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FIRST-PERSON: Where are today’s Isaiahs?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Have you ever wondered where the ends of the earth are? Think about it. When Jesus used that phrase in Acts 1:8, he had spent most of his life on earth in what is today central Israel. Other than an exile to Egypt when He was a boy (Matthew 2:13-15), His life –- and especially His earthly ministry –- was spent within dozens of miles of his birthplace. Although He didn’t travel there, He obviously knew the “ends of the earth” existed.

But where? The earth is a sphere, therefore there are no fixed points that one could connote as being the end of the earth. So where, then? I believe we know what He meant. “The Rainer Translation” would go something like this: “To the boonies, the back 40, off the beaten path, the middle of nowhere, the place we would never go unless we were taking the Gospel there.”

There it is. Jesus told us to go to the places we would never go, for the purpose of sharing the life-giving news that He is Lord and He is alive!

Unfortunately the ends of the earth are as real and prominent as the day Jesus gave the command to His disciples. That’s why this year’s International Missions Emphasis shines a spotlight on one of the most spiritually dark places in the world: West Africa. The people living in West Africa are subjected to voodoo, witchcraft, extreme poverty, tribal genocide, malnutrition, high infant mortality rates, malaria, yellow fever, AIDS and a host of other maladies. Death rates are staggering.

As overwhelming to me are the millions of people who have NEVER heard the name of Jesus preached. There are more than 1,000 unreached people groups in this largely Muslim region, and of these groups, 355 –- or 22 percent -– have not heard the name of Jesus and are not engaged by any Gospel-sharing organization. Approximately three-fourths of the region’s population (72.6 percent) is under 30 years of age. Forty-five percent of the population is 14 years of age or younger. West Africa has 1,612 total people groups, and IMB personnel currently work among 52 of them, representing 28 percent of the population.

Obviously, physically getting to this end of the earth is the easy part. Penetrating the darkness with the “life [that is] the light of men” is the hard part and not for the faint of heart. IMB leaders have noted the region needs more single men willing to invest their lives there. God is still asking, “Who should I sent? Who will go for us?” I am asking, “Are there any Isaiahs out there to respond?” I believe there are, and I pray that God would send those workers out into the field, harvesting souls for the day of salvation while working diligently at the ends of the earth.

For more information, visit GoWestAfrica.org.
Thom S. Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • Thom S. Rainer