I found myself reaching out my hands to grab hold of something, anything, in the midst of the deepest darkness I've ever experienced.
Only minutes before, I was lying in bed waking up leisurely and chatting with my husband. A severe leg cramp caused me to howl in pain and, without thinking, jump up to try to put pressure on my leg and ease the cramp. The sudden change in position nearly caused me to faint. Although my eyes were open, everything around me went completely black. My husband grabbed my waist from behind, and my arms reached forward to find something on which to steady myself.
I can't recall ever being in utter blackness. Even those times I've visited a cave and the lights were turned off don't qualify because then I was engaged enough to realize that this was a temporary, controlled condition. The blackness I felt myself entering as I was wavering between consciousness and fainting was different. There was no penetration of light, no logical awareness of control.
Later, after I recovered from this very brief episode, God brought to my mind an unforgettable application: those unengaged, unreached people groups - those with absolutely no penetration of light into their utter darkness. No one holding out a candle of hope.
We forget how much our country has been influenced by the light of Christ. Even though there are individuals and even pockets of people here who haven't heard the true Gospel, there is a cultural heritage that reflects Jesus' teachings, even among unbelievers. Concepts of forgiveness, redemption in the form of second chances, helping the less fortunate, and using positions of power to make a difference all have threads traced back to our Christian heritage. Don't get me wrong - there are other threads that contribute to our heritage as well, and some of these concepts are present in other religions. But at a worldview level, we have been influenced by the light of Christ in ways that we take for granted.
It's not that way everywhere. In 2020 Vision, Bill and Amy Stearns present the image of those without Christ as caught in threads of deception - threads that can become a web so thick light cannot penetrate. Darkness that is beyond what I experienced so briefly yet powerfully.
Some groups are "reached" - not that everyone accepts the truth of the Gospel, but the opportunity to hear is definitely present. About 6700 groups are "unreached" - there is no significant church, but someone is intentionally seeking to take the light of Christ to the people. Someone wakes up every morning with a heart to peel back the darkness and pray without ceasing until this group is reached.
In a number of these groups however - an uncertain number due to the many smaller groups, but including at least 632 groups with a population of 50,000 or more - there is no intentionality at this point. No individual or group is seeking to learn the group's language and present the Gospel in their heart language. Nobody has "adopted" the group with an intentional purpose to find a way to make a difference among them. These groups are among the darkest of the dark - and they are grasping for anything to make sense.
These numbers can be overwhelming, and I was nearly overcome when I first realized the lesson behind my brief experience of darkness. Yet God is so faithful. He didn't leave me in a place of despair but encouraged me. There are so many amazing groups trying to make a difference, researching the unengaged, rallying prayer for them and moving them into an engaged status. (See for example: Finishing the Task, the International Mission Board, Global Frontier Missions, or Wycliffe's Vision 2025. If you feel called to pray, sign up for Twitter just to get the daily prayer for unengaged from Rom1520.)
But the most encouraging thing to me was the reminder from one of my favorite missions books, Let the Nations Be Glad. I include this extended quote below as a reminder to all of us whose heart beats for the nations: We must never see reaching the nations, even the unengaged, as the highest call on our lives. We are called to worship. God just wants us to invite others to join us in the process as we learn to know Him and make Him known.
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.
Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Ps 97:1). “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Ps 67:3-4).
But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out, “Let the nations be glad!” who cannot say from the heart, “I rejoice in the Lord…I will be glad and exult in thee, I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High” (Ps 104:34, 9:2). Missions begins and ends in worship.”Personal note: Thanks to those who checked on me over the past couple of months of absence. I just completed the busiest time EVER at my job and frankly haven't wanted to see a computer most evenings! I've also been praying about God's intentions for my writing and truly seeking Him deeply. I'm glad to say that things have settled down to a dull roar and work, and God has released me to continue blogging as He leads (as well as some other writing and teaching projects), so you should see me back on here more or less regularly. Thanks for your continued prayers and support.
–John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993/2003), 17.