The Muslim call to prayer filled the Central Asian village. All the men in the house slowly rose from the floor cushions to cleanse themselves for prayer — all except the one Western visitor in a private guest room. Mohammed’s heart beat as fast as a hummingbird’s wings. He had waited years for this moment to transpire.
“I will stay with our guest,” he said, stroking his long black beard. Since hospitality and honoring guests are highly valued among Central Asians, the others nodded in agreement. Cultural standards dictated a guest should never be left alone. Mohammed could pray after the group returned.
Once he was certain the other men were gone, Mohammed leaned toward the guest and whispered, “All my life, I have wanted to be near to God.” With 10 minutes of privacy, the middle-aged Muslim man asked the visitor questions about a Bible passage he had read years ago. The guest wanted to give Mohammed a copy of the New Testament in his own language, but he wouldn’t be able to return to this newfound seeker’s far-flung village without raising suspicions. They would need to find a time when Mohammed could visit the city.
What is an unreached group?
The concept of a person or group being unreached can be difficult to grasp in America where multiple churches exist on the same block. But in many parts of the world, this is not the case. A people group is considered unreached when less than 2% of its population is Christian and when that group lacks the momentum to see their people discipled. Simply put, when a people group is unreached, this means that from the time a person is born until the day they die, they do not have a chance to hear who Jesus truly is.
People who reside in an unreached country can’t walk down the street to a church to ask questions about Jesus, and it’s unlikely they’ll find a Christian in their community. If there are believers present, they are often not open about their new faith because of the persecution and high level of personal cost that comes with leaving their former faith behind. In parts of Central Asia, for example, it’s still illegal for a Muslim to become a Christian.
According to the Joshua Project, 42.5% of the world is unreached with the gospel. This includes 61% of people (about five billion) who reside in the 10/40 Window — an area between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude that stretches across Asia, the Middle East, and northern Africa.
The Bible’s call to care for the unreached
Christians have a role to play in ensuring those without the gospel get access to it. Some believers go as missionaries to preach the gospel in hard places. But if we aren’t called to go to the unreached, then an important way we can participate in this work is through prayer (Isa. 49:6). In Acts 10, God leads the way for Gentiles to hear the gospel by sending two visions — one to Cornelius and another to Peter. While there are many important truths in this text, I want to point out three that relate to our responsibility as believers to care for the unreached.
First, Cornelius needed someone to share the gospel with him. Cornelius was not a follower of Jesus yet, but when we meet him in Acts 10, he was being drawn to God. Cornelius had “a zeal for God,” but he didn’t yet have the full picture. The Bible tells us that “no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11) — that no amount of morality or religious devotion can lead to salvation — but the seeking prayers of a person who hasn’t yet been made new can serve as a springboard to their later coming to know Christ.
Acts tells us that Cornelius’ prayers and alms were acceptable to God (10:4). We can attribute this to God’s grace in his life (Eph. 2:8, Gal. 1:15) — grace that God brought to fullness when he sent Peter to Cornelius’s home. God handpicked the apostle to share the good news with Cornelius so that the Gentiles could repent, believe, and become a part of the global church (10:45; Rom. 10:17).
Second, Peter learned that God’s salvation plan includes the Gentiles. Through a vision, Peter learned that gospel was intended for every nation who fears God (10:35). The vision centered around food initially, but Peter quickly began to understand that God was talking about more than food. God was indicating that “all people are clean” and can become followers of Jesus (10:35). When Peter entered Cornelius’ home, it went against all the Jewish traditions and customs he’d been taught (see Lev. 20:24–26). But though he’d learned not to mingle with Gentiles, Peter now proclaimed the reality that God was making the two divided groups into one.
When Peter preached to Cornelius’ household, he emphasized the fact that God is the Lord of all — over everyone and everything (10:34, 43, and 47). Peter repeats the word “all” several times (10:36, 38, 43) in his sermon. He’s making the point that God’s plan — since Old Testament times — has been to save people from every nation (cf. Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron . 19:7; Job 34:19). God does not show partiality; his purpose is to save people from around the world, not just the Israelites (Gen. 12:3; Isa. 49:6; Psa. 67:2).
Third, the inclusion of the Gentiles is a fulfillment of the Great Commission. It’s the mission mandate in action (Matt. 28:18–20). God was clearly orchestrating the Acts 10 events. He sent both Cornelius and Peter visions, and through both men’s obedience and the work of the Holy Spirit, many Gentiles were saved. Across the globe, God is drawing people from every tribe, tongue, and nation to himself. He works in a variety of ways: through dreams, visions, healing works, and through the witness of individual believers who share the gospel.
How your family can pray for the unreached
As we see in Acts 10, God desires that all people to know and worship him. It is his purpose to include those without access to the gospel. As Christian parents, we can share God’s heart for the unreached with our children. Through our prayers, we can take an active role in caring for unreached people like Mohammed who waited years to meet a Christian.
God wanted Cornelius to hear the gospel, and he sent Peter to proclaim the good news. If God cares about saving those in places where the gospel hasn’t reached yet, then we should find delight in praying for those still waiting to hear the good news. Here are five resources your family can use as you care and pray for unreached people:
- You can pray for Bible translation work using Wycliffe’s Bible Translators children’s book, Around the World With Kate and Mack: A Look at Languages From A to Z. This resource engages children with the impact Bible translation has on communities around the world, and it fosters a heart to pray for the Bible to continue to be translated into more languages.
- Pray through different countries and people groups around the world using Window on the World: An Operation World Prayer Resource. This made-for-kids missionary prayer book provides insight into what life is like for people in different countries and regions of the world, and it gives prayer prompts that families can use to pray for the people in each country to be reached with the gospel.
- Read Rivers Overseas, a children’s picture book that shares about how some are called to go overseas to share the gospel. The book will help children understand how God is faithful to those he calls to go.
- Download the free Loving Northern Africa and Middle Eastern Peoples Family Activities resource from the International Missions Board. This five-day devotion allows children to learn more about the culture and needs of unreached people in the NAME region.
- Finally, you can sign up for a Joshua Project newsletter and pray for an unreached people group each day. The daily email lists an unreached people group and a prayer focus for that group. During your dinner meal, on the way to school, or before bed — whatever fits your family’s schedule — you can incorporate the daily unreached group into your prayer time.
Because Peter was a key leader in the Jerusalem church, God wanted him to be an early part of his new work among the nations. Later, when Paul was sent on his missionary journeys, he became known as the apostle to the Gentiles, but God also wanted those who were not working to reach unreached groups as their full-time work to understand God’s bigger plan.
Peter’s ministry focus wasn’t shifting — he would still primarily focus on sharing the gospel with the Jews (Gal. 2:8) — but God wanted him to embrace the larger mission, so he gave Peter a front-row seat for the enfolding of the Gentiles into the church. God wants our families to have a front-row seat as well. We can teach our children that God is a God for all peoples by regularly praying for unreached people like Cornelius and Mohammed.