The missionary movement has progressed in thinking and strategy over the last few centuries. Moving from a territorial idea – missionaries connected to trade routes and coastal areas in the previously unreached areas of India, China and Africa – to a later movement that saw daring groups push inland to the undiscovered interiors. China Inland Mission was a case in point.
The emphasis towards the end of the last century was to recognise the need to reach more than just the land, but people groups with the gospel. Simply establishing church bases in a nation was never the goal. Seeing the gospel communicated and rooted in the local populations through discipleship is the greater aim.
The big promise of the bible concerns this kind of discipleship to the ends of the earth. The colourful descriptions of Revelation show a huge number of disciples of Jesus, coming from every tribe, tongue and nation. In other words, from every people group that has developed on planet earth. In the here and now, the growing multi-ethnic church is a model of ‘one new man’ in Christ, but this is only a minimalist expression of the greater picture of multi-coloured, multi-cultured reality that will be ours to share as a part of God’s redeemed people in the new heaven on earth.
So what about these people groups? There are anywhere between 12000 and 20000 distinct people groups on the planet depending on how they are classified, of which over 5000 can be said to be unreached with the gospel.
Of these 5000 or so unreached groups, the majority live within what we call the 10/40 window. This is simply a geographical reference to the spread of land and people groups contained within the span of West Africa to East Asia – between the latitudes of 10 -40 degrees north on the map.
Again, if we are to follow the developing trend in missions and the biblical mandate, then we are concerned with the people rather than the land. Some people groups span borders, and all nations contain many distinct groups.
Here are some staggering facts about the peoples of the 10/40 window who don’t yet know Jesus.
Over 3 billion people live within this window, yet over 2.7 billion of them are part of unreached groups. Most of them have minimal, if any, knowledge of the gospel. Even if they do know something, they have little or no opportunity to hear or respond to the gospel with no living witness to the truth in their vicinity.
The three big religions of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are all rooted in this part of the world. Historically, their followers have been more resistant to Christian mission, far more so than in tribal regions of Africa. An understanding of these faiths, and their variations that have been syncretised to local culture is essential for those who seek to build bridges and communicate truth amongst these people.
80% of the worlds poorest people live here, with millions living on less than $500 per year. Most of the worlds biggest cities are growing rapidly here, generating a culture all of their own, and exacerbating the huge crisis for the urban poor. Over half of the worlds least evangelised mega-cities are within the 10/40 window. A discipleship that is good news to the poor and is practical and physical in providing helps that lift the poor from the scrap heap is essential in these massive urban areas.
In the 21st Century more than ever, a new generation of missionaries is being called out. We must work out our call to engage, to be those who will not only go to the interior, but who will connect with groups within groups, cities within cities, cultures within cultures with the unchanging, life transforming gospel. To finish with Hudson Taylor, speaking of the needs of China in his day: 'It will not do to say that you have no special call to go to China. With these facts before you and with the command of the Lord Jesus to go and preach the gospel to every creature, you need rather to ascertain whether you have a special call to stay at home.'