Posted in missions & evangelism, reflections

Solving the riddle of the 10-40 window

Lifeflight_Trust_Westpac_Rescue_Helicopter_-_Flickr_-_111_Emergency_(1)Warning: This post contains a graphic image that readers may find disturbing.

A father and his young son were driving down the highway. Suddenly, they suffered a terrible crash. The father was instantly killed, but his son survived. Severely injured, they helicoptered the boy to a nearby trauma center. As the medics rushed him into surgery to save his life, the trauma surgeon arrived, took one look at the victim, and concluded:

I can’t operate on him. He’s my son.

How can this be?

Maybe you’ve already figured out the solution to this riddle. (Pause reading if you need more time to think). The answer?

The surgeon was the boy’s mother.

Many people struggle to solve the riddle, even though female doctors have been commonplace for decades. The story illustrates that long ingrained patterns of thinking or assumptions about reality are not easily set-aside.

I’m an American missionary who has served for 22 years, mostly in Africa. I grew up in a Christian denomination that believes in missions, but until recently, “missions” always meant North America (or sometimes, the United Kingdom) sending missionaries “over there” to “the mission field,” i.e. Asia, Africa, South America, or remote islands. That missonaries were Westerners was an assumption, an ingrained way of thinking that we rarely openly acknowledged. But just like solving the riddle about the surgeon and the injured boy requires a new way of thinking, so solving riddles related to missions may require a new way of viewing the world and the role God wants us to play.


Take the so-called “10-40 window.” In the 1990s, missiologist Luis Bush dubbed the belt with the world’s most unreached people groups the “10-40 window.” It runs between 10 degrees and 40 degrees north latitude and contains countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia that remain resistant and the most unreached with the Gospel.  Among these countries, Islam, Buddhism, and Hindu are the dominant religions.

The Joshua Project provides a rationale for this emphasis:

The focus of the Christian missions community 200 years ago was for the coastlands of the world. A century later, the success of the coastlands effort motivated a new generation to reach the interior regions of the continents. Within the past several decades, the success of the inland thrust has led to a major focus on people groups. Today, followers of Christ are concentrating their efforts on the unreached peoples of the world, most of which are in the 10/40 Window.

Missiologist Howard Culbertson promotes the 10-40 window idea as a way to encourage prayer for “a dying world” and “unreached people groups.”  Besides prayer, his website encourages readers to donate to missions efforts, to join groups that promote missions and to enlist others to catch a global vision.

As together we have prayed for the 10-40 window, we have pleaded with God to “reach” the more than 4 billion individuals who live in numerous nations within the window. We’ve asked for “open doors” for the preaching of the Gospel and receptivity to the message. But I wonder:

Like the riddle of the surgeon and the injured son, are there  unspoken cultural assumptions that prevent us from solving the riddle of the 10-40 window?

One of the nations listed among those in the 10-40 window is Syria. In 2011, the country descended into civil war. The Syrian Center for Research Policy estimated that through 2016,  470,00 had perished in the fighting. World Vision calculates the number of refugees who have fled the conflict at 5.6 million. And what is the number of Syrian refugees accepted by the United States in 2018 through April 12? Eleven, according to a report from National Public Radio.

Aylan Kurdi, 3, drowned on September 2, 2015, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Turkey. His family was fleeing the civil war in Syria.

As Americans, we’ve prayed for God to help us “reach” the 10-40 window. We’ve pleaded with God for “open doors” to evangelize people from these Gospel resistant countries. And now, thousands of desperate families from one of those 10-40 window nations have come knocking on our door. Our response so far? Draw the curtains; lock the door. Nobody’s home.

The 10/40 window is opening up, and people are passing through it.  But it turns out instead of  missionaries going through the window to them, they’re coming through the window to us!

God is answering our prayers in unexpected ways. How will we respond?


Image credits

helicopter — By 111 Emergency from New Zealand (Lifeflight Trust Westpac Rescue Helicopter) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

10-40 window mapEnds of the Earth Ministries

Aylan Kurdi – by Nilufir Demir of Turkey’s Dogan News Agency; accessed via Google Images



Greg is interested in many topics, including theology, philosophy, and science.

2 thoughts on “Solving the riddle of the 10-40 window

  1. Too often the American way is through protecting our borders and security for the white European descendants through violence against the People God has called us to reach with His Grace, Mercy, Love and Peace. Amen???

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