How to Pray for Unreached Peoples:
Intercession and World Evangelization
By Terry Riley

"Go into the fire of hell!" roared the holy man.

As if in a hypnotic trance, the chicken walked straight into the fire and was immediately consumed. After a few moments, the holy man retrieved an amulet that was around the neck of the chicken with a metal poker. To the amazement of the young, the amulet wasn't scorched. Everyone felt the presence of the deity. It was heavy and cruel. It was unforgiving and thirsty for loyalty. Throughout the night, the people prayed and sacrificed. The young boys and girls were taught the secret words and rituals that have been passed down from generation to generation.

It is at this time that the people of this community commit themselves to their deity for another season. It is at this time that another generation is introduced to the deity and unholy allegiances are made. There is no other way known to this people. This community is part of an ethnic group, or what is also known as a people. This people is unreached with the Gospel. The barriers are strong that prevent the Good News from penetrating their hearts (I Corinthians 2:12-15).


All unreached peoples are in demonic bondages that prevent them from responding to the Gospel. Most, if not all, unreached peoples make covenants with demonic deities. The cycle of demonic allegiances must be broken. God's people must pray that the eyes of their hearts may hear and understand who Jesus is and why He came to earth (Matthew 17:21).

"And He (Jesus) was casting out a demon, and it was dumb; and it came about that when the demon had gone out, the dumb man spoke; and the multitudes marveled" (Luke 11:14). When Jesus confronted and cast out the demon, the crowd was astonished. Why? Simply, because they had never seen any power greater than demons. These people did not know that there was a stronger power than that of demons. Many unreached peoples do not respond to the Gospel because they fear retaliation from the demons if they change spiritual allegiances. They need to know that the power of God is real and more powerful.

"But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of demons"" (Luke 11:15). There were two choices: (1) Jesus cast out demons by a higher demonic power or (2) the finger of God had cast out the demons. Unhappily, these people could not bring themselves to believe that someone other than a sadistic demonic power could cast out a demon.

"But He knew their thoughts, and said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you"" (Luke 11:17-20 ).

This is not a case of Satan usurping himself, but is what is called a "spiritual power encounter" between God and the demonic world. All the people knew that the man was demonized, and that the demon in his cruel grip tormented him so he could not speak. Jesus was able to break the power of the demon.


Often God's people do not realize when they are in a power encounter. Have you ever asked God to sensitize you to your spiritual environment? The Western world view has dulled our ability to recognize the spiritual landscape. Often the spiritual realm has been described as superstitions, myths, wild imaginations or unscientific. Evangelistic and mission efforts are at times ineffective, because believers have not taken the spiritual dimensions into account. Elisha did well to pray that his servant could see with spiritually sensitive eyes (II Kings 6:15-19).

"When a strong man fully armed guards his own homestead, his possessions are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied, and distributes his plunder" (Luke 11:21-22). The strong man described here is a demon. The demon guards his territory. What is the spiritual territory that is in conflict? It is the souls of men, women and children. The strong man will guard his possession, the souls of people, until someone stronger than he subdues him. Only God can bind the strong man. Our prayers can unleash the power of God and bind the strong man. Many unreached people are unreached because God's people have not prayed strategically for their release. In many instances, God's people could not pray strategically because they did not know who the unreached peoples were who have made allegiances to demonic deities centuries ago.

God has given us the spiritual authority to occupy the gates of our enemy. Instead of using prayer as a combat communication device to unload Holy Spirit guided bombs to enemy targets, we often use prayer as a genie's lamp to lavish blessings on friends, family and ourselves (Matthew 16:18, Matthew 28:18, Acts 1:8, Romans 1:16, Ephesians 1:18-23).


A while ago, I was present to hear a Christian organization explain their purpose, goals, and objectives. I was impressed with the carefully thought out plans and strategies of organization and implementation. I was looking at the sheets of paper that described these plans and I noticed that one of the last points indicated a dependence on God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and prayer. I asked what was the prayer strategy, and how were they going to see this happen with God's help. Unhappily, they had no ideas or thoughts on this important point. Then I realized that they, as a matter of intellectual assent or as an after thought, had added to the end of their plans a passing reference to prayer.

Another time, I attended a monthly ministerial fellowship. The topic being discussed was evangelism.

"Why aren't we seeing results?" wondered one pastor.

"Maybe you should try another method," interjected another.

The whole discussion for about an hour centered around methods and techniques. While I wholeheartedly recognize the need for sensitive and contextualized evangelism approaches, there is much more to evangelism than methodology. What about prayer and the ministry of the Holy Spirit?

Often prayer does not take its proper place in the hearts and minds of believers. If things are not working like we think they should, often times we devise better, more elaborate plans.


We need to be like a watchman. In ancient times a watchman would be stationed in a high tower or on the wall that protected a city. Their job was to observe and sound the alarm when danger approached. A watchman didn't casually look beyond the city once in awhile but was to keep constant alert. He was to pay attention, to observe intently. He was to be wary. It was so important that the watchman perform his job properly, that, in many instances, the penalty for negligence was death. The whole population depended on his being alert and constantly being on the lookout for danger.

