s hard. It’s where religions hold sway such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and communist atheism, with a strong Muslim presence as well. (Remember, most Muslims live outside the Middle East. There are more Muslims in North Africa than the Middle East, and the largest Muslim-majority country in the world is not in the Arab world; it’s Indonesia in Southeast Asia.) There are often greater challenges in this area for foreigners to set up and run businesses and nonprofits.
- We have less vision for it. The first two points here create a vicious cycle, as fewer come back to tell stories about what God is doing in those parts of the world. Most of our (often small) knowledge of what God is doing in Asia comes from half-remembered tales of saints from ages past, with the Christian television testimony sprinkled in. Let me qualify by saying that I’m deeply grateful I grew up going to a church where short-term teams regularly came back and talked about the Kingdom’s advance in places like Brazil, Croatia, and rural, poverty-stricken West Virginia. It opened up my young eyes to the wider world around me. Seeing those men and women respond to God’s heart to go to the nations affected me in a real way. Still, while I believe work in reached contexts is still valuable, vital, and valid to sustain and mature the existing church, I hear the urgent call of the high concentration of unreached peoples in the middle and eastern third of the map.
There’s a huge gap between the need and the response.
A 2007 Frontier Harvest Ministries report calculated there are 4.19 million full-time Christian workers on the planet, yet 95% were working within the Christian world.
What if the church started sending more to the unreached parts of the world? What if people began standing up and saying, “I’ll give my life to go where the need is greatest”?
We might just see the Great Commission accomplished in our lives.