127/ 68/ 6455. Keep those numbers in the back of your mind, and we will return to them shortly. This past July I wrote an article that introduced a new initiative to discover unreached people groups in our state. Many people have devoted considerable time over the years to welcoming the nations to Arkansas, but it has become increasingly necessary for us to network our efforts, raise awareness, and equip the everyday believer to encounter and engage the unreached.
In a few short months we have updated our research to paint a more complete and challenging picture of the nations in Arkansas. We have now identified at least 127 distinct people groups representing a population of approximately 216,000 people. Sixty-eight of those people groups are still considered “unreached,” meaning they are less than 2% evangelical. Even more alarming, however, is that 33 of those are also “unengaged.” That is, they have not had a strategic church planting effort working among them in the past two years. Not to mention, we have another 6,455 international students from approximately 120 nations studying in our colleges and universities. This creates an incredible opportunity for our college students and campus ministries to act as “foreign” missionaries among some of the world’s best and brightest.
That the world has come to Arkansas is undeniable. The question we must ask is, “Do we see the nations among us as God sees them, and are we willing to do whatever it takes to reach them with the good news of Jesus?” So what are some ways you can begin to discover and engage the UPG’s of Arkansas? The goal is to see everyday church members having gospel conversations that will ultimately result in gospel congregations among those who are presently unreached. Two fundamental principles in this work will be a consistent presence among the unreached, and a consistent proclamation to the unreached.
For starters, a consistent presence is exactly what it sounds like, and it is no different from what most of us are used to doing in our normal rhythms of life. Most of us frequent the same restaurants, gas stations, stores, and community/social events and functions every week. And we do so because there is some truth to the Cheers theme song:
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Consistent presence lends itself to natural conversations about the things that matter most to us, and often things we might not normally talk to strangers about. Why? Consistent presence is what makes the stranger next door a stranger no more. So consider incorporating an ethnic-run business a part of your weekly schedule. If you do not know what to talk to them about, especially in your first couple visits, ask them questions about where they are from originally and where they are now. Adopt the humble posture of a learner, and be naturally curious about their language, strange items in their store, and if they are connected to a broader community from their country of origin. Ask them where they live now (do they commute or are they locals?), where they do their shopping, and what they like to do for fun. It is even okay for you to ask them questions about their religion. All of this helps you better understand both the individual and the community they are a part of. And the more consistent you are in frequenting these points of interest, the more comfortable they will be with your presence and the more open they will likely become in conversation.
Consistent presence must be accompanied by consistent proclamation. There is nothing more foreign to many internationals than a “religious” person who never talks about their religion. For many, faith is a natural conversation for those who have it. Use that to your advantage to introduce your faith in Christ early and often. For example, in your first or second visit you might ask if someone is of a certain religion, where they go to pray, or if they have any spiritual beliefs. As a follow-up, you can mention that you are a follower of Jesus who wants to better understand and love your neighbors. Let your curiosity drive inquisitive questions that reveal their need for Jesus, such as “What are you doing to get your sins forgiven?” and “When are they completely paid off?” These can be a great bridge to your own personal testimony.
There is no silver bullet, no magic words, but we do serve a God who seeks to save the lost and is already at work in many of their lives so they might seek him and find him (Acts 17:26-27). We just need to be willing to see them with his eyes and sow the only message that can bring hope and life to them and their families.