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The Poor or the Unreached: Which Is the Biggest Tragedy?

Written by Nate Irwin on

There are two large problems that face our world (granted, there are more than two, but let’s focus on these two, chief problems today): the people who are poor and the people who are unreached. So, which is the greater of the two tragedies? Let’s take a look.

The Poor

Study these two graphs. The first one lists the number of the poorest of the world’s poor, those who live on less than $1.90 per day. That’s a lot of people living on not very much money. The good news is that this number has been declining for the past three decades. It has fallen from nearly 1.9 billion in 1990 to about 660 million in 2018. This is astounding and very good news.

Then COVID-19 hit. As the graphs shows, the number of people living in extreme poverty is now projected to go back up so that, by the end of 2021, there could be an additional 150 million people in this category. That is sad, very sad.

The Unreached

The second chart shows the number of unreached people in the world. Unreached people is a technical term with a very specific meaning. It does not refer to people who have not heard the gospel. It refers to those who cannot hear the gospel. Why? Because there are so few followers of Jesus in their people group, people like them who speak their language, that they are unlikely to ever meet one from whom they can hear about Jesus.

In spite of tremendous gospel advances in the past century, particularly in Latin America, Africa, and China, the second chart depicts a very sobering reality. The number of unreached people continues to mushroom. In 1960, there were 1.4 billion. In 2016, that number was close to 3 billion with 57,000 unreached people dying every day without once hearing the good news of salvation in Jesus.

Which Is the Bigger Tragedy?

So, which of these statistics is the bigger tragedy? Which tugs more at your heart? It is very sad that more people will go to bed hungry tonight than would have two years ago, especially considering that we spend $1.90 on a coffee without thinking twice. 

But in Matthew, we see that Jesus’s heart broke for the people in Judea, not because they were hungry but because they had no shepherd, no one to give them spiritual guidance (Matt. 9:36). While it is a shame that someone would die hungry, it is an even greater shame that they would die and never hear about Jesus. One is a temporal tragedy; the other an eternal one.

What Can We Do About It?

So, what can we do about it? As a church, College Park is trying to change both situations. We are helping the poor through ministries like Heart for Lebanon in the Middle East and World Relief in Cambodia. But we are also helping reduce spiritual poverty by enabling people to go and share the good news with those who live in unreached people groups in places such as Central Asia, India, and Southeast Asia. These people will never hear about Jesus unless something changes.

Regardless of where (or if) you go to church: are you a part of or ready to be a part of that change? Here’s a little exercise for you. Look at the map below and answer this question:  How are my life and the resources God has entrusted to me impacting the red parts of the world with the gospel? 

If your answer is, “Well, they’re not impacting much,” are you committed to changing that? At my church, College Park, I’m privileged to help coordinate our various Barnabas Teams—groups that meet once a month to pray for our church’s missionaries all over the world. Many of these workers are in one of the red zones you see in the map above. Groups like these can be a simple way to keep missions at the forefront of your mind. And if you don’t have a church group to join near you or at your church, why not start your own? Gather some of your friends and family to regularly pray for the impoverished and the unreached.

The greatest tragedy in the world is someone living and dying without ever hearing about Jesus because they will be eternally punished for their sin. But this can change, and you can be a part of that change!

Nate Irwin

Nate joined staff at College Park in 2002 as the Pastor of Global Outreach. He is also an elder for the North Suburbs Parish. Drawing on his own experience having grown up, and then serving as a missionary in, Pakistan, Nate works to challenge, prepare, and enable cross-cultural messengers of the gospel from College Park and to cast a vision for reaching unreached people groups through strategic partners. He is passionate about “finishing the task” of making disciples of all 17,000 nations in the world.

Prior to coming on staff, Nate served with TEAM as the principal of Zarephath Bible Institute in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Nate and his wife, Marty, have three adult children and two grandchildren. He enjoys spending time with his family, travel, and sports of all kinds.

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