Why the Unreached Are Unreached

31 07 2013



I just spent a week in Wyoming on the Wind River Indian Reservation among a beautiful tribe of people called the Northern Arapaho. I have been to a South American country to work with Indigenous Tribes along the Amazon River Basin. I have walked among a completely unreached, unengaged tribe in the isolated mountains of Central Asia. I have even lived for three years working with an unreached tribe in Tanzania.

Before I get to the topic, some things need to be defined first. What does it mean when we say, “Unreached?” When speaking about a tribe of people being unreached, it is universally recognized by missionaries and missiologists that the tribe in question has 2% or less of their population being evangelical Christians. This is no arbitrary number. It has been studied that in most cases a tribe that has more evangelical Christians in its population than 2% of its total has a viable church that has the opportunity to spread the gospel among its own tribe. You might even go as far as asking why this is important. In Matthew 24:14 Jesus says, “This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come.” The word “nations” in this passage of scripture literally means “tribes” or “people groups.” Therefore, Jesus is saying that before He returns and ushers in the end of this age, all of the tribes will be reached. We see a glimpse of the future in Revelation 7:9 when John writes about seeing a “vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language…” (italics mine) If this is true, and I tend to believe in the truth of the Bible, then this makes unreached people groups a priority for churches. With only an estimated 6,900 people groups left unreached, we are literally seeing the end in sight. It is possible that we could be the generation that has the blessing of ushering in the return of Jesus Christ.

With all of our technology, communication advances, and transportation ease, why are these last unreached people groups still unreached? I believe, having seen it firsthand, that there are many common reasons that all play a role as to why a group is still unreached. First and foremost, we have to recognize that Satan is still very active in this world and maybe more so as his time runs short. He has had these groups and their land in his grasp for generations and generations, and he will not give them up without a fight. Many of these tribes remain unreached, because the church has not engaged in the spiritual battle. Individuals may have fought in the past, but it will take the effort of many praying for extended periods of time before the battle can be won. I am encouraged that more and more churches are recognizing the fact that it will take more than a 3-year partnership to see these remaining peoples reached. We can no longer afford to move on to another people group after just three years and know that we have accomplished anything. This brings me to the next reason these tribes are unreached. Most of these groups are calloused or hard-hearted toward Christianity. The Muslim Tribe in Central Asia sees it as a Western religion, and if one converts, that one is considered a traitor to his family and culture. The point is that in different ways, Satan has gained a deep foothold in these people both individually and culturally. These are holds that only God can break, and through His mercy, He has chosen to use you and me to be His ambassadors and soldiers.

Although not as important as the spiritual reasons, there are also physical reasons why these groups are not reached. Many of them are very difficult to get to. When I lived in Tanzania, it still took me hours driving on treacherous dirt roads along cliff edges to get to the majority of the people group. We had a team earlier this year go to Ecuador to work with an unreached tribe. Once they arrived in the country, they still had hours and hours of driving on horrible roads, boating on a dangerous river, and living in the rain forest. Not only are these groups, in many cases, physically distant, but they are also culturally distant. The languages are difficult to learn. The cultures are completely foreign to us and hard to understand. The food makes us sick. These and more are all reasons why these groups remain unreached, but if we believe the Bible, then we have to believe that these reasons must be overcome.

In these last days, God is looking for individuals and churches that are spiritually and physically tough to finish the task.



10 responses

31 07 2013
Gerald Ware

Maybe the gospel so many are spreading is false, not the gospel of Jesus Christ but one formulated by men and which depicts a God, a Father which Jesus was certainly not the express image of, a God obsessed with an accounting of each man’s sins, demanding a pay-off, ignoring sins hidden beneath Christ’s blood and willing to determine men’s destiny by pretense, imputing both sins and righteousness here and there. The real gospel of Jesus Christ was and is that when men so believe in him that they begin to obey him and repent of their sins, the Spirit of God will be sent to help them do what they otherwise cannot do, this the great saving grace of God.

