Who are the least reached?
This is the question being asked on many OM teams. We have affirmed together that our mission is to these people, but who are they? Where are they? And how do we get to them?
We all respond viscerally to things that we know about and have experienced personally. My attention and action are focused on my relative in the hospital, not the millions of other people likewise in peril. I am more concerned not because of the degree of sickness, but because of the nearness of the relationship. Proximity often determines our emotions and response. This is a natural process, even in terms of the gospel. We see and react according to the experience we have. The majority of finances and enthusiasm are automatically applied within line of sight, which is why only a very marginal percentage of church money goes to foreign missions. We see the need at home because we see it. In OM, we understand that, unless we intentionally break those proximity barriers, the good news will remain out of reach for many for a long time.
True, the lost at home are as lost as those far away. However, those who are distant are much less likely to encounter Jesus through personal witness. A PEW research project noted that the vast majority of Muslims globally (even in Muslim minority countries) did not have a non-Muslim friend. In order to cross these boundaries, extraordinary effort must be put into place to ensure that the gospel is proclaimed throughout the whole Earth. We must intentionally create awareness of the disparity, formulate strategies and plans and move resources to overcome these barriers. If no one is intentionally looking to move our attention to the very least-reached areas, then our own neighbourhoods look pretty least reached.
In North America, there are extraordinary opportunities where we could make a huge difference if we applied our knowledge, skills and passion. Our calling as an organisation, however, is to steer the resources God has given to us towards the least reached who have no opportunity apart from our intervention. I can stand on the tallest structure of many world cities, look out and know that there are less than a handful of believers beneath me. This is the situation that OM has committed to change.
We must also look with spiritual eyes rather than political or economic. One country in my OM area has been the focus of many missions striving to breach political boundaries so that the gospel can be preached. Our goal, however, is not that believers from democratic, politically free countries do good things for people under totalitarian regimes. Looking with spiritual eyes, one sees that there are more believers here than in most European countries. So our strategy is to send, not receive; they may be resource poor, but they are gospel rich. Quite unsurprisingly, authenticity, boldness, resilience and gospel witness thrive where believers may not be in positions of power or favour.
We must also pay attention to proximity bias in our own internal structures. To be provocative: Since needs close to home are perceived as the greatest, is this why our formal communications structure is more concerned about how we communicate about ourselves than how we communicate the good news? A brother recently compared the poor-looking gospel tract he was given to the glossy OM brochure he received in the post. Is this why our personnel services are organised to serve ourselves rather than the people we say we serve as a mission? Must some degree of realignment happen here as well to escape the proximity bias?
Harvey Thiessen is currently the North America area leader for OM and has been involved in OM since 1984. He is also on the executive board of the Canadian Network of Ministries to Muslims and on the board of MoveIn (a growing movement of people moving into neighbourhoods of urban unreached poor). Harvey and his wife, Brenda, live in Port Colborne, Canada.