Snapshot of the Unreached: Nomadic Peoples

Know Much About Nomads?

They may traverse deserts with cattle and camels or cross frozen lakes with reindeer. They may pitch their tents in a high mountain valley. Most of them raise animals, but not all of them do. Some even live in cities and towns, but their hearts are on the road. Some 200 million people, about three percent of the world’s population, are nomadic—and the vast majority are unreached. Nomads live in many regions, speak many languages, come from many ethnicities and follow many religions. So what do they have in common?

What You Need to Know About Nomads

Those who know nomads best say four things set them apart. These things are so important that camel herders from the Middle East may see Central Asian shepherds as their brothers while finding little common ground with people in their own country who speak their language but have a different way of life.

Tribe

  • To be a nomad is to be part of a tribe and clan.
  • Nomads don’t see themselves as individuals or operate that way.
  • Leaders make decisions for the whole group.

Mobility

  • Nomads view any place as temporary.
  • They may settle for a time but move along as conditions change.
  • It’s a way to survive and maintain their way of life.

Autonomy

  • Nomads tend to be a rule unto themselves.
  • They often see government, social issues and politics as none of their concern.

Identity

  • Nomads think of themselves as different from the settled people around them.
  • They may hold onto their own languages and customs for generations.

Why Most Nomads Are Unreached

These are all reasons that nomads may not be reached by ministries and movements that reach others in their regions. After all, it isn’t easy to serve people who like to be left alone and don’t think they have much in common with those who don’t share their way of life. And how do you disciple people who are here today and gone tomorrow? As a Somali herdsman once famously told a would-be church planter, “When you can put your church on the back of a camel, then I will believe that Christianity is for us.”

Because of these factors, few nomads follow Jesus or know (and trust) anyone who does. And very few missionaries serve among them.

Want to learn more about the challenges and adventures of sharing the gospel with nomads? Contact Pioneers to ask about opportunities to join or support one of our teams working among nomads all over the world.

More about Ministry Among Nomads

Bonus: What Makes a Group a People Group? What Makes a People Group Unreached?

Though you can slice up the world in many ways, the people-group concept has had a significant impact on mission work for the last 50 years or so. Of course, it builds on ideas that go back much further—even to the book of Genesis in the Bible.

In 1982, a group of mission leaders came together for a meeting sponsored by the Lausanne Movement and the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies. Their goal was to bring greater clarity and definition to the remaining missionary task. A few basic definitions emerged that still shape the way we work today:

  • A people group is “a significantly large grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another because of their shared language, religion, ethnicity, residence, occupation, class or caste, situation, etc., or combinations of these.”
  • For evangelistic purposes, a people group is “the largest group within which the gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”
  • An unreached people group is “a people group within which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to evangelize this people group.”

Source: “Finishing the Task: The Unreached Peoples Challenge,” by Ralph D. Winter and Bruce A. Koch, in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, Fourth Edition. William Carey Publishing, 2009. p. 536.

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