sixty-eight under-reached tribes


Join me on a vision trip – a vision trip to a ridiculously under-reached people group. Let’s imagine together how God might lead you to impact them…

We land in a nation filled with numerous tribes. Reports indicate that these populations have a great need for the gospel, that many of the nation’s tribes know little of Christianity, and that darkness abounds. The people in these tribes are extremely open to influence – so while the gospel has made inroads, millions have been influenced by humanism, atheism, relativism, ambition, materialism, and even the occasional cult.

Our timing is fortunate: Members from nearly seventy of these tribes are gathering for a great annual contest (known to the natives as the “Tourney” – “Tournament” in English). Elite warriors from each tribe will compete in games of skill and endurance, as thousands more surround the contests to watch and root for their champions. I’ve observed this “Tourney” many times before, and I have noticed that it provides a unique window into the culture – and promise – of these tribes.

We immediately see that each tribe rallies around an individual identity, a nickname or costume that bonds members almost mystically. Some monikers honor ancient warriors – Spartans or Musketeers, Cavaliers or Atzecs – while others reflect tribes’ regional industries: Lumberjacks, Boilermakers, Tarheels, even two farming tribes called “Aggies.” Tribe names are just as likely to recall previously influential religious orders (like Friars or Quakers) as they are to celebrate lawbreakers (such as Pirates or Sooners). And while many tribes understandably adopt creatures known for their ferocity – from Gators to Panthers to several different tribes called “Wildcats” – other choices seem more surprising: Blackbirds and Horned Frogs, Retrievers and Longhorns.

Underneath these banners, the “spirit” bonding tribesmen is not frivolous. (In fact, each tribe’s communal bonds can help well-formed discipleship efforts spread quickly and deeply.)

As we continue to watch the Tourney, we encounter festivity far beyond the actual competitions. Dancers abound – as do musicians, foodstuffs, wagers, and even prayers. The chiefs of the tribes are present, often celebrating alongside the youngest from their villages. Healers stand by in case of injury, though actual bloodshed is minimal. Impartial judges are assigned to regulate the games (but face taunting throughout). And often, above the din, tribal chants can be heard: sometimes jubilant or jeering; often rhythmic, even solemn.

We look closer, with missionary eyes.

We can’t deny the deep passion in these tribes, among warriors and watchers alike. When competitors win, their crowds become nearly riotous. But losing warriors – and their tribesmen – may weep with a profound bitterness. The contests produce transcendent “shining moments” – moments when Davids take down Goliaths, when boys become men for a few crucial minutes, when weakness is turned to strength to put opposing armies to flight. We see in everyone gathered passion and enthusiasm that have yet to be tamed. There is a grit here, a rowdiness, a wild youthfulness. Wisdom must be added to this zeal, of course – but with this energy, much could be accomplished for God’s Kingdom.

It becomes clear that creativity and intelligence abound within these tribes, as well, and it’s not surprising that national and world leaders will come from within their ranks.

As you hopefully realize by this point, anyone God calls to reach such a unique people is fortunate indeed. Of course, this will not be an easy ministry (as though any missionary activity was ever easy!). Surely patience, energy, and investment will be required if strong and lasting work is to be built. But even a quick, competition-filled vision trip shows us: These mission fields offer great opportunity and blessings untold. And if these particular tribes are reached well, their members in turn could change the whole world.

All the “madness,” the excitement, the passion, and the valor found in this Tourney reflect the beautiful tribes from which the contestants come. And there are far more than sixty-eight tribes to reach.


This is the 2018 version of my annual “sixty-eight” essay.

I’ve had the amazing opportunity to visit 49 of the schools in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, along with a few hundred more campuses in the last decade. They’re powerful places.

Top photo credit: “University of Indiana campus at duskcc Larry Johnson



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