In 2021, the number of believers among the Hassaniya Moors of Mali doubled. It is hard to describe the joy the team working among them felt, as well as friends, supporters, prayer partners, and mission leaders living far away. With the angels in heaven (Luke 15:10), my wife and I rejoiced at this news as if torrential rain had bucketed from the sky amidst a drought.
The new total number of believers among the Hassaniya? Two.
This single miracle was the result of years of praying, renewing the core vision of our mission, dialoguing with partners, conducting research, and making plans carefully. In time, a multi-skilled and multi-ethnic team of workers from all over the world gathered to live as neighbors to a remote cluster of villages in Mali. It would have been far easier to send these workers through our traditional process—one at a time to any of our existing openings, many of which are concentrated where the gospel is already present. They would have made impact using their skills and gifts there. But we would have fallen short on one vital conviction: that no one should live and die without hearing God’s good news, since the gospel is for the whole world.
In Mark 16:15 Jesus commands: ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’ Acts 1:8 emphasizes a witness to the remotest part of the earth. Lausanne Movement calls for the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world. Do we truly believe that the gospel is meant for the whole world? If so, then why were so many like the Hassaniya Moors still without a single missionary among them or without real access to the gospel? As much as 77.3 percent of missionaries are serving among people to whom the gospel has already reached. About 19.4 percent are among the unevangelized. Only the remaining 3.3 percent are living among the 3.28 billion who have never heard the name of Jesus. Why are missionaries going in the opposite direction from the most concentrated areas of those with no access to the gospel?
Unpacking the Data
Here are some statistics at a glance:
- Three percent of missionaries go to unreached places; 97 percent go to reached or unevangelized places.
- Globally, 87 percent of all Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists do not personally know a Christian.
- The world’s 1.9 billion Muslims have only 5,000 missionaries: one missionary for every 400,000 Muslims. Yet Brazil received 20,000 missionaries in 2010.
- Ninety-five percent of the 5.5 million full-time Christian workers in the world are working within the Christian world.
- Eighty-two percent of all Christian giving goes to the ministry of the local church and is spent on the local congregation itself and its pastors. Only 1.7 percent goes towards reaching the unreached.
The actions of the global church and our use of resources have not reflected that Lausanne call: that the whole church must take the whole gospel to the whole world.
Amidst these kinds of statistics, the salvation of one person among the Hassaniya Moors of Mali stands out so brightly. Just three years ago, one known believer existed among the entire group, and no faithful witness was present among them to generate hope for more.
SIM’s Response: Faithful Witness to Forgotten Communities
Albishir (pseudonym) did not know where he would end up after he died, but he believed that Okan knew the answer. So Okan and his wife Joy, SIM missionaries from Nigeria, told him about the love of Christ and the assurance of salvation. With joy in his face, Albishir found what he was looking for and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He removed his charm and together they burned it in the fire.
Albishir, a Hassaniya Moor, had been watching God’s love in action through a team of multi-skilled SIM workers from many different areas of the world, especially as God used them to provide his village with boreholes for potable water. The very remote location of his home, the absence of many types of infrastructure, and the security concerns of the area presented significant challenges to bringing in a new team to live as neighbors.
A prayer-saturated process over the past several years has resulted in a renewal of SIM’s pioneering vision, mission, and purpose from over a century ago: Convinced that no one should live and die without hearing God’s good news, we believe that he has called us to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in communities where he is least known.
Out of this came an initiative called ‘Faithful Witness to Forgotten Communities’, based on the reference of Jesus to Antipas, a faithful witness in Pergamum (Rev 2:13). Partnering with the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, we identified locations with no gospel access, such as the Kayes and Hassaniya Moors of Mali; the people of Ayutthaya, Thailand; and other specific communities in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and more. After dialoguing with like-minded organizations in each region, teams drawn from many countries began to form, with diverse skills based on opportunities and felt needs expressed by the local community. Today a diverse group of 52 people from 19 countries serves on eight teams in eight countries, along with workers from churches in those countries.
The mobilization and sending model aims to place hundreds of more missionaries from around the world over the next few years in a project we believe could advance the gospel in communities where Christ is least known.
Communities are identified in advance based on lack of access to the gospel, not on openings in a current field. The teams are both multi-skilled and multi-ethnic by design. A team intentionally comprised of people with a variety of skills can then bless and bring shalom to a whole community.
Our premise in SIM is also that multi-ethnic teams are both an effective vessel to carry the gospel across barriers and a demonstration of the gospel itself. They are an effective means to share the gospel and make disciples, and they are a true expression of the face and unity of global Christianity.
Practical Guidance for Decision-Makers
You may have discovered that your church or organization is not pulling its weight in global missions, or that its giving does not prioritize the gospel to the whole world. Your church or ministry may be like a small boat or a huge ocean liner; it may need slight compass calibrations or a complete resetting of its course. Either way, what practical steps can you take?
