“Then Paul stood up in the meeting of the Aeropagus and said: Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” Acts 17:22-23 ESV
I don’t know about the place where you live, but in my metro, there are so many people moving here so rapidly from all over the world that we have lost touch with who they are. Though many other peoples live near me, God has especially placed South Asians on my heart lately. Studies show that of the quarter of a million Muslims living in the San Francisco Bay Area, a third are South Asians. At least 20 local mosques exist to serve South Asians alone. There are at least 45,000 Sikhs here and 9 gurdwaras (Sikh temples). I have personally counted 35 Hindu temples, but a friend tells me there are at least 40. There is also a local Jain Center and 2 South Asian Buddhist temples.
The South Asians who live in the 9 county San Francisco Bay Area identify as Pakistani, Punjabi, Nepali, Marathi, Kannada, Oriya, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Bihari, Goan, Malayali, Bengali, Bhutanese, Sri Lankan, Sindhi, Awadhi, Kashmiri, and more. Most of these groups are less than 2% evangelical in their places of origin. They are among the least represented groups in the Kingdom Jesus promised, and that matters. Their voices are hugely important, and some day when every knee bows and all tongues confess Jesus as Lord, may the South Asian presence be huge!
How can we, as evangelistic church planters, help point the church to these groups as well as many other least reached peoples? There are at least three aspects of this task, requiring different gift mixes.
Exploring the Unknown
We must become continually more aware of the people groups living near us, mapping who they are and where they live, work and worship. We must get to know their worldviews and beliefs. Loving our neighbors is only possible in the context of choosing to know them. See the website peoplegroups.info for a major mapping project in North America. This appeals to the nerdy sociologist in me.
Caring for the Underserved
New immigrants arrive in North America with all kinds of needs. We must welcome the strangers in our midst and help serve their physical, relational and spiritual needs. Caring Christians with mercy, service, hospitality and generosity gifts can help in countless ways. Serving our neighbors can open doors that point them towards a loving God.
Advocating for the Underrepresented
In heaven, every nation, language, and ethnicity will be represented. God uses people with evangelism and church planting gifts to point the least represented towards Jesus. We will pray for them, and by the grace of God, will start indigenous churches among them. We must experiment with contextualized approaches that minimize barriers to the gospel. We realize that these churches may take longer to evangelize and they may not grow quickly, even though we work, hope and pray towards church planting movements.
Another way to say it is that we church planters must lay down our own quantitative success stories for the sake of the kingdom. What we do here has larger global implications related to the spread of the gospel.
Who are the least reached people near you? Is there room in your church planting strategy to adopt one or more of these groups?
If you need help figuring out who your neighbors are, let me know. I would love to help. Really!
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