"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jer 29.7, ESV)
Shalom! Last month we considered what is meant by "welfare" when God told His people, through the prophet Jeremiah, to seek it on behalf of the city they were living in: Shalom. Wholeness, completeness, well-being... and now we'll look at why God instructed them to actively seek it.
Who springs to mind when you think of the term "unreached people groups"? Is it people who live thousands of miles away from you? Is it people who live in a remote land, or under a communist regime, or who worship strange-looking idols? And who springs to mind when you think of the poor? Would that be people with less money than you? People who can't afford a certain lifestyle? Those who live on the streets? Might I suggest that "the poor" could also be those with money: those who drive posh cars, live in big houses, play on golf courses... Because being poor is not simply being without money. It can also be those without the Spirit.
Unreached people groups are moving into our nation in increasing numbers. They are coming to us. Opportunity knocks! From the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe, these people are coming here to live in huge numbers. In our town and our region. Should we be moaning about that, or seeing it as opportunity to share the Gospel? Many Iranians, for example, are being saved across the UK, and determining to return home to Iran to take the Gospel back there. See? Exciting!
And yet... the phrase "unreached people group" goes even further: it can also include the disabled - over a quarter of the UK population have a long-standing health problem or disability*. How many of them are hindered in hearing the Gospel as a result? Do you know who the world's largest unreached people group actually are? It's the Deaf.
Jesus referred to words from Deuteronomy 15.11 when talking to His followers and friends in Bethany: "For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'" IN YOUR LAND. They're here. Which is why we have a responsibility to participate in seeking the welfare - the shalom - of those around us. Look around you. Up your street. In your local shops. Where you work. Where you play. And see opportunity - amongst the poor in spirit, the unreached, the broken and the lonely - to share the wonderful news of our Jesus with those who may well have not met Him before.
*27.2% - Eurostat research results (2003), cited in OSSATE Accessibility Market and Stakeholder Analysis 2005