Magazine Article

Challenges Reaching the Unreached in Missions

A personal reflection on the need

Limoni Manu O’Uiha
Challenges Reaching the Unreached in Missions
Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

I visited Bangkok for the first time 20 years ago. On this visit my wife accompanied me to the Chiang Mai Mission Institute. The city is renowned for its rich cultural heritage, as well as its scenic beauty and natural surroundings. Chiang Mai has more than 300 temples, many of which are open to the public. Temples such as Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang, and Wat Chiang Man are among the most popular in Chiang Mai. A field trip to a few temples made me think about the sacred call to ministry. It brought home the urgent need for more missionaries to reach unreached people groups with the good news of salvation.

Unreached People Groups

The Joshua Project studies unreached people groups around the world.1 It reports 7,382 unreached people groups, which represent about 3.4 billion people. Among these unreached people groups, less than 2 percent of their population is Christian, and gospel access is limited or nonexistent. About 42 percent of the world’s population lives in unreached communities. Most of these people groups live in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Islam (25 percent of the world’s population) and Hinduism (15 percent) represent the most unreached people groups. We have unreached people groups in all countries worldwide.

Challenges Faced by Missionaries

As missionary families at the mission institute shared their stories about trying to reach the unreached in the mission field, several challenges stood out to me.

Language and cultural barriers were significant obstacles. Linguistic diversity makes communication with unreached people challenging. These people groups often have deeply ingrained religious and ideological beliefs. In some countries political and social instability create a dangerous environment for gospel workers and make it difficult to reach people groups.

Significant resources, including finances, transportation, and technology, are necessary to share the gospel with the unreached. Especially in remote and underdeveloped areas of the world, it isn’t easy to secure and manage these resources. The way of life of many unreached people groups has been passed down from generation to generation, making them resistant to change. Sometimes they may be closed to new ideas or perspectives, and view outsiders with suspicion and mistrust. Because of these complex issues, sharing the gospel in these areas requires time and patience.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is the shortage of workers. Additionally, workers may not be well trained or equipped to share the gospel effectively among these people groups. Lord of the harvest, please send out reapers. The harvest is plenty, but the laborers are few (Matt. 9:37, 38).

Lessons From the Ministry of Paul

I read again about the experiences of Paul on Mars Hill, recorded in Acts 17:16-34, and found several crucial lessons still relevant for us today.

I found that understanding the culture and beliefs of the people we are trying to reach is critical. Paul takes the time to understand and engage with the Greek culture and beliefs of the Athenians, using their religious language and references to make his message more relatable to them. It makes me wonder how much time we have spent engaging with people of different religious persuasions. Have we found opportunities to build bridges with our Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, or Wesleyan acquaintances?

The gospel message has power to challenge and transform the hearts and minds of unreached people. Paul urged the Athenians to turn away from idolatry and false gods and place their trust in the one true God through the message of Jesus. He was willing to adapt the message and approach to different audiences. But although Paul contextualized his message to the Athenians, he didn’t compromise the essential message of the gospel. When we share Jesus, there is a need for humility and open-mindedness. But with a firm commitment to the principles of Scripture.

We must refrain from hasty judgments of other people or their cultures. Even though many rejected Paul’s message, he did not give up on the Athenians. He was persistent and patient as he shared the gospel with them, trusting that the seed he planted would one day bear fruit (cf. 1 Cor. 3:6, 7; 2 Cor. 9:10). Despite facing opposition and persecution, Paul remained bold and courageous in sharing the gospel message with the Athenians.

What Can We Do?

There are many ways each of us can help reach people who have not heard the gospel of Jesus. Here are some things to keep in mind:

God is, by nature, a missionary God. Saving people is God’s mission (Luke 19:10). Let us partner with God in the mission of saving souls.

Focus on the gospel. We have no power besides the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is what we should share.

Pray. It is the key in the hand of faith. Pray for the harvest. Pray for workers. Be persistent, patient, bold, and courageous when praying for God’s leading.

Engage. Paul’s experiences remind us about the importance of understanding and engaging with the culture and beliefs of the people we are trying to reach. Be willing to adapt and contextualize your message and approach to make it easier for people to understand the good news of salvation. Remain humble and open-minded.

Partner.  Work with local churches and organizations to establish relationships with people in the community and provide support and resources for sharing the gospel. Support missions through prayer and finances.

Be creative. Use your talents in art, music, or other creative expressions, and social media skills, to share the gospel in a meaningful and relatable way with others.

Appeal to others. Revitalize and encourage the missionary spirit. Inspire (or sponsor) young people to train as missionaries, especially to reach the unreached. The most important principle is to be guided by the love of Christ. So while the challenges of missions to unreached people are great, we have nothing to fear. Greater is He that is in us than the one who is against us (1 John 4:4).

*, accessed July 20, 2023.

Limoni Manu O’Uiha

Limoni Manu O’Uiha, Ph.D., is from Palmerston North, New Zealand, and currently heads the Theology Department of Fulton Adventist University College, Nadi, Fiji.