What is a “People Group”?

Women and children in church at Loglogo in northern Kenya. Photo by Mark and Kelly Hewes.

Before ascending into heaven, Jesus gave His followers one last command—we know it as the Great Commission—and as a missionary organization, it is MAF’s guiding verse. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations …”

But what does “all nations” actually mean?

Panta ta ethne

Panta ta ethne is Greek for “all nations.” Ethne is the Greek word from which we get “ethnicity” or “ethnic groups.” Most Biblical scholars believe this passage meant something more like people groups or ethnic groups than just countries. But what is a people group?

The Lausanne Movement, an evangelical, global mission movement, defines people groups like this: “For evangelization 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.”

Basically, a people group is just that—a group of people with a shared language and culture. So a people group could be as large as most the United States or it might be much smaller.

In many remote places were MAF serves, such as in Indonesia, tribes living on one side of a valley might speak a totally different language and have a distinct culture and history than a tribe on the other side of that valley. These would be classified as two different people groups even though they live in the same country.

This is the case in many of the other places MAF serves as well. And without MAF many of these isolated people groups could not be reached with Christ’s love. MAF’s role in God’s story is an important one—because MAF plays a key part in going to “all nations”—particularly the ones cut off by geographic barriers.

In Revelation 7:9, John gives us a peek into the throne room of God. I like to think of this as a “spoiler” about how the story God is writing is going to end. Here, John shows us that a multitude from every tribe, tongue, and nation will be worshipping the Lord.

MAF is working with that goal in mind—and we cannot do it without you.


Story appeared in the spring 2018 issue of FlightWatch.

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