A danger in a strategy to 'reach the nations coming here'

30 Sep 2022

During scanning, I recently ran across an email newsletter that noted, “When you reach Europe, you reach all the nations.” This reminded me of a conversational aside in a meeting I was in yesterday: “everyone says ‘the nations are coming here.’”

I hypothesize this ‘thrust’ of reaching the nations outside their homelands has three possible causes:

  1. the passion to reach the unreached leads us to reach them where we can when we can’t reach them where they mainly are
  2. a desire to minister to the poor, the oppressed, the hurting leads us to mainly work with diaspora groups like refugees, with the unreached being some percentage of those
  3. a strategic variant of #1 above, where we reach groups in ‘more open’ areas in order to ‘send back’ or ‘connect back’ into places that are less open to ‘us’
  4. a theological thread that says we must ‘finish the task’ by ‘reaching the nations’ and therefore reaching Pashtos in Germany, for example, is just as good as reaching Pashtos in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The fourth thread is never overtly stated. But it’s still one that is sometimes subconsciously present, and one to be guarded against.

There may be who disagree with me about this particular soapbox. Nevertheless, sometimes I get the idea people think there’s a sort of ‘master people group list’ in Heaven, and once there’s a “representative” of every people group before the throne, “the end will come.” I don’t buy that idea for lots of reasons. The most foundational is one that occurred to me only recently: babies who die.

I believe children who die “before the age of accountability” (however you phrase that) go to Heaven. I think pretty much everyone else believes that too, whether formally stated or not. I have encountered many people with what I consider strange views about God’s character, but never once have I met anyone who thought babies who miscarried or died young went to Hell.

This impacts the idea of ‘every people group before the throne’ because UPG infants die too—and because UPGs are often amongst the ‘poorest of the poor,’ they have higher levels of infant mortality. So, while I’ve never been there, I speculate it is likely there is already a representation of every tribe, language and people before the Throne of Heaven.

I do believe there is a day and an hour when Jesus will return—one already known to God—but it doesn’t have anything to do with some sort of master list of people groups ticking down. In my mind, ‘this gospel shall be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations’ doesn’t have anything to do with ‘representation before the Throne’ and far more to do with ‘in some way, no one will be left out of this proclamation and invitation.’

Making sure that individual groups are ‘checked off the list’ is not the point. Making sure there are no ‘barriers’—that everyone has a chance to become a part of the Kingdom—is the point. It is desirable that we try to reach the Somalis in Shakopee and the Pashto in Paris. We must choose to reach people wherever they are found—this includes easier-to-reach and harder-to-reach places. Let us just make sure that in working with people in easier places, we are not ‘giving up on’ the harder-to-reach. Jesus loves the Somalis in Mogadishu as much as the ones in Minnesota, New York, and London.

I write this primarily not because anyone is ‘shirking’ their calling—but rather as a word of warning for us to check our strategies and ask ‘why’ we are reaching people in one particular place. If the answer is ‘well, we can’t reach them there, so we’ll reach them here, and at least then they will be reached’—we’d better think that one out again.