The Missouri pastor scooted to the edge of his seat in anticipation. He appeared to hardly be able to contain his excitement as the International Mission Board (IMB) missionary described the unengaged, unreached people group his mission team would visit in South Asia.
No known believers. Remote villages. No evangelical work of any kind. The missionary warned that reaching this group with the gospel was going to be hard and require endurance.
The young pastor clapped his hands together and proclaimed, “That’s what we’re looking for!”
Missouri pastor Owen Shephard talks with a South Asian man he met during a trip to the region. During their first meeting, the man would hear the name of Jesus for the first time.
The confidence was a façade, though. Deep down Owen Shephard* had butterflies fluttering in his stomach. He was pastor of a small church; what could they really do?
The 150-member church had posed similar questions when they started this journey back in October. They wrestled with figuring out why churches should adopt a people group when the IMB is an organization made up of professionals who already do this. The answer was easy – because they asked.
“The IMB asked churches to join them,” Shephard said. “They recognize that the Great Commission is not for the IMB but for the local church. They are asking us to partner with them to make disciples of all nations. How can we say no to that?”
The request became all the more real when the four-member mission team set foot in South Asia. They had prayed for these people for two months. Their first encounter ended with 12 choosing to follow Christ. None of them had ever heard Jesus’ name until they met the Missourians.
“I’m sitting there with these people who have never heard of Jesus. I choked back tears. I’ve known about Jesus from the day I was born,” Shephard said, trying to wrap his brain around the reality of what unengaged and unreached really mean.
“I don’t have the vocabulary to explain how overwhelming that was to see these people open up and respond to the gospel,” the pastor said. “For our church to know that we are the first to explain the gospel to them is just overwhelming.”
In one day, this Christian population appeared to go from zero to 0.0004 percent.
A South Asian man shows Owen Shephard* his field of mustard. The Missouri pastor and his new friend spent a few hours getting to know each other and sharing stories.
As the team celebrated and thanked God, Shephard couldn’t shake from his mind that these new brothers and sisters needed to be discipled. But how? He and his team were only there four days.
Before he could worry too long, however, the local believer who had spent the day with them walked up with a big smile on his face. He had called some friends and they promised to follow up. All of his friends had been through discipleship training and were eager to help out.
Shephard smiled. The IMB was right. His church was not alone in this. They could do this. The realization helped him relax a little on the last day and that’s when it happened:
The pastor sat in the dirt courtyard of a mud home, chickens clucking at his feet. Several men from their unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG) relaxed with him on wobbly chairs and exchanged stories about work. His wife sat on a mat a few feet away with women and children playing a game.
His team just met this family 15 minutes before, yet this home of complete strangers felt peaceful. The prayers of the church were answered.
This was the moment their UUPG stopped being a name on a sheet of paper. This was the moment they became real people with names, faces and personalities. This was the moment the Missouri church truly became burdened for sharing Christ and discipling a community of people who live halfway around the world.
Watch Shephard and his team as they encounter their people group for the first time.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – *Name changed. Susie Rain is an IMB writing living in Asia. For more information on how your church can work with the unreached peoples of South Asia, go to southasianpeoples.imb.org/embrace.)