Editor's Note: During the Week of Prayer for International Missions and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, Dec. 3-10, Southern Baptist congregations across the country will focus their prayers, thoughts and gifts on the cause of extending God's kingdom around the world. This year's theme - "The Unfinished Task: Dispelling the Darkness" - emphasizes the lostness of the world's multitudes and the ways Southern Baptists are seeking to bring them the Light of God's love. The goal for this year's offering is $115 million. The International Mission Board draws 35 percent of its income from the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists' unified budget. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering provides 48 percent. For a preview of a video focusing on Southern Baptist ministry and witness in Cancun, Malta, The Netherlands and Laos, visit www.imb.org/video/IME_2000.htm. Other resources for the 2000 International Missions Emphasis are available at www.imb.org/ime and www.wmu.org.
Missions exists because worship doesn't, world-hearted pastor John Piper has observed. From the beginning of time, God has purposed that His face should shine upon the darkness of this world. Until all peoples behold His light and worship Him, until all nations hear of the great salvation of God through Jesus Christ, the task of missions is unfinished.
Staggering multitudes still languish as prisoners in massive strongholds of darkness. Strongholds of false religion, atheism, communism and secular materialism hold billions of people in spiritual chains.
"When you are born in the dark and you live in the dark, you don't even know there's a light," a missionary in Central Asia reports — with tears in his eyes — of the people he is striving to reach for Christ.
A pastor who walked among another lost people says: "There is darkness there. You feel the oppression from the spiritual principalities and powers .... It's going to take a (powerful) anointing ... to go there and claim them for the Lord. Then you (will) see the light and the truth blinking forth and repelling the darkness."
That will happen among the people he visited - and every other people in darkness - as God has promised: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (Is. 9:2 NIV).
At the very beginning of His public ministry, Jesus Christ made His mission explicitly clear by reading another passage from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Luke 4:18,19; Is. 61:1,2 NIV).
Today we carry on that mission. We are His people, and His light shines upon us that we may carry it to all nations.
The nations ("goyim" or "peoples" in Hebrew) prayed for in Psalm 67 are the same nations ("ethne" in Greek) Jesus spoke of in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations. They are not the political nation states we usually think of today, but the great mosaic of ethnic peoples of the earth.
His disciples understood what He meant by "nations": peoples tied together by religion, language, culture, and a shared sense of identity. We also should see the peoples of the world as they see themselves - and as God sees them.
But do the peoples of the world see God? Some do, but of the world's nearly 13,000 distinct peoples, more than 2,000 of them - comprising 1.7 billion people - languish in The Last Frontier. There, political, cultural, and religious barriers prevent virtually all access to the gospel. "Today, six times more people have never heard of the gospel than were alive when Jesus gave (the Great Commission)," writes Avery Willis, International Mission Board overseas chief. Thousands more people groups lack a self-sustaining church movement with the means of evangelizing their own kind.
Even now He is dispelling, scattering, driving away the darkness, for Jesus is the light, and the light shines in darkness (John 1:5). He is revealing Himself to the nations through the power of the gospel, through out-of-control church-planting movements, through the raising up of disciples to praise Him among many once-darkened peoples.
"We're not preparing for an era of missions advance," reports International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin. "We are already in that era."
The task is enormous, but it can be done. The 187 "megapeoples" (more than 1 million people each) of The Last Frontier, for example, contain 94 percent of all the 1.7 billion people who live there. If self-propagating church-planting movements take root among these strategic peoples, the Unfinished Task will be on the way to completion.
God gives us - and millions of other Great Commission Christians - the opportunity and privilege to participate in His sacred work of shining the light.
One day, the darkness will be no more.