The Bible is a single unfolding story about God and His plan and purpose to gather to Himself a people from all the nations of the world. This chosen people is to be God’s holy nation and Christ’s eternal bride. At the heart of this plan of God is mission (from the Latin word “mitto”, meaning “to send”). According to Ajith Fernando, mission ‘refers to God sending people to announce His work of judgment and redemption’ to the world and its nations. The purpose is to transform the hearers of the message to become people who can fully love Him, who will express their sincere love to God through worship and obedience to Him.
One of the powerful statements of a missionary call in the bible can be found in Genesis 12:1-3. God promised to bless Abraham:
- I will make of you a great nation,
- I will bless you, and
- I will make your name great.
This is immediately followed by the purpose, so that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. Thus God promised to bless Abraham in order that Abraham will be a blessing to the nations. God’s promise to bless Abraham is not intended to exclude the nations from His blessing, but to provide a channel by which all the nations would be blessed.
After Christ’s death and resurrection, the Lord commanded the disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19-20). There are two main goals, with the first to “make disciples“: to teach others the truth about Jesus, to show them their need for Jesus, and, once the Holy Spirit has drawn them, to encourage them to live faithfully according to teachings of Jesus. The second goal is baptism, for the believer to make a public declaration that he or she has left the old life of being part of the Godless world and joined the church, the people of God, to be identified collectively as followers of Christ.
Today we often use the term “missions”, as distinguished from “mission”, to refer specifically to the Christian ministry work that spreads the gospel crosses geographical and cultural boundaries (thus “missions” is one part of the total mission of the church). The way in which the gospel is spread will be different for every culture, and to a large degree, the method must be specific to the hearers. Different degrees of education, sophistication, and familiarity with Christian concepts will influence how the gospel can be shared. However, the core message is the same: God is perfect and holy. We cannot please Him because of our sin. We deserve death and eternal separation from God. Yet, in His great mercy, God sent His only Son Jesus Christ into the world to provide for us sinners the way of eternal life. Jesus – God and sinless man – died for our sins and rose again. Therefore, eternal life is a free gift to all who will trust in Christ as the Lord and Saviour of their lives.
In missions, the consideration of what constitutes “all the nations” in the Great Commission is important. When we think of the word “nations” we usually think of the countries of the world. However, in the New Testament, the Greek word for “nations” is “ethnos” (from which the word “ethnicity” is derived), and it is much more specific than the political nation-states we usually think of, and more correctly refers to ethnic groups. In missions a more specific term, the “people group” is commonly used and defined as the largest group of people within which the gospel can spread without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance due to differences in culture, language, religion and geography. Members of a people group share the same ethnic identity and typically have a common language, a common religion, and a common history. E.g., in China, there are many different ethnic groups, but even among those ethnic groups there are divisions according to the languages they speak, culture and religious practices. Thus, although the China government officially recognises that there are 56 ethnic groups in China, the Joshua Project (a missions resource), counts 543 people groups in China.
In 1974, the late missiologist Ralph Winter drew attention to the priority of unreached people groups. ‘An “unreached people group” is a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize their own people.’ In other words, unreached people groups lack a church that has the sufficient numbers and strength to reach their own people. Obviously, if there are no Christians within this people group, there will be none who can share the gospel with them. Since unreached people group refers to a people group with no viable and relevant church, the non-Christian neighbours of ours in Singapore would not be termed “unreached.” They need the gospel but there are probably several churches already available in Singapore in their own language and culture that they could go to if they choose to. In other words, they may be termed “unsaved” or “unevangelized”, but not “unreached” because they are part of a “reached” group.
According to the Joshua Project, there are 7,080 unreached people groups, accounting for 41.6% of all people groups in the world and constituting of approximately 3.1 billion people. Of much relevance to us Christians living in Singapore is the related concept of the 10/40 Window. The 10/40 Window is the region of the eastern hemisphere and the European and African part of the western hemisphere, located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator. It is a general area that has the highest level of socio-economic challenges and least access to the gospel message and Christian resources. Approximately 5.04 billion people reside in approximately 8,641 people groups in the 10/40 Window, with 5,933 of these people groups considered unreached, having a population of 3.05 billion people. Hence, the majority of the unreached people groups are found in the 10/40 Window, and it includes countries such as China, Pakistan, Thailand, and Japan. With the greater access to air travel in recent years due to the proliferation of budget airlines, it is much easier for us who live in Singapore to travel to the countries in the 10/40 Window to be God’s messenger to the unreached people groups. May each of us seriously ponder the call in Romans 10:14-15:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!
 Winter, Ralph D., and Bruce A. Koch. “Finishing the task: The unreached peoples challenge.” Perspectives on the world Christian movement (1999): 509-524
Daniel Lim (Chairman, Missions Committee)
September 9, 2018