A Focus on Northeast Asia: 473 Least-Reached People Groups Remain


The seven countries of Northeast Asia are lands humming with action. China, Japan and South Korea have economies that are growing at rates that almost defy imagination. The twenty-first century could easily be the time when Korean and Chinese missionaries take the lead in reaching the world for Christ. Presently Korea is the second largest sending base in the world and is preparing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the great Korean revival of the early 1900s when Pyongyang was known as the “Jerusalem of Asia.” But China may soon catch up and surpass them because of their “Back to Jerusalem” vision to send Chinese missionaries back to Jerusalem along the old Silk Roads with the gospel. This is also the first time Mongolia has had a lasting church and they too are sending missionaries to other nations. Still, over 450 people groups in Northeast Asia remain least-reached. North Korea, Mongolia and Japan remain formidable challenges with over ninety-five percent of the people still least-reached.

Prayer Points

  • Fulfillment. Pray for God to show the peoples of Northeast Asia that true fulfillment and prosperity is found only in Jesus Christ who gives life and that more abundantly.
  • Freedom from fear. Pray for the people groups living in fear of spirits and of the future to experience the peace, joy and freedom from oppression found only in Jesus.
  • False teachers. Pray for discernment to recognize false teachers and through the Holy Spirit to know the truth that sets them free.
  • Father’s heart. Pray that the Father’s heart of love, acceptance and forgiveness be experienced by every person among these 473 Least-Reached People Groups of Northeast Asia.
  • Faithfulness. Pray for new believers to daily experience God's faithfulness and to be faithful in their walk with him, letting their light shine before men and women so that they glorify God in heaven.


  • Resources to pray and mobilize prayer and outreach
  • Discover Northeast Asia
  • Pray for the peoples of Northeast Asia
  • Obtain daily prayer guides for peoples of this region

Historical Background
(Information taken from “The Many Attempts to Bring Christ to Northeast Asia” by Wes Kawato, Global Prayer Digest, August 2006)

When God confused languages at the Tower of Babel, some people fled to the far corners of the earth, including Northeast Asia. After this calamity God focused his redemptive activity on Abraham and his family. However, the Jews kept the message of salvation to themselves. After Jesus rose from the dead, a new era began; however, things did not change immediately. With the possible exception of Thomas, the apostles took the message of salvation West, into the heart of the Roman Empire.

It took another three hundred years for the gospel to make small, temporary inroads into East Asia. The Nestorians were expelled from the Eastern Roman Empire for being heretics. To this day church historians are divided as to whether or not they were heretics or not. This we do know: the Nestorian exiles settled in Persia and formed strong churches that sent missionaries to neighboring lands.

Nestorian “Heretics” Begin Evangelizing China
Nestorian missionaries reached China in 635 AD and they won converts among the upper classes. A few small Nestorian churches survived in China into the fourteenth century. Catholic monks sometimes stumbled upon these dying churches. Between 1200 and 1400 AD groups of Catholic monks traveled to China and tried to win Chinese leaders to Christ; however, they had little success. In 1580 Mateo Ricci, a Jesuit priest, entered China and quickly learned the language. He was a scholar who won converts from the educated upper class in Beijing. Other Jesuit missionaries continued Ricci’s work after his death in 1610. They planted a few churches but limited their outreach efforts to Beijing’s educated elite. Disaster struck in 1644 when the Manchus overthrew the existing regime. Because they associated China’s Christians with the old regime, they persecuted the Church. By 1645 there were no known Christians left in China.

In 1807 Robert Morrison became the first of many Protestant missionaries to serve in China. At that time all missionary activity was confined to China’s coast. In 1854 Hudson Taylor became the first missionary to take the gospel to China’s interior provinces. In 1865 he founded the China Inland Mission (CIM) to extend this vital work. Many other mission agencies followed the lead of CIM. These efforts established the Church in each of China’s provinces. Between 1854 and 1949 many strong churches were founded in China, despite the political unrest of the 1911 Nationalist Revolution and the chaos of the Japanese invasion of 1937. In 1949 the communists took control of China and expelled all missionaries. Persecution forced China’s one million Christians underground; however, this same persecution fanned the flames of faith. Today there are fifty million Christians in China; yet there are still hundreds of unreached people groups as well.

Stop and Go Mission Efforts in Japan
Outreach efforts in Japan began during the sixteenth century. The first convert in Japan, a feudal baron, was won to the Lord in 1580 AD, the same year Ricci began his work in China. Catholic missionaries entered Japan during a time of unrest, when various warlords fought to unify the country. Since religion and nation state were inseparable at that time, Japanese rulers were either for or against this new religion depending on whether or not they thought it would help them maintain power.

