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Striving for Greater Balance

Aaron M. KauffmanBy Aaron Kauffman

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NLT).

This year the concept of “unreached people groups” (UPGs) turns 50 years old. UPGs refer to groupings of people from similar linguistic and cultural backgrounds that have limited or no access to a living and credible witness to the gospel. In that sense, the idea of UPGs is not new. In fact, you might even trace the idea back to Jesus, who tells his disciples they will be his witnesses not only among Jews like themselves in Jerusalem and Judea, but among people they differ from (Samaritans) or don’t even know about (those at “the ends of the earth”).

But it is relatively new for VMMissions to make UPGs a priority in our work. Up until 20 years ago, most of our mission dollars and personnel served communities that were already predominantly Christian—at least in name. That began to change when we started offering the course, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.

In the Perspectives class, students learn about something called The Great Imbalance. Surprisingly, nine out of ten missionaries serve in contexts where there is already a viable Christian presence. That’s not to say they aren’t doing important work. But the vast majority of missionaries are not serving the people with the least access to the gospel.

The UPG concept first hit home for me some 15 years ago during a conversation with Skip and Carol Tobin. Describing their original call to go to Thailand, Carol said, “What an injustice that some people have the opportunity to hear about Jesus and others don’t!”

That resonated with my spirit. The fact that UPGs exist is a justice issue. Or, as a leader at a church I was visiting recently put it, “It’s simply not fair that some people have no way of knowing about Jesus and coming into a saving relationship with him.”

Last year, our Board of Directors made the decision to start tracking the percentage of workers we support who are serving UPGs. Currently, that number is 43%. The goal is not to eliminate other ministries, but to elevate our involvement with UPGs. When the Holy Spirit is at work among us, we will be Christ’s witnesses among neighbors near and far, like us and unlike us. We are committed to supporting a variety of ministry callings. We simply want to devote a greater portion of our effort to reaching the unreached.

After all, the gospel is for everyone.