The Unreached Within Reach in South Africa

A critically unreached people group from Africa’s Horn is finally accessible to gospel workers on the opposite end of the continent.

From Message magazine issue "'Come Over and Help Us'"

Every few days, Travis crosses the street, dodging a stream of taxis and cars, and steps into another culture. 

Men call out greetings from the convenience stores and coffee shops lining the road, while veiled women watch from tented stalls offering discount clothing and bags. Travis approaches a group of men, rekindling a conversation started earlier that week over steaming cups of tea.   

This urban sector of South Africa is heavily populated by refugees from the Horn of Africa, members of a highly unreached people group. Since the late 1990s, they have fled civil war, famine, and terrorism, undertaking dangerous journeys by boat or truck in search of employment in South Africa. Islam is deeply entrenched in their cultures, where 99 percent of the population is Muslim, and conversion is punishable by death.    

“It would be hard—next to impossible—for me to go into their country and have a productive ministry, but here in South Africa, they’re within our reach,” said Travis.   

Travis began interacting with this unreached people group in 2016, initiating conversations with vendors and residents and looking for opportunities to challenge Islamic traditions with the hope of the gospel.   

“We use their business and what they’re doing as a means to engage with people,” he continued. “It’s a very suspicious community, very closed off, but as we spend more time with people and get into relationships with them, it becomes very normal that we’re there.”    

Travis and other ministry leaders follow up with those who express interest in the gospel, inviting them to Bible studies and churches away from the restrictions of their community. Concurrently, he seeks to mobilize the South African church to join him, sensing the urgency to reach, teach, and disciple new believers to carry the gospel back to family members in their homeland.  

“To me it’s a win-win,” said Ron Washer, executive director for Africa. “We’re reaching the most difficult people group probably in the world, but we’re doing it in a safe, open society with great support. So why not do it?”  

Editor’s Note: Travis’ name has been changed for security.