Intercessors are watchmen. They keep alert and pray. They pray "hedges" of protection around those they are guarding. They discern, because they understand the landscape. It is hard work, but where would we be if it were not for the watchmen and intercessors in our lives?


Just as there are watchmen who keeps watch over a city in normal circumstances, there are watchmen who watch over a city which is being besieged. In II Samuel 11:16 we read, "So it was Joab kept watch on the city." The watchman would observe enemy movements on the walls or would pay particular attention to the gates. His job was to observe and report if the enemy were trying to escape. Intercession is more than defensive, it is offensive. We pray to thwart or preempt enemy attacks. Also, we pray to defeat and push out the enemy so God can occupy the hearts and minds of those that are presently held captive.


"God bless all the missionaries of the world. God bless India."

I'm not sure how God answers prayers like this. The effectiveness of our prayers is often determined by the information that we possess. You want God's specific answer to prayer. Then pray specifically.

Just as the watchman gathers information, so does the intercessor. "Prayer with knowledge," is the motto of the effective intercessor. If you are interceding for your family, church, country or for an unreached people, you must have information. Not only must we observe but we should search and dig for information that will fuel our prayers.


Now for the first time in Church history we know who are the unreached and adoptable peoples. The Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse, a project of nearly 100 mission agencies, has gone through the process of identifying all ethnic and language groups of the world. This database includes the progress of the gospel among each people group. This has resulted in a dawn of a new era for the Church. For the first time we can clearly define world evangelization from a people group perspective.

The unreached peoples are orphans and slaves. They need to be adopted into the heavenly family and given freedom (Galatians 4:4-6). Each unreached people needs a band of committed believers who will pray regularly for them.

The bottom line is that an unreached people lacks the necessary resources to evangelize themselves. They cannot pray for themselves because they do not know God. We, God's people, need to pray for them. I believe God is waiting for His saints to pray for the unreached peoples. The unreached peoples would be a part of the heavenly kingdom otherwise.


How shall I begin the process of praying for an unreached people? Here is a suggested process to follow:

  1. Try to team up with others who have a burden to pray for the unreached. A group of believers committed to the same goal will provide encouragement, strength and accountability.
  2. Contact your chosen mission agency and solicit which unreached peoples have the highest priority. If you or your church does not have an attachment to a mission structure, contact the Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse, and they will gladly help you select a people.

When learning and praying about an unreached people, it is important to pray that God will burden you, just as He is burdened for this people. As you pray, God will burden your heart. John Knox prayed for Scotland many years ago. As a result, God burdened him further for the people of Scotland. He is remembered as saying, "God give me Scotland or I die."


It is essential to keep our focus on our heavenly Father when involved in warfare praying. It is an easy trap to focus on the enemy in our strategic prayers. Our goal should always be to give praise to our God.

Spiritual warfare has hit the mainstream of evangelical Christianity. Often I hear people praying and binding demons and Satan. Yes, it is scriptural to declare God's power to demonic forces and declare God's victory, but when we pray we focus on the Father, not on demons.


Has it ever occurred to you that in the spiritual realm not all satanic forces are aware of Christ's victory at the cross and tomb? Why is it that in Ephesians 3:9-10 we read that we are to "bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places"?


A new approach to short-term missions is to send prayer teams to regions where there has been little Christian witness or minimal response to the Gospel. These teams do not engage in evangelism or construction projects. They focus exclusively on information gathering and intercession on behalf of the people of the region. The principle involved is that of going on-site. These teams pray and praise God, and announce His glory to the principalities. Time will tell how effective this approach to intercession will be. The principalities need to know that they are defeated. Perhaps, as demons are confronted for the first time of the reality of their defeat, their hold on people will be broken.

Another approach is that of prayer walking. As we walk we claim God's promises of Joshua 1:3, "Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you," and Ephesians 6:15, "having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace." As believers walk their neighborhoods they bind the demons of each household and pray for the salvation of each family as they pass by each house. Walking around schools and other government buildings prayers are offered claiming that God will be glorified by that institution. This physical walking, accompanied by intercession, in effect acknowledges God as the rightful ruler, but also serves notice to the principalities that their occupancy of the region is hereby challenged and terminated.

A documented study of these new approaches would be useful in determining the effectiveness of these approaches to intercession and spiritual warfare. Hopefully, someone will take the challenge of doing this. Time will tell how effective these approaches to intercession are.


We are God's agents to bring about world evangelization. We need to send missionaries to the unreached peoples and to pray the advance of the Gospel among the nations. We must claim the nations on our knees. God will delight in honoring this type of prayer. The motto for the early Benedictine order of the Catholic Church is: pray and work.

Terry Riley is a missionary with the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA). He has served with the U.S. Center for World Mission and as associate director of the Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse. Currently Terry is director of Native North American Network, a ministry of the EFCA.

[The Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse<> is based on two foundational pillars: 1) information about people groups, churches and agencies, and 2) intercession. Therefore this article is not simply an add on, but is a central focus of the adopt-a-people movement and the Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse.]

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