rebelling against low expectations

How Teenagers Can Reach Unreached People Groups

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Footsteps! I clicked off my flashlight and hid my book under my blanket, waiting for my parents’ footsteps to pass. The next two minutes seemed to take forever as I waited to make sure they weren’t walking by again.

The coast was clear. Breath in. Breath out. I really should go to bed, but just a few more pages until the end of the chapter . . .

Surely, I wasn’t the only one doing this in middle school! As I got older, I realized my parents probably knew all along.

What were the books that so captured my imagination (and sleeping hours)? Missionary biographies. I grew up reading and rereading books like God’s Smuggler, Kisses from Katie, and Bruchko. The adventure, the heartache, and the faith of the heroes in those books inspired me.

Somewhere along the way, a seed was planted in my heart to do mission work. To get my hands dirty, to learn another language, to share the gospel, and do great things for God.

My Dream Died (And I Almost Did)

Except, I began to wonder if my desire to do missions was only because I desired some kind of adventure. Missionaries seemed like the epitome of cool to me, so maybe I was just after the thrill and excitement. I tried to set the dream aside.

Then, in high school, I got sick. Very sick. I was bedridden and chronically ill. In that time, I really did begin to give up my dream. How was I supposed to go to the “ends of the earth” if I couldn’t make it to the other side of my bedroom? Soon my sickness became life-threatening, and I surrendered that dream completely.

It’s a long story, but God spared my life. He orchestrated a thousand details so that I could receive the treatment I needed, and slowly my body began to heal. I learned to walk again, and the pain began to fade.

Beyond The Honeymoon Phase of Ministry

As my strength grew, I joined a local youth outreach ministry. It turned out to be exactly what I needed. My body and mind recovered as I poured myself into loving my kids. I learned how to bridge cultural gaps, I learned how to share the gospel outside my comfort zone, and I learned how to endure.

As wonderful as youth outreach ministry was, it was also hard. Most nights, I’d get home and just weep from the sheer emotional weight of the horrors many of my kids were living through. I called hotlines, I slept little, and I was even bitten by one kid. But as two years turned into three and the excitement of ministry faded, I found that I still loved what I was doing.

It wasn’t a romanticized adventure anymore. It was real, it was daily, and it was exactly what God created me to do. The dream-seeds of mission work were starting to grow into established plants.

One day, I looked a friend in the eyes and said, “I can’t not go.” I knew God was calling me into this. He had planted the seed in my heart. He’d helped me wrestle with what exactly missions meant. And He had prepared me with hands-on training.

We Can’t Not Go

As I started to explore how I could get to the mission field, I encountered a man who told me his own “can’t not go” story. He was a professor on a trip to a closed country. On this trip, he visited a school, and the students wanted to practice their English with him.

So, he stood in front of the class and they asked him get-to-know-you questions. When they found out he was a teacher, they asked him, “What do you teach?”

“I’m a Bible teacher.”

They looked at him, waiting.

“You know, like the book. A Bible? About Jesus?”

They had no idea what he was talking about. These highly educated college students did not even know what a Bible was and had never heard the name Jesus. They belonged to what is called an “Unreached People Group”.

Pioneers defines an Unreached People Group as, “a people group within which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to evangelize this people group.” There are still 7,000 Unreached People Groups in the world.

Friends, we can’t not go.

Not everyone is called to be a traditional overseas missionary, and we’ll talk about that more in a minute, but the harvest is so great, and the workers are so few.

I think back over my own story. I faced death, but I had hope. I knew what would happen if I died. But millions of people all over the world don’t even have the opportunity to reject salvation! They are living and dying without ever even hearing the name of Jesus.

Rebelutionaries, how can we stand by and do nothing?

What We Can Do About It

I’m not saying that everyone who reads this article needs to drop everything and move across the world –though I genuinely hope some do; it’s worth every bit of sacrifice it takes. The fact is, there is great need everywhere, including our next-door neighbors and in our hometowns. Need that should not be overlooked. There are so many important places to serve, starting with our own churches. As teenagers especially, we are uniquely equipped to be effective in those areas, and it is crucial for us to focus on those areas.

