Home Perspectives & Other Resources UNLOCKING THE HEART OF THE ‘UNREACHED’ WORLD


By Gustav Krös

During June and July this year (2023), a team from INcontext visited four of South Asia’s eight countries. As we travelled through these countries, the Lord made me aware of some interesting aspects to consider from a mission perspective regarding this region of the world.

South Asia comprises Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. From a mission perspective, Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 to “go and make disciples of all nations”. Also, in Matthew 24:14 Jesus tells His disciples that “this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” But, in Revelation 7:9, we see the concept of all nations more clearly defined when John sees the vision of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” This is very similar to Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7:13-14, where he saw “…one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven… He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped Him.”

After roughly 2000 years since Jesus spoke the words in Matthew 28:19-20, commonly known as ‘The Great Commission’, the Gospel has spread to every country in the world, including the eight that comprise South Asia. But as we can see in Scripture, it’s not about reaching all the countries in the world with the Gospel; it’s much more specific than that; it’s about reaching every tribe and language with the Gospel. This is more commonly defined as every people group.

According to the Joshua Project’s research, there are 17,445 people groups in the world, of which 7,391 (42.4%) are still considered ‘unreached’. Their definition of an ‘unreached’/‘least reached’ people group is as follows: “Less than or equal to 5% Christian Adherent AND less than or equal to 2% Evangelical. An unreached or least-reached people is a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelise this people group without outside assistance.”[1]

This definition was formulated after much research and consideration, but the reality is that we don’t know what God’s definition of an ‘unreached’ people group is. Nonetheless, these statistics give us a very good indication as to where we find ourselves in terms of completing ‘The Great Commission’.

Considering South Asia from this perspective, we see that even though it only comprises eight countries, it’s the most ‘unreached’ region. Of the 7,391 ‘unreached’ people groups (UPGs), 3,729 (50.5%) are in South Asia. India has, by far, the most UPGs, with a staggering 2,135, and Pakistan is second with 828. One might argue that it’s due to India’s vast number of UPGs that South Asia is the most ‘unreached’ region, but even if you take India out of the equation, South Asia would still be the most ‘unreached’ region. Four of the top five countries with the most UPGs fall within South Asia, with only China being the exception.

[1] https://joshuaproject.net/help/definitions#unreached

From a global/holistic mission perspective, involvement in South Asia should be very high on every church and organisation’s priority list. Strategies to reach South Asia’s ‘unreached’ could follow various approaches. Well-resourced churches or organisations could support mission activities in all eight South Asian countries, but most churches and organisations don’t necessarily have the resources for such extensive involvement. They could instead focus on specific strategic countries within this region.

From this perspective, one could focus on India since it has the most UPGs (unreached people groups). If we need to reach every people group with the Gospel, then surely we need all the help we can get in reaching the remaining 2,135 UPGs in India. However, if we want a regional impact, then involvement in India will most likely only impact India since the need is so great. The chance that mission activities within India will spill over into surrounding countries is potentially very slim. Involvement in India is most certainly needed, but if we are looking for a strategic nation or nations to impact the region, then we must look further.

Another approach could be to focus on the country or countries where the church is growing fastest. In Acts 17:26-27, Paul said the following to the people in Athens: “From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us.” I believe this is indicative that at certain times, due to a culmination of events, “the harvest” is “ripe” in nations or countries to a greater extent than at other times. When this happens, the Church should make use of the opportunity, and not let the “harvest” rot in the field.

From this perspective, two countries stand out in South Asia: Afghanistan and Nepal. Church growth in terms of new converts is difficult to measure when you have an ‘underground’ church, as in Afghanistan. According to Operation World, it is the country where the church is growing second-fastest in the world, after Iran. Before these two nations came to the forefront, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary estimated in a 2013 report that Nepal had the fastest-growing church in the world. Even though the growth in Iran and Afghanistan is currently considered faster than in Nepal, it could still have one of the fastest-growing churches in the world.

It would make sense, therefore, for the Church to invest its resources where there is already momentum and make the most of the opportunity that is presenting itself in Afghanistan and Nepal to reach new people groups with the Gospel. These two nations also offer more opportunities from a regional perspective. Afghan believers can also share the Gospel in Pakistan. Besides being neighbours, they are both Muslim-majority nations that share many cultural similarities and several languages, like Urdu and Northern Pashto.

