In the early 1900s, the adventurer Earnest Shackleton is said to have gathered a crew for his expedition to Antarctica by advertising, “a hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.” This appeal reportedly resulted in over 5,000 applicants who were mobilized to action because Shackleton appealed to their sense of adventure and hunger for recognition.
Such appeals––while perhaps effective for mobilizing adventurers––are unwise for mobilizing missionaries to the hard places. The task of missions is more than adventure and recognition. As I call attention to these difficulties, I want to provoke your prayers more than your sense of adventure. I want to challenge you to fall to your knees before calling you to buy a plane ticket.
I want to challenge you to fall to your knees before calling you to buy a plane ticket.
The 10/40 Window
Since the 1990s, missionaries have been using the phrase “the 10/40 window” to refer to the area in the eastern hemisphere between 10 and 40 degrees of latitude north of the equator. This is the land from Morocco to China and Somalia to Turkey. Research shows that the vast majority of the world’s unengaged peoples live within these geographical boundaries. Why is it that these areas remain without a significant Christian population two thousand years after Christ’s ascension? I propose that there are at least three reasons: hostility, access, and idolatry.
The 10/40 window is home to some of the world’s most gospel-hostile communities. This hostility is often expressed both at the local community level and through the government structures. In places like Yemen, Christians known for sharing the gospel are often killed by their neighbors. In Malaysia, a Christian caught evangelizing a Malay person might be brought to a police station to be imprisoned, beaten, or even killed under government sanction.
The dual sources of persecution make it difficult to see the church grow in many of the countries within the 10/40 window. Not only is it difficult to see the church grow, but it is often also difficult for a foreign missionary to gain stable access to these countries.
In many places within the 10/40 window missionaries are not granted access to the country. Whereas Mexico or the Dominican Republic might issue someone a religious worker visa, Libya, Pakistan, and China will not. This means that missionaries in the 10/40 window need to establish different legal means of access—often by finding employment in the country or opening a business.
While business can provide legal residence in the country and a platform for ministry, operating a viable business requires resources of time and energy and attention. Running a sustainable business can consume the owner’s resources before ever getting to ministry. For meaningful ministry to occur in the 10/40 window, a missionary needs more than a visa. They need to have the time and energy to build relationships. Such relationships are the environment of ministry. They are also the means by which a missionary will learn to understand and confront the idolatry around them.
The third major barrier to fruitful missions work in the 10/40 window is that people in these regions are deeply shaped by false religions. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a host of other religions in the region shape the ethics, society, and cultures in ways that make it difficult to discern religious ideas from cultural forms. Even to consider the call to follow Jesus often means giving up their whole way of living and risking rejection from their families and social networks.
Religions in the region shape the ethics, society, and cultures.
In addition, adherents of these faiths often exhibit superficial agreement with biblical teachings as they use words like sin, forgiveness, god, and salvation. This shared vocabulary often obscures the essential and crucial differences in understanding. Faithful missionary work requires us to identify the gospel-denying elements of these faiths below the surface of superficial comparison. We cannot lose sight of the fact that these world religions are leading people toward a Christless eternity despite often creating kind, generous, and even pious people.
A Call to Prayer
The 10/40 window is a high-risk environment with little chance of success from a human standpoint. In contrast to Shackleton and his crew, however, missionaries to the 10/40 window have the confidence that their efforts are not in vain and that the Lord will be honored among the nations no matter the outcome of their work.
Would you take a moment to pray that the Lord would send disciple-makers and church planters into these difficult places? Pray that our brothers and sisters there would trust God even amidst persecution. Pray for ministry-producing access to these peoples. Pray that the gospel would crush the idolatry present throughout the 10/40 window by holding up the more compelling beauty of Christ.