China and India are by far the two most populous nations on earth with each well over one billion people—together accounting for 36% of the world’s population. The world’s third most populous country, the United States, lags far behind with over 300 million inhabitants.
By 2020 approximately 47% of China’s population will still be living in rural areas or villages, while in India 66% of the population will still be found outside of urban areas and cities. (Percentages from:
Now before the return of the Messiah Jesus Christ, we must fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18) and preach the gospel in the whole world as a testimony to all nations (Matthew 24:14).
Although precise numbers are lacking, missions is focused mostly on cities where it would seem that evangelism can be done more efficiently and effectively with the large concentrations of people living there. But this might no longer be the case during these Last Days when the Great Commission must be fulfilled.
Before we look at the reasons why, let us first look at the Biblical precedent for cities. The first city mentioned in Scripture was built by Cain (Genesis 4:17), who of course murdered his brother Abel. The second mention is Genesis 10:12 where Cush, the father of the mighty warrior-hunter Nimrod, built a great city. The third mention, however, is the most revealing. It speaks of the city which today we call Babel.
Genesis 11:4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Babel is a prominent symbol of man’s rebellion against God in his desire to “make a name for himself” by building a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens. To this day man continues his rebellion against God in the same way. The saddest and most tragic example of this is the Twin Towers of New York City which were brought down on September 11, 2001.
In line with the origin of cities as seen in Genesis, it may now be time to focus missions and evangelism also on villages. The reasons for this:
- People normally migrate to cities in search of a better life on earth in terms of better opportunities and greater income. When they achieve it, they can become content with life on earth. They have found “heaven on earth” and do not long for “a city with foundations whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
- Wealth can make sinful man proud and harden his heart to humble himself before God.
- The best doctors and hospitals are concentrated in cities. Therefore when urbanites get sick they do not need to seek help from the realm of the spirit (e.g. from God).
- One objective in evangelizing in cities is to reach business and government leaders with the gospel. In this way it is hoped that there can be a “trickle down” effect for reaching the rest of the population. However, such leaders are usually trained in institutions heavily influenced by Western thought which emphasizes science and technology—and which therefore excludes the possibility of the existence of an invisible God not subject to the laws of the natural realm. Therefore business and government leaders in cities (as compared to villagers) can to some extent be immunized to the existence of the realm of the spirit.
- Even if a miraculous healing takes place in the name of Jesus for a city father or leader, there may be resistance to accepting him as Lord and Savior. There may be a heavy price to pay in terms of job or position if he or she “converts to Christianity.” (However, we must note that the Lord does not intend for people to convert to Christianity, but rather to repent and follow Jesus.)
- Because the focus of decades (or in some countries, centuries) of modern missions has been on cities, church buildings are already visible in many cities in the Third World today. Now, when a Muslim in Indonesia for example passes by a big cathedral in the capital city of Jakarta, in his mind he sees a symbol of Christianity—the religion of the erstwhile colonial masters of Indonesia, the European Dutch who invaded them centuries ago. Along with this is the immediate awareness that Christianity is a foreign religion at odds with his ancestral religion of Islam. Thus the existence of visible church buildings as a symbol of the religion of past colonial masters may be an unnecessary stumbling block to evangelism in cities. We are not called to preach Christianity (or to erect church buildings at this very late hour), but rather to preach Jesus Christ and build His Church—which consists of those who believe in Him. What is known as “Christianity” in the Third World and the Christ presented in the gospels are NOT synonymous.
- Finally, the cost of living and ministering in cities can be expensive. The expense of supporting a missionary family in a city can be prohibitive. Not only is the financial support of the missionary family high, but the return on investment in terms of souls saved per dollar is low given the obstacles faced in city evangelism and missions as outlined above.
Missions to rural areas and villages, by contrast, do not face these obstacles. Although from a human standpoint village life is stark and spartan compared to the relatively comfortable life available in a city, that very fact may make evangelism in rural areas far more effective and fruitful. Since Scripture calls believers to be “foreigners and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13), it may in fact be easier for villagers with little hope in this life to put their hope in the life to come.
- People in villages are usually subsistence farmers living off the land. They have little or no hope for advancement in this life.
- They are poor, and thus are likely humble before and open to an Almighty God who desires to manifest Himself to them in compelling miraculous ways.
- In many villages there are few if any doctors, not to mention decent hospitals. Their only recourse when sick is taking medicine or consulting with a witch doctor or sorcerer. When these provide no relief, in their desperation they are open for God to perform a miracle.
- Uneducated villagers who have had very limited exposure to science and technology will be sensitive to the realm of the unseen and the supernatural. And since God shows favor to the humble, His miracles for poor villagers will be powerful and undeniable.
- In unreached villages there will be no church buildings to remind the people of their past servitude to white Europeans during the colonial era. Many will not have heard of the name of Jesus Christ. For them the gospel can be a completely new teaching, unrelated to the western religion possibly known to them as “Christianity.”
- When miraculous healings as evidence of the gospel take place for the first time in relatively isolated villages, hundreds if not the entire village eagerly accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In this way, any persecution following conversion to Christ within the village itself can be minimized.
- Compared to cities, in neglected villages there will be many people with illnesses. One pastor/missionary in India estimated that in nine out of ten homes in Indian villages there is a sick family member needing physical healing. Thus there are many opportunities to “heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you’” as Jesus commanded the 72 disciples in Luke 10:9. Powerful miraculous healings will be nearly irresistible evidence to villagers that Jesus is the Messiah and the only way to the One True God who created the heavens and the earth. Many of them will be compelled to turn to Him.
- Finally, living expenses for indigenous workers based in villages is very cheap compared to that for foreign missionaries serving in cities. In India we support workers and their families with $75 per month.
We are now seeing an unprecedented harvest of souls for the gospel in unreached villages in India. While we do not have numbers for the harvest in the cities, we can say with confidence that in God’s sight one soul in a village is equal in value to one soul in the city. Since 2015 through outreach in mostly unreached villages in India (the years for which we have good numbers), our workers there have won about 40,000 souls to Christ at an approximate cost of a little over $3.00 per soul—a very good “return on investment.” Over the past ten years (2007-2017) a rough estimate has just under 200,000 souls turn to Jesus Christ in evangelistic events conducted by trained Elijah Challenge workers in India.
As is taught in missions classes, should we not now go for the “low-hanging fruit”—found in the millions of unreached villages in the Third World?
We are told that in India, as an example, nearly all of the thousands of students who graduate from Bible colleges and seminaries each year prefer to seek jobs in cities where they can make a decent living and support their families. Virtually none want to live and serve in impoverished villages where there is no hope for them and their families to survive much less thrive.
The Elijah Challenge is now raising up disciples in India with a village background, training them as Jesus taught and trained his disciples in the gospels by taking them from place to place preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and casting out demons—not sending them to Bible School. See below for reports of the Training. After they are trained in this way we send them out to live and preach the gospel in unreached villages. By 2020 we will have reached 700 unreached villages—and that is just the beginning since these disciples will in turn train still other disciples just as they themselves were trained, and so on ad infinitum. This will result in an exponential increase of village workers to fulfill the Great Commission. We will do this in other gospel-resistant nations as well where Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and idol-worship now dominate. The Lord willing, we will help answer the prayer Jesus told his disciples to pray:
Luke 10:2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.