When we look at Nepal, however, we see it’s more religiously diverse than Afghanistan, with 81% of the population being Hindu, 9% Buddhist and 4% Islamic. Regionally, this opens doors since Hindu converts are well-suited to share the Gospel in India. Buddhist coverts could be well-suited to share the Gospel in Sri Lanka, a Buddhist-majority country. And, with a few people groups in both Nepal and Sri Lanka who speak Urdu, there also exists the potential for spreading the Gospel through this common language. Unfortunately, Bhutan, the other Buddhist-majority country in South Asia, would not be as accessible for Nepali converts due to a large expulsion of ethnic Nepalis from Bhutan in the late 1980s till the mid-1990s. There are also potential Muslim converts who could add to the diversity of mission initiatives launched from Nepal into the region due to its significant church growth.

As a strategic nation, Nepal shows the most potential for spreading the Gospel in South Asia. The diversity across the region makes it physically impossible to find a single country that ticks all the necessary boxes. With three dominant religions, 4,100 people groups, and a diversity of

languages, there is no ‘easy’ solution to spreading the Gospel throughout South Asia.

One could look beyond the region and argue that the mission force rising from within the Chinese Church, constantly expanding its reach throughout Asia, has the most potential to impact missions in South Asia. It bears truth, since the mission vision of the ‘Back to Jerusalem’ movement is growing, and, besides the sheer number of potential missionaries, the Chinese Church – blessed with financial growth over the past two decades – can support this mission force. Regardless, it is a mission force that would need to bridge cultural and language barriers in whichever South Asian country they are called to.

Perhaps, if we didn’t approach strategic missions physically but spiritually, one would draw a different conclusion. If we look at the top five countries with the most ‘unreached’ people groups, we see they are geographically clustered together: India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, and Nepal. In between them lies a small, seemingly insignificant country, Bhutan. Geographically, its territory is 38,394 km2, similar in size to Switzerland. Its population is only 783,000, and it has 71 UPGs, far fewer than the surrounding countries. Could this small country, at the heart of the ‘unreached’ world, be the key that unlocks South Asia for spreading the Gospel?

I only became aware of its strategic location during our visit to South Asia in June and July this year. The vast number of ‘unreached’ people groups in this part of the world bears testimony to the spiritual darkness that reigns here. I asked myself what spiritual impact it would make if Bhutan transformed from a Buddhist Kingdom to a Christian Kingdom. To have a Christian-majority nation birthed in the heart of the ‘unreached’ world could have a similar effect to throwing a rock into the middle of a dam. It could start a spiritual ripple effect that could affect the whole region.

When one looks at the physical aspects of reaching Bhutan with the Gospel, everything that seemingly makes it insignificant counts in its favour. Although it is mountainous, it’s much smaller than all the surrounding countries; its population is less than a million people, and

although its Church is still numerically small, it has a passion for spreading the Gospel. Supporting the Bhutanese Church in reaching the 71 UPGs in the country with the Gospel feels tangibly possible, and in the process, one might unlock the heart of the ‘unreached’ world of South Asia.

There is nothing to back up this theory, but at the same time, there is nothing to lose. If the ‘unreached’ people groups of Bhutan are reached with the Gospel and nothing changes in the wider region, then one has still managed to usher in 71 UPGs into God’s Kingdom, and we are called to reach all of them anyway.

Ultimately, I believe our mission involvement should be Spirit-led and not based purely on strategies. So, as we contemplate the vast number of ‘unreached’ people groups in South Asia, may the Lord lead you to the country where He wants you to be involved, whether it’s India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, or any other country. And in the end, may you be obedient to whatever the Lord leads you to do, whether it is to pray, give, or go, because when we look at the numbers in this part of the world, Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:37-38 still ring true: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.”







Map: Picryl – https://cdn4.picryl.com/photo/1987/01/01/south-asia-2-1024.jpg

Nepal – PIXABAY/Sabina1978

Bhutan – PIXABAY/jboots