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The Indispensable Key to the Unfinished Task

Ethnê is the Greek word Jesus used for “nation”—a word which means tribe, ethnic group or people. Our world today has 6.4 billion individuals living in 234 geo-political nations but over 16,000 ethnê, or people groups, by country. Of those ethnê, more than 6,000 groups remain least-reached. This simply means they are a people group lacking an indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize their own people group. Studies have revealed that until a group has greater than 2% evangelical Christians, it simply does not have enough critical mass to reach its own group with the gospel. This means 1 in 4 people still remain without reasonable access to the gospel—the Forgotten One Fourth World. The Ethnê Movement is simply the Body of Christ together–individuals, churches and agencies–peoples glorifying God among all peoples, Ethnê to Ethnê, this generation!

Why are these groups still “least-reached” after so many years of prayer and missionary effort? Significant barriers exist which keep these groups bound in the darkness of tribalism, Hinduism, atheism, Islam, Buddhism, shamanism, the occult, and other spiritual strongholds. Geographic barriers remain which limit access to these groups. The peoples may live in remote regions as yet inaccessible to most of the outside world. The climate of their region may be harsh and inhospitable, making access difficult. They may be nomadic or semi-nomadic, moving periodically to follow their herds or available water; reaching these groups requires specialized strategies which are adapted to this continual movement.

There are linguistic barriers which keep the gospel from these 6,600+ groups. Over 2,500 languages remain without Scripture. Many languages used are unwritten and some peoples are illiterate or semi-literate; oral means of communicating the gospel must be developed and employed for them to receive an adequate presentation of the good news so that they can understand and respond. In some areas, the language is so permeated with opposing religious understandings that the resulting terminology confusion is itself a significant barrier to the gospel.

Political barriers exist in many parts of the world which restrict access by believers to the people groups living within. Evangelism may be forbidden, the practice of Christianity illegal, or the people may live in hostile environments which are experiencing war or terrorism which hinders the practice and transmission of the Christian faith.

Beyond politics, linguistics and geography though, there are often significant social and cultural barriers to the gospel which prevent the spread of Christianity within groups. Those practicing Christianity may be isolated or rejected altogether from the society. Persecution of Christians makes conversion and the practice of Christianity exact a high price from its followers. Change of any sort may be viewed with skepticism and fear. Often Christianity has come in such a foreign seeming package that it is not seen as relevant or appropriate.

There is yet one other key reason why many groups remain “least-reached”—they may simply be unrecognized as needing witness. Believers may be living nearby but simply not “see” the peoples and opportunities to share the good news may be ignored or neglected. Some groups are resented or even hated by the very Christians who should be sharing the message. At times, the people groups have come as refugees, immigrants, asylum-seekers, who compete for limited resources and jobs with resident believers. The people groups may be perceived as second class or misfits by believers; in these cases, the prejudice of believers creates huge barriers to the gospel. Some people groups are small in size and simply not considered “worth the effort”. Or, the people group may isolate itself in attempts to preserve its language and culture in a foreign setting—and this very isolation itself is the barrier to receiving God’s message of love and forgiveness.

Where are these groups located?  Over 600 least-reached people groups live in South Pacific and Southeast Asia; many are either Muslim or Buddhist in this region. Every year just following the Global Day of Prayer on Pentecost Sunday in May, the Ethnê HeLPS Initiative (Harvest-Linked Prayer Strategies) begins praying for the least-reached peoples of this region, moving then east to west, region by region. Outreaches and prayer journeys focused on the least-reached are encouraged for each region for the 90 days during & immediately following the month of global prayer. Over 3.5 million believers around the world pray along with this initiative. In Northeast Asia, nearly 500 groups remain, many of which are found in China; prayer for the groups of this region comes in July each year. The Chinese Church is actively working to bring the gospel to the groups in their own nation, but their effectiveness may be limited by the resentment these groups may hold against Chinese who are viewed as oppressors. In South Asia, more than 100 people groups follow a form of Buddhism and there have been wholesale conversions to Buddhism from Hinduism by Dalit groups seeking to escape the repression of their caste system. The Church of South India still struggles to address these issues and reach across the lines of caste to incarnate the message of Jesus Christ to peoples of every group. August is the month for prayer for these groups. In fact, the largest single block of least-reached peoples are the Hindu groups of South Asia—over 2,000 of them. The good news is that church planting movements are growing in many areas of this region and beginning to penetrate some of these groups, but a mammoth task remains here and militant Hindus strongly oppose and persecute Christians in many areas. September brings the HeLPS focus to this region’s Hindu peoples. Over 500 Muslim groups also live in South Asia; because of the threat of terrorism and political strife, bringing the gospel to the Muslim groups is quite a challenge so the prayer in October for these groups is vital. Central Asia is home to nearly 800 people groups with limited access to the gospel. Political instability and repressive governments hinder the spread of Christianity in this region but the annual prayer every November is making a difference. Over 350 groups live in the Middle East and North Africa—the epicenter of political instability in the world and home to many of Christianity’s competitors. As we celebrate the birth of Christ in this region every December, we also remember to pray for these remaining least-reached people of this region. Eastern and Southern Africa still hosts over 350 people groups with little access to the gospel. And we begin the new year in January directing our prayers to the Lord’s Throne for these groups. Over four hundred fifty groups live in West and Central Africa; February is the month of prayer for this region’s groups. Nearly 200 peoples find their home in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, including the former Soviet Union and another 200 now live in Western Europe. March brings our prayer to Eastern Europe and Eurasia’s groups followed in April by prayer for the groups in Western Europe. Many of these groups are “new faces” to the region, having immigrated fleeing war or famine or seeking jobs or education. Over 200 groups still live in the Americas and Caribbean—and probably over another 200 uncounted groups still live along the Amazon River alone in Brazil. These hidden tribes migrate continually and avoid contact with the outside world as much as possible. Little is known about them except that they do exist. A new partnership is exclusively focusing on learning about them and developing effective ways to reach them with God’s love. We move toward the Global Day of Prayer each year by concluding the year of prayer for these least-reached peoples and preparing our hearts to begin the cycle once again, trusting that every prayer is significant and is making a difference to bring His Light to the Forgotten One Fourth World!

