If we were to combine all the International migrants, they would constitute a nation larger than the population of Brazil – the fifth largest nation in the world.
How do we see all this through the lenses of global missions and world evangelization? Is the global church prepared for this phenomenological population shift? What strategies do we have in most, if not all points of entry and border doors of our countries? How are bible colleges, seminaries, and divinity schools preparing clergy and workers to address these global issues? Are denominations operating on “from everywhere to everywhere” or are they stuck in “from here to there”? Are we motivating, mentoring, and mobilizing migrants to be “kingdom workers” or are we leaving all the kingdom work to “International Workers” and missionaries? An informed and trained church can effectively engage the Whole World with the Whole Gospel.
EVERYONE TO EVERYWHERE
Our Missionfields are Ever Changing
Like an avalanche from the highest point of the Himalayans are the Nepali workers cascading down to the Arabian deserts. These people, mostly men, have descended by the thousands in recent years to countries like the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. With economic decline in Nepal “pushing” these people out of their homeland, mass production and oil exportation “pulls” Nepali contract worker into the oil-rich region of the Arabian Peninsula.
In 2002, I was introduced to a group of twenty Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), Korean businessmen, and Nepali construction workers when I preached during their worship gathering inside a small warehouse owned by a Korean company.
These men had initially met when three Nepali Christians arrived in Qatar with a longing for the word of God and a desire to explore Christianity in the context of community. A Korean man offered them his small room in an industrial area for fellowship. Soon, the group had grown to eight and a local Christian community, composed of nearly 70% Filipinos, adopted them, committing to train them in evangelism and discipleship and support them in practical ways (e.g., allowing them to use an adjacent venue for worship).
Who could initiate and maintain such “church growth,” but only through the Lord of the Church. In the growing global cities, in the rural landscapes, and in the solitude of thousands of homes, migrