FIRST-PERSON: The nations next door

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- When the time came to call a new pastor at a church where Kathy and I had the privilege of volunteering after it had been through a difficult period, we were invited with the ministry staff to meet him and his wife over breakfast.

Told to go to the Shoney's near the church, we were surprised. Neither of us could ever remember seeing it, so we put the address into the GPS and, to our surprise, Shoney's was located just to the right of the exit we had used for the last two years.

How could we have driven to church week after week and not known the restaurant was there? Well, it's probably because we weren't looking for it. If it had been a Starbucks, I would have known it was there, because as I travel, it's one of the first things I search for.

Similarly, the nations are all around us but sometimes we don't see them because we aren't looking for them.

Because missions is a part of our DNA as Southern Baptists, we work toward making sure there's not one people group on the planet who hasn't had the opportunity to hear and respond to the Good News of Jesus Christ. As much as we desire this, there are still more than 3,200 unreached, unengaged people groups who have not heard the name of Jesus.

As hard as we are working to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, can you imagine the Father's heart? It's been over 2,000 years since Jesus came, lived, died and rose again -- yet billions of peoples still have never heard of His great love.

We are living in an unprecedented time in history. More people are living outside their country of birth than at any other time; many of them are coming to America, over 1 million each year. That's not counting more than 1 million international students who will come to study, nor does it include the nearly 85,000 refugees who resettled in our country last year. Now add the business travelers and tourists who are visiting our cities. It doesn't take long to realize that God desires His unreached peoples to hear the Gospel so much that He's sending them to us!

For many years, the International Mission Board has encouraged churches to pray for and engage unreached people groups by getting on an airplane to reach them in their homeland. That's still an important strategy but there's more. We also need to go to the airport and welcome the airplanes that are filled with the people groups God is sending to our homeland.

The people group your church is engaging overseas may be living in your city or state. The people group you have researched and come to love might not just live in their homeland; they could be living a few states away.

You can find out if the people group you pray for on a regular basis is living in North America by going to Imagine how the work you are currently doing could be multiplied. If you are working with Ghanaians (or some other people group) overseas, why not work with them also in a city like Washington, D.C., or Toronto? Churches and church planters are engaging many of these people groups right now and you can join their efforts.

If all peoples are going to have the chance to hear and respond to the Good News, we must start looking at the task before us with new eyes. There's much at stake. Every day people die and enter eternity without ever hearing the Good News. So, the next time you're out, take a more in-depth look around to see if God has sent one of these unreached people groups to your town or neighborhood. Ask yourself, "Why are they here?" It might be so they can come to know Jesus.

The Scripture tells us, "From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring'" (Acts 17:26-28, HCSB).

As we ponder the opportunities God has brought to the shores of North America, it's important to realize that the vast majority of immigrants, international students and refugees are coming from the least reached nations of the world. What an opportunity we have to share the Good News with the nations right here at home! That doesn't mean we don't go overseas, but it does mean we shouldn't miss the opportunities the Father is giving His church. The nations are literally living next door.

The opportunity we have makes strategic, missiological sense in every way when it comes to getting the Gospel to all peoples. As we are faithful to love them and share the Good News, and as these immigrants, students and refugees come to know Christ, they too will share the Gospel where we've not been able to go.

Terry Sharp (@terrysharpimb) is the International Mission Board's state, association and diaspora network leader. This article first appeared at the mission board's website.
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