Fearing the power of this new religion, Tokugawa II issued an edict that forbade the sale of food to Christians in 1622. The barons on the southern island of Kyushu, some of whom were Christians, ignored it. Fed up with having his edicts ignored, Tokugawa II invaded Kyushu in 1637. That crackdown attempt provoked the barons of Kyushu to declare independence from Japan. The result was civil war. It took Tokugawa II a year to put down the revolt. In his rage he killed 300,000 people, most of Japan’s Christians. He then banned all foreigners, thinking that was the only way to keep missionaries out of the nation.

The door for outreach did not open again in Japan until 1859 when Western pressure allowed Protestant missionaries to enter the country. In 1900 Charles and Lettie Cowman began work in Japan. Unlike previous workers who emphasized preaching, these American Methodist missionaries emphasized the use of personal testimonies. That approach led to the conversion of thousands of Japanese to Christ. Christians from other denominations wanted to join the Cowman’s work, but denominationalism proved to be a barrier. The couple saw the need to form an inter-denominational mission agency, which they called the Oriental Missionary Society (OMS). Between 1900 and 1941 OMS missionaries won many to Christ and planted churches.

That work got sidetracked in 1941 when World War II expanded and Japan expelled all Christian missionaries. The Church did not have mature national leaders. During the war years, 1941-1945, only churches that accepted emperor worship as being co-equal with the worship of Jesus were allowed to stay open. Many Japanese Christians compromised their faith; Christians who rejected emperor worship were forced underground.

After World War II ended, Christian missionaries contacted some of the believers who had remained true to the Lord. Much ground had been lost. In 1950 only 0.5 percent of Japan’s population was Christian, a figure that would not change for almost forty years. In 1988 Billy Graham preached a revival crusade in Tokyo. His previous crusades in Japan had won hundreds of Japanese to the Lord; this time thousands were saved during each night of the crusade. Follow-up teams incorporated the new converts into existing churches and organized new bodies of believers in cities where none had existed before. Many of these churches still exist today.

Between 1988 and 1998 the number of Christians in Japan tripled, from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent of the population. Many of the new converts were high school or college students. Even today, a high percentage of Japan’s Christians are from the younger generation.

Bright Lights in Northeast Asia: Korea and Mongolia
During the 1700s Jesuit missionaries converted Korean students studying in China. These Catholic converts returned home to start churches. Several waves of persecution almost wiped out the fledgling Korean Church. Korea’s first Protestant believer was Sup Sang Yoon, a student studying in China. He returned to Korea and started a church in the late 1870s and within two years he was assisted by two Presbyterian missionaries, Horace Allen and Horace Underwood.

Unlike the OMS in Japan, Korea’s Presbyterian missionaries placed as much emphasis on leadership training as they did on winning converts. The abundance of trained leaders allowed the Korean Christians to form their first locally-controlled denomination, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Chosun, (GAPCC) in 1912. By 1921 GAPCC was sending missionaries to China.

In 1950 Christians still made up only a small percentage of the Korean population. Between 1950 and 1953 the devastation of the Korean War sparked a revival. Thousands were killed or displaced by invading North Korean and Chinese armies. There were many believers in northern Korea who were either killed by the communists or driven south. Korean Christians and foreign missionaries fed the hungry and cared for the sick and wounded. These acts of love bore much fruit. Thousands of Koreans received the Lord and new churches were planted across South Korea. Today twenty-eight percent of South Korea’s population is Christian.

Two things made Korea different from China and Japan. First, missionaries to Korea were not from countries that had colonial designs on Korea. In fact, being a Christian was one way to defy their Japanese colonizers. Second, the early missionaries emphasized leadership training. For these reasons South Korea is the most significant missionary sending country in Asia today. Only the United States sends out more evangelical Christian missionaries.

Mongolia is one of the last frontiers of Christianity. Dr. James Gilmour, a Methodist from Britain, won only sixteen converts in that country between 1872 and 1888. The church he founded fell apart after his death in 1893. By the time the communists took control of Mongolia in 1921, there were no Christians left in the country.

The door for outreach opened again after communism collapsed in 1990. A team of Native American missionaries won two converts shortly after the change in government. By Christmas Day 1990, there were two hundred Christians in the country. English teachers led many of them to the Lord. By 1998 there were ten thousand Christians worshipping in over sixty churches.

Much work still needs to be done, but Mongolia presents tremendous needs and opportunities. The country has a serious problem with abandoned children. Several mission agencies have started orphanages which also have schools. They are planting seeds of faith that will bear fruit in the next generation. Many of Mongolia’s church leaders are young.

Prayer is the fuel that sparks the spiritual flames of heaven around the world. Ask God to open the hearts of every people group in Northeast Asia to Christ. May missionaries and native believers work together to spread the gospel. Pray for open doors throughout this region. Pray for spiritually mature, mission-minded church leaders in Mongolia.