Prayer is certainly one way that you too can become involved in changing this neglected segment of our world today. Prayer changes things! We know that Jesus observed that the harvest fields were already white for harvest; the problem was the laborers were few. His solution? Ask the Lord of the Harvest to thrust forth workers. [Luke 10:2]

Prayer ushers us into God’s presence as we turn our faces and hearts to seek Him. As Isaiah saw the Lord, high and lifted up on His Throne, he realized his own sinfulness and the sinfulness of his people which brought him to a place of confession and repentance. God’s response was to cleanse his lips. Prayer sensitizes us to our own neediness and places us in a position to confess and receive forgiveness from the Lord equipping us to be more effective in prayer and ministry. [Isaiah 6]

When Isaiah’s lips were cleansed, then he heard the Lord speaking, “Who shall I send and who will go for us?” Intimacy with God opens our ears to hear His heart. As we delight ourselves in Him, His desires become our desires. Prayer further reveals God’s plans so we can cooperate with them.

Prayer invites God’s presence and participation in the process. God has chosen to move His hand in response to believing prayer. He has delegated to us as His children authority to come into His presence and ask. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross rent the veil and opened the way into the Holy of holies that we might come with full assurance of faith and bring our requests to Him.

Prayer removes hindrances to the gospel and prepares the hearts of unbelievers to hear and respond. The Word tells us that Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel apart from the revelation of the Holy Spirit. As we pray, the Holy Spirit moves to warm the hearts of those to whom we speak, preparing the way for them to understand and receive Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

Prayer releases resources for the task. An old saying goes, “what is God’s will is God’s bill.” God has promised to meet all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Surely as we trust in Him and work to accomplish His purposes in the earth, we will surely find Him graciously providing all that is necessary to do just that.

Nehemiah was on mission with the Lord in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. He encountered severe opposition all along the way. His response was to pray, over and over again. When the attacks came, Nehemiah prayed. Prayer ensures protection for the workers and the work. As we cry out to the Lord when the enemy comes in like a flood, we raise up the standard of the blood of Jesus and the enemy is routed.

Prayer releases spiritual power to fulfill the call of God. Jesus specifically instructed His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on High. The Holy Spirit comes to give us power to BE His witnesses to the ends of the earth. He anoints us with the supernatural ability to know what to do and how to get there as He directs us.

Prayer exercises divine authority to change situations and people. Whatever the challenge that stands in the way of the gospel of Jesus Christ, nothing is any match for His authority and power when we pray in His will. Jesus assured His disciples that all authority in heaven and on earth was His. The basis of His command to go into all the earth to preach the gospel, baptize, and make disciples was predicated on this authority and its delegation to His disciples. We also know from scripture that Jesus holds the keys of David to open the door that no man can shut and to shut the door that no man can open. Matthew 18 also tells us that what we bind in heaven will be bound on earth and what we loose in heaven will be loosed on earth. As we pray, situations and people are changed by His power.

We see in Ephesians 6 that we are clothed in heavenly armor for the battle and prayer IS that battle and prayer maintains the victory. [Ephesians 6]

How then can we specifically pray for these least-reached peoples of the Forgotten One Fourth World?

  1. Pray that Jesus thrusts forth more than enough workers to every place where they are needed and that they are equipped to BE His witnesses, living the message of good news. [John 4:35]
  2. Pray that believers will see those whose hearts are already prepared by the Holy Spirit and that they will share the gospel with them in a way that they can understand and receive. [Luke 10:2]
  3. Pray that believers work together in the unity of the Spirit keeping the bond of peace, so that the world recognizes that our message is true. [1 Cor. 3:9]
  4. Pray that God meets the needs of His workers according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus so that they have seed for the sower and bread for the eater. [2 Cor. 9:8-11]
  5. Pray that much fruit that remains abounds for His glory throughout every people group globally. [Matt. 4:20]

What else could be done? Visit www.ethne.net for further updates and information and to connect with the active strategy groups: prayer, holistic gospel movements, crisis response, member care, worker mobilization and training, ethno-arts, information/research, and youth. You may email prayer@ethne.net with questions or for more information. Encourage others to join you in praying and reaching out to groups near you and around the world. Subscribe to the monthly Global Prayer Digest for regular prayer points and daily devotions; visit www.global-prayer-digest.org to read their items online or to subscribe to a text copy delivered daily to your email box. Research the groups beginning with Joshua Project begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting www.joshuaproject.net/ethne.php and use their new prayer cards in 6 languages to pray regularly and to mobilize others to pray. Visit www.prayerguard.net/ethne for 3-minute scripture-based prayers for specific least-reached people groups. Be a promoter of prayer for these groups with Etnopedia—an outstanding website providing people group profiles in 6 different languages www.etnopedia.org. Help Etnopedia provide these profiles in your own language by offering to translate; information is available on their website on how to volunteer.  Give finances to support work among the least-reached peoples. Take a prayer journey or short term missions trip to work among these groups. Better yet, prepare and go as a full time worker. May God direct your steps as you seek His glory among the nations!

By Liz A.