31 07 2013
Scott Ward

Hi Gerald. I agree. I think there is a lot of confusion out there as well. There are a lot of false gospels out there that are causing people to be desensitized to the true gospel as you wrote it in your comment. We dealt with this issue a lot in Tanzania. Thanks for your comment.

2 09 2013
Dr. Jeffrey Anderson

Your post implies that Arapaho people do not know about Jesus. As someone who has for over twenty-five years researched Arapaho culture and history, I can assure that Arapaho people do know about Jesus and do not need to be “saved” by your mission, nor are they resistant to Christianity. Many Arapahos are Christian, traditionalist, and follow the Peyote Road at the same time. There is a shared profound respect for what Chief Lone Bear called “the many roads to God.” However, all missionaries who have advocated destruction or abandonment of traditional religious practices and beliefs, have been removed swiftly and permanently. That will happen in future. Note, too, that here are also many evangelical Christians at Wind River, and there have been several missions there for over 30 years. Did you know that? Do your research, please, before making claims about native peoples. You were there only a short time.

2 09 2013
Scott Ward

Dr. Anderson, the research has been done thoroughly. I have been going there for three years, but I am working with evangelicals that have lived there for their entire lives, not just 25 years researching from New York. If you had done your research, the Joshua Project, which is a collaboration of the major evangelical missions organization shows that the Northern Arapaho are critically unreached, meaning that less than 1% of the population is evangelical. You are also wrongly assuming that we are advocating them to renounce their culture and traditions. We are acting upon our research and beliefs. You may not agree with that, but that is our mandate as Evangelical Christians.

2 09 2013
Jeff Anderson

I just replied because many Arapaho folks in social media posts find your blogs and video objectionable, but have not been able to reply themselves for some reason, though apparently you have taken down one of your stories, so maybe you got the message. In the larger view of things, many folks question why tribal sovereignty does not apply to missions establishing themselves on the reservation, i.e., gaining permission from the tribal government or religious leaders. Almost all other non-Indian organizations and individuals that operate on the reservation have to gain such permission. The Arapaho Language and Culture Commission, for example, gave permission for my research. What tribal entity granted permission for the operation of your mission there?

2 09 2013
Scott Ward

You are correct in that I can see how my posts could have been offensive. That’s why I removed them. It’s hard for me, personally, to understand being offended, though. I get attacked constantly for my beliefs. I don’t get offended or feel the need to defend myself. I also don’t approve any comments that are overtly sarcastic, derogatory, or contain inappropriate language. I am all for healthy debate. As far as permission, we have been permitted by Indian Housing to be on the reservation. We do building projects. That’s it! If someone asks why we are there, we tell them. We are not out to “convert the heathen,” but simply help and try to build good relationships in order to earn the right to be heard. Thank you for your comments.

2 09 2013
Jeff Anderson

Thanks for the clarification. Dialogue is always good, but it is often really difficult to get it going across differences in deeply held beliefs, as we can see in the nation and world today. I respect you for responding directly to concerns and also respect your religious convictions. It is good to know your mission is working with housing construction, too. If I get out there next summer, I’ll try to stop by.

2 09 2013

Native American tribes are unreached because they want to have their ways to live on. In every tribe there is a god, but he’s not called “god” or “lord.” He is the creator, he is equal to god. There is no devil worshipping going on. That is your perception. You fail to understand the ways of life, you may have lived with them for 3 years, but you have no idea. So before you posted this, you should have gotten further into the traditions of the tribes.

2 09 2013
Scott Ward

Thank you for you comment. I respect your beliefs. I posted this because of my beliefs, and those beliefs are based on the Bible and the Evangelical Christian interpretation of the Bible. Those beliefs, for me and many others, don’t change because of cultures or traditions.

18 03 2017
Jason Lucas

Scott I appreciate and agree with your article. Two-thirds of God’s name is GO. My wife and I are excited to be going to Wind River to be part of the “reaching” of the Northern Arapaho.

God Bless you!
Jason and Sarah Lucas

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