Questions to ask
The best starting point is to ask questions such as:
- How much of your resources are actually going towards making the gospel accessible to those who have no access?
- How often is your church challenging its members to give their lives and resources to make the gospel accessible to those who live and die without it?
The answers will not only reveal priorities and awareness levels, but also inform future steps, introducing a vision for the future. Is it right to continue sending more workers to contexts where the gospel is present and even strong, and to ignore others where the gospel is not heard at all? Questions can trigger a learning orientation, which creates the necessary foundation for fresh vision and direction.
Tips and successes, based on what SIM has done
Firstly, a church or organization’s purpose, mission, and vision must prayerfully refocus on those who live where there is no access to the gospel. Without this, it is easy to drift towards the lower-hanging fruit of existing and ‘easy’ places. Remember, there is no one among the unreached who will advocate for themselves to be a priority, so a church or ministry must purposefully choose them. Only this level of intentionality will create the conditions in which a seed of the gospel is effectively sent out and planted in a place where none now exists.
Secondly, it is critical that everyone in the church or organization embraces the priority. They must be like a fleet of ships facing the same guiding star and navigating from the same celestial map.
Thirdly, a key to effectiveness in a globalized world is multi-ethnic and multi-skilled teams. A whole team with multiple skillsets goes to a whole community with multiple opportunities. Where applicable, new workers should have the intention of being on teams with local people who are already serving and know what works in their context, rather than thinking that they themselves will bring solutions.
Obstacles to anticipate
Lack of awareness and inaccurate knowledge are the first obstacles to anticipate. Many capable and even missions-minded churches and ministries are not aware that so many people in the world still cannot access the gospel in a language and form they can understand.
Financial obstacles may also be significant, especially for workers from the Global South. And there will certainly be opposition from the powers of darkness. This must be faced through consistent, persistent prayer. There is no barrier too high for our God to overcome.
Sometimes without intention, churches and ministries create or perpetuate internal obstacles to reaching the whole world. These can be found in structures, processes, or attitudes. There may also be donors who do not understand the reality and opportunities at hand. A vital step is to educate and redirect leaders, donors, recruiters, finance personnel, and existing workers. Decision-makers at all levels must reorient to a ‘whole world’ priority if we are to hear the sound of Jesus’ name in places where none speaks it now.
The locations that make up the rest of the ‘whole world’ are places that cannot be entered without the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the protection that comes from fervent, dedicated prayers, individual and corporate. The Lord of the Harvest longs to meet us—his harvest workers—to speak, instruct, and align us with his heart and plans.
Three prayers are continually on my heart: that God would lift up the eyes of church leaders to see that the field is white unto harvest; that God would call many young people to give their lives to serve those with no access to the gospel; and for a collaborative heart between churches and mission agencies from the Global North and South, resulting in a powerful movement to bring the good news to all those still waiting to hear it.
More than 110 years ago, a pioneer missionary from Canada left an established mission station in a town in Nigeria and trekked further into the bush. There was much work left to be done in the small mission station; opportunities abounded for evangelism and outreach there. But because he decided to go further, my own small village of Owa-Onire heard the gospel. I am the fruit of that missionary who insisted that the gospel must reach the whole world.
Let us be committed to the urgent and unfinished task of making disciples of Jesus Christ in the whole world. ‘Let his ways be known on the [whole] earth, his salvation among [all] nations. May all the peoples praise you. May [all] the nations be glad and sing for joy’ (Ps 67:1-4).
- This article is based on the author’s presentation at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary during its Annual Mission Week, September 2021.
- Editor’s Note: The term ‘unreached’ refers to people with little or no access to the gospel, while ‘unevangelized’ people are those who have not heard the gospel but live in a context where the gospel is more readily available.
- ‘Mission Stats: The Current State of the World,’ The Traveling Team, https://www.thetravelingteam.org/stats.
- Unless otherwise indicated, all data in this section comes from ‘Mission Stats,’ The Traveling Team. https://www.thetravelingteam.org/stats.
- ‘How Hard Can It Be to Find Someone Who Knows Jesus?’ mark4.co, September 19, 2019, https://mark4.co/blog/how-hard-can-it-be/.
- Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo, eds., World Christian Encyclopedia, 3rd ed. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020).
- ‘How Hard Can It Be?’ https://mark4.co/blog/how-hard-can-it-be/.
- Editor’s Note: See article entitled, ‘How Can We Finally Reach the Unreached?’ by Ben Thomas, in Lausanne Global Analysis, March 2018, https://lausanne.org/content/lga/2018-03/can-finally-reach-unreached.
Joshua Bogunjoko, international director of SIM, brings over two decades of leadership and mission experience to his role as the first African leader of SIM, a large missions organization serving in 80 countries. He is also a family physician with years of experience in surgery and holds a master’s in leadership and management. During his 28 years with SIM, he has served as chief medical officer and later director of Galmi Hospital, Niger, West Africa, and as SIM’s deputy international director for Europe and West Africa.