Reaching the Diaspora: how mission to the nations among us fits the big picture
The nations are coming to us. Some are coming to escape oppression at home, some for work, some to study, some to take advantage of opportunity, some to move their money. In this incredible wave of migration, individuals from some previously staunchly unreached peoples have moved right into the same neighborhood as Western churches.
Obviously, we need to reach out to them, and encourage others to reach out to them as well. But we need to hold some things firmly in view as we do. This week, I hope to explore some of these issues, and look forward to your feedback.
1. Just because they come from an “unreached” country doesn’t mean they are non-Christians. In fact, the fact that they moved to a more-Christian region may mean better odds that they are less like their homeland. For example, there has been a mass exodus of Christians and more liberal, secularized people from the Middle East. The Iranian down the street from you may in fact be a Christian, not a Muslim.
2. Different segments of the Diaspora have different positions in society, and may only be here a limited time. Strategies ought to take this into account. Consider the different categories: visiting professionals, students, entrepreneurs, migrant workers, asylum-seekers, illegals, and the trafficked. Each of these are in significantly different situations which require different approaches. These different types may equally have different levels of influence or connectedness back to their home culture.
3. Multiple generations of a diaspora acclimate to be more like the culture around them, requiring different strategies. You’ve probably had the experience: you hear Indian parents talking, and they sound like Indians; but then their children start talking to you–and they have the same accent as your kids. The first generation (who immigrated in) will have one set of cultural ideals (perhaps a large family, or trouble specking your language, for example); but their children and their grand children change, adopting the local language and cultural norms. Reaching the older generations will likely require a completely different strategy than reaching the youngers.
4. Reaching the diaspora requires some training in cross-cultural ministry. You would not go to the foreign mission field without some level of training and preparation. Understanding worldview and culture is as important to reaching the diaspora as it is to reaching the least reached in their home countries.
5. Reaching the diaspora “here” does not automatically mean impacting their home culture.Think of the Persians of America and the Persians of Iran. Reaching Persians in America may lead to some connections to their families in Iran–or maybe not. It’s not an automatic given that the Gospel will flow over that distance. It may be more likely with students and other itinerant workers who return home. Another situation is the person who goes to a foreign country, builds a business, gets rich, and then has influence back home.
6. Reaching diaspora peoples in Christian countries can be good training–provided the community you are engaging is similar to the one you’ll be working with in their homeland. Reaching a 5th or 6th generation Korean American, for example, may be little different from reaching any other American, and tell you next to nothing about reaching Koreans in North Korea. (Do they even speak Korean?) Obviously, there are communities where life is lived mostly like the culture they left behind.
7. Reaching the diaspora does not solve the problem of the unreached. There are over 200 million first generation migrants in the world (see this Economist article). There are over 2 billion unevangelized individuals who have no access to the Gospel. Even if all the diaspora were unevangelized (and they’re obviously not, see #1 above), they would only represent 10% of the challenge (and the easiest 10% at that).
We obviously should reach the diaspora among us. And it would be very strategic to not only reach them and disciple them, but equip them to be disciple makers if and when they should return home. But we need to keep in mind that diaspora ministries are only one of the strategies in our ministry toolbox.
International migration 2013 statistics. From the United Nations. 213 million migrants worldwide. Includes wallchart, Excel tables, graphs.
EthnicEmbraceUSA.net. Focused on the USA, it is nevertheless a model for mapping and mobilizing to reach diaspora peoples. The site features links to a variety of resources.
REACHDFW.net – Dallas, TX: a citywide collaborative model for diaspora mission.
CityReaching Diaspora Initiative: Diaspora information is posted regularly at this Facebook page.
“Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration and Mission.” J. D. Payne. Explores the trend of global migration and suggests practical guidelines for ministry.
Gather: Embracing the Global Trend of Diaspora.” J. D. Payne. PDF download.
Lausanne – http://conversation.lausanne.org/en/home/diaspora
IJFM 30:3, Dancing with Diaspora. 4 articles in this issue.
Reaching the Nations in your Community. Mission Frontiers, December 2012.