Billions of people are born, live their entire lives, and die without ever hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.
Maybe you should read that sentence again, just to give it time to sink in.
Currently, there are more than seven billion people in the world. Missiologists estimate that over 2.8 billion of those people have little to no access to the gospel. That’s 2.8 billion. It’s a huge number, and its reality demands a limitless missionary force to take the gospel to unreached peoples and places around the world.
Over 2.8 billion people have little to no access to the gospel.
Jesus exhorted his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Matt 9:37–38).” The same truth remains today.
“Limitless” is Not a New Idea
From cover to cover in the Bible, God displays his passion for his glory in all nations. His desire is for “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).” Therefore, birthed out of a God-given desire to see more people engaged with the gospel and to provide more pathways for followers of Christ to utilize the gifts entrusted to them, we believe the time is right and the need is urgent for a limitless missionary force. By God’s grace, the vision of limitless sending has garnered excitement among Christians and churches in North America.
The desire for “limitless,” however, is not new. Lottie Moon, the revered and distinguished Southern Baptist missionary to China regularly urged churches and her sending organization (International Mission Board–IMB) to mobilize and send a limitless force to the harvest fields of Asia during the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Charlotte (Lottie) Diggs Moon was born on December 12, 1840, in Albermarle County, Virginia. She was a fearless woman who stood four feet three inches tall and spent nearly forty years on the mission field in China. On July 7, 1873, the Foreign Mission Board (now IMB) officially appointed the thirty-two-year-old as a missionary to China. Just a few years after arriving in China, Lottie sounded the alarm to the churches back home for the need of an unlimited missionary force. She wrote on November 4, 1875:
“The harvest is plenteous, the laborers are few. . . . What we find missionaries can do in the way of preaching the gospel even in the immediate neighborhood of this city, is but as the thousandth part of a drop in the bucket compared with what should be done . . . four or five laborers cannot possibly cultivate a radius of twenty miles, so cannot we, a mission of five people, do more than make a beginning of what should be done. . . . But is there no way to arouse the churches on this subject? . . . We implore you to send us help. Let not these heathen sink down into eternal death without one opportunity to hear that blessed gospel which is to you the source of all joy and comfort. The work that constantly presses upon us is greater than time or strength permit us to do.”
Inadequacy Demands More
Lottie recognized the desperate need for a vast missionary force in a country as large as China. She described her labors as a mere “drop in a bucket” and eagerly desired more laborers to share in this strategic work. Lottie knew that a monumental number of men and women filled with the Spirit of God and armed with the Word of God were necessary for the people of the world to be reached with the good news of the gospel. In attempt to recruit and motivate more to come and share in this difficult, but rewarding work, Lottie wrote on November 11, 1878:
But how inadequate our force! Here is a province of thirty million souls and Southern Baptists can only send one man and three women to tell them the story of redeeming love. Oh! That my words could be as a trumpet call stirring the hearts of my brethren & sisters to pray, to labor, to give themselves to this people…We are now, a very, very few feeble workers, scattering the grain broadcast according as time & strength permit. God will give the harvest; doubt it not. But the laborers are so few. Where we have four, we should have not less than one hundred. Are these wild words? They would not seem so were the church of God awake to her high privileges and her weighty responsibilities.”
Lottie Moon understood that the Great Commission has been given to every Christian. She knew that all of God’s people are to be passionate about God’s glory in all nations and that every disciple of Christ has a role to play in praying, giving, and going for the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Spending Our Lives for the Mission
Today, in God’s providence and timing, Christians in church pews around the world are being awakened to God’s heart for the nations. People from every walk of life, with a multitude of talents, gifts, and experiences are considering how they might best spend their lives for the accomplishment of the Great Commission.
People from every walk of life are considering how they might best spend their lives for the accomplishment of the Great Commission.
Lottie Moon died aboard a ship in a Japanese harbor on December 24, 1912. More than a century later, God is stirring up a limitless missionary force made up of people convicted by the Word, compelled by the urgent need in the world, and committed to joining God in this most rewarding and satisfying work regardless of where that might lead them.
Therefore, let us rejoice in the legacy of Lottie Moon and countless others through history who have prayed for God to awaken and equip a missionary force to take the gospel to the world. After all, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Matt 9:37–38 ESV).”
Paul Akin is the senior aide to IMB President David Platt. He can be found on Twitter @pakin33.
Quotes from Keith Harper ed., Send the Light: Lottie Moon’s Letters and Other Writings (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2002).