An Ethiopian man I met named Benjamin told me this amazing story: He was in a field in Ethiopia working with his brothers when he sees a vision of a man carrying a cross on the other side of the field. The man is beaten and bloody, and in a lot of pain. He realizes that his brothers in the field can't see the man and begins to become very distressed when he hears a voice say, "This is my son who died for your sins." These words about sin caused him to examine himself. He soon realized that there were many things he had been doing that were bad, and quit cold turkey because he could not believe that someone who had never known him would suffer so much for him. Benjamin began to tell his brothers and friends about this man who he saw in the field. He would say that they needed to stop doing what they were doing, and live pure lives. Eventually the lives of those around him began to change as he kept retelling his vision. People began to refer to the man in the vision as the God of Beniamin because he did not know that it was Jesus.
Benjamin's father was not as happy. He kept urging him to "Stop speaking all this foolishness," but he refused. Beniamin said he could not stop talking about this man who suffered for his sins. His father eventually disowned Beniamin.
At this time Ethiopia was under communist rule, and as more and more people began hearing about Beniamin, he was taken to prison and asked to renounce his beliefs. He refused, but they had nothing to charge him with. Every day they would threaten his life, and then take him out to the streets to show him the people they killed the day before (that's where they dumped the bodies after shooting them... if someone went missing, people would search the streets every morning to see if they had been killed). Benjamin still refused. This went on for 21 days (or months it was hard to understand him here) in a row. During his time in jail one of the guards mentioned that there were several others in jail in the north for talking about a similar man. This gave Beniamin hope! He was amazed that there were others in Ethiopia who had heard of this man.
Eventually he was released from prison, and decided to go to the north where he met a couple of protestants who told Benjamin that he was a Christian. He continued to preach in the underground church, but was constantly being searched for by the police. He narrowly escaped several times (a whole post could be dedicated to the many stories he told about this). Eventually the communist government was overthrown and they were able to worship in public. He told of a story of a conference he helped organize during a spring break while working with an Inter-varsity organization where 14,000 people came to the Lord.
I am constantly answering the question: What if someone has never heard about Jesus? My usual response goes something like this:
The answer begins with the idea that we believe God to be loving and just. If that is so, I don't know anyone who would say it is either loving OR just to hold people accountable to concepts that they were never exposed to, and there is a significant amount of the world for whom that is a reality. However, God reveals himself to us in more ways that a teleevangelist's sermon on late night. In Romans 1, it talks about the fact that God's very creation is a form of revelation. He calls to us through beauty and sunset and if that is all we know of God, that can be a significant amount!
Now... the real question (do they get into heaven) is one that I cannot answer. I cannot answer because over and over Jesus says surprising things in the Bible about who Gets into heaven that basically add up to him saying, "There will be some people you are sure will be there who aren't and people you never thought would be there in a thousand years who are."
ut, this story always gives me hope that there is another answer as well: God is miraculously revealing himself to many who will listen and see.