Why Go to Hard Places?

In answering this question, it’s important to first answer: (1) Why go at all? (2) What do I mean by hard? 

  1. We go, ultimately, because God desires our worship and is worthy to be worshipped by all peoples. Christ made clear the method for accomplishing this goal when He gave the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). We, the church, are the method, the instrument; and He said ALL nations. Therefore, we must go as His ambassadors and share His gospel until some from every nation, tribe, people, and language are gathered around the throne, worshipping our God (Revelation 7:9-10). The church is His chosen instrument for accomplishing this task (Ephesians 3:10, Romans 10:14-15), and we see no other method in Scripture than God’s people going forth and proclaiming the gospel. He is worthy to be praised to the ends of the earth, and it is our privilege as believers to be a part of seeing the nations worship Him!
  2. I am defining hard places as a location with political, geographic, and/or ethnolinguistic barriers inhibiting the advance of the gospel.

Okay, so we should go. But must we go to hard places? Doesn’t everyone need the gospel? Let me tell you about a man named Sal who lives in a hard place. He lives on an island with his wife and two daughters, and his home country does not allow religious worker visas. He has grown up and continues to live in a village located in dense forest by a large river. This village can only be accessed by boat. He is a fisherman by trade, but sometimes he barely has enough to feed his own family. When he isn’t working in his boat, he tries to spend time at the mosque. He tries to bring his prayer mat with him everywhere he goes so that he doesn’t miss any calls to prayer. He regularly reflects on what his grandparents taught him from the Quran and Hadith as guidelines to follow for his life. Sal is one of a population of over 1 million in his people group. They all speak their own local language, distinct from the national language of their country. As a whole, this people group is very proud of their heritage and have been largely unwilling to change their ways in any regard. They are difficult to access and have little, if any, perceived need for outsiders. Sal places his identity in his Islamic heritage and beliefs. He is not alone, with 99.9% of his people group identifying as Muslim. Sal does not know one person who is not Muslim. 

Sal’s people group is not the only one like this. There are over 7000 people groups (that is 3.4 billion people) just like his. They do not know Jesus. They do not know that they have been ransomed to the Father with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). There are no Christians who speak their language to tell them the good news. A missionary must go and learn the language and culture in hard places, so that people like Sal can hear the gospel and be saved; but more importantly, so that God will be worshipped by a people currently separated from Him. 

  1. An ethnolinguistic barrier refers to the challenge one faces when engaging with people of a distinct ethnicity and language group that is not their own.
  2. Sal is not a real person but based on factual data from https://joshuaproject.net/
  3. From https://joshuaproject.net/

Let’s be clear: hard places are, well, hard. Suffering will be involved. First of all, it’s not easy to learn a new language. And learning one new language is not enough to reach Sal; the missionary actually will often need to learn two new languages because national languages and tribal languages often differ in hard-to-reach places. Furthermore, it’s hard to be an adult who sounds like a toddler in conversation in a language you barely understand. It’s hard to be away from family for years on end. Dengue fever, malaria, and parasites are hard on the body, and it’s even harder to watch your children fight them. It’s hard to see your beloved friends be persecuted for their faith. 

BUT He is worthy of it all. We must go to hard places and, “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens” (Psalm 96:3-5). 

Let us not forget that this task and privilege was given to the church, the entire body of Christ. Missionaries may be the ones living in the hard places, but the church must send missionaries “in a manner worthy of God as fellow workers for the truth” (3 John 5-8). No one is excluded from playing a role in going to hard places.

Written by a missionary preparing to work among an unreached people group