But unreached people groups are some of the most underserved groups of people. So, what can we do, as teenagers, to reach unreached people groups?

1. Raise awareness. So many in the church don’t even know what an “Unreached People Group” is, or why they are so important. I certainly didn’t! As teenagers, if we can help make people aware, starting with educating ourselves, that’s the first step in more resources and missionaries getting to Unreached People Groups.

2. Partner with missionaries. Senders are the third leg of the stool for missionaries going to unreached people groups. Without them, the stool cannot stand. As teenagers, we are not too young to be senders. Senders raise funds, senders battle in prayer, senders encourage. Senders make all the difference in the world in the fruitfulness of a missionary.

So, friend, that’s why I’m going to Japan. Because so many there have never heard the name Jesus. The area I’m going to has a population of 1.1 million people – and less than 10 known Evangelical missionaries. It’s heartbreaking.

Let’s not forget Unreached People Groups – out of sight, out of mind should never be a reality. Instead, let’s learn, share, support, encourage, and pray.


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About the author

Sara Willoughby

is the 20-year-old author of He's Making Diamonds: A Teen's Thoughts on Faith Through Chronic Illness. She loves to read, write, and have adventures, be it off to Narnia one more time, wading through mud chasing the family dog, or playing a new board game with her two younger siblings. Sara is also a Lymie, TCK, and Bright Lights leader. You can find her at sgwilloughby.com

17 comments

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  • Praying for you as you go to Japan 💛.

    I love the question you asked—how can we not go? There is so much need, and we have the answer to people’s (spiritual) needs! This was an inspiring article.

  • Amen. How can we not go.
    I’m also feeling what I call ‘the tugboat’ pulling me in the direction of missions. I have a chronic condition that would make it virtually impossible for me to go as a jungle-pioneer-medical-missionary. But then looking around my public high school… maybe 5% are committed christian kids. At least 50% have no idea who God really is. That’s over 1000 people who are (currently) going to an eternity without Jesus.
    Every time I ask God “are you telling me to be a missionary overseas?” He answers “maybe, you’ll see” and redirects me to my friends and classmates who don’t know Him. Like you said, they don’t have the hope in Jesus.
    How can I not go to them?
    We’ll be praying for you, Sarah! Thank you for writing this article.

    • Hi Lise! That sound so familiar to my own experience. God did call me to a few years of local outreach ministry at a local highschool before this new adventure going overseas, and it was so hard and growing and wonderful and fruitful. I think through it, I learned SO many skills that I needed to be effective in an overseas setting. And you’re right — there is SO MUCH need in our neighborhoods and schools. So much. Keep being faithful! Appreciate your prayer!

  • this was so inspiring! i am 13 and my dream is to be able to go to an unreached people group for the last couple years. i really really want to go to somewhere in India. i don’t really know why, but it has always fascinated me. i also really wanna go to Africa. it truly is heartbreaking that we are called to go to the ends of the earth, to be the light of the world! and yet we are still hiding in the dark. as a Christian, i want to spread the love of Christ everywhere i go

  • Thank you for this encouraging and convicting article Sara!! It was exactly what I needed to hear in my life story right now. May God bless you, and keep you, and give you peace as you pursue a calling as His ambassador to Japan!

  • Thank you for sharing your story! God will use you in your weakness to bring His name glory. A few months ago I began working with teenage refugees and learned about unreached people groups at my church. I felt called to unreached people groups and am hoping to teach English in the Middle East. I love hearing about how God is working in others’ lives and calling them to go as well! So excited to see where God leads you!

  • This is great stuff, you have a talent for writing! It is so inspirational! My dream is to be a Chaplin in the army.

  • I am so sorry, it sent me to Akismet to get rid of spam and it said I had already said what I had written so I kept rewriting it. I didn’t mean to do that. Sorry.

  • Wow. Thanks for that, other Sara. 🙂
    Praying for you and your mission trip! Is there any way I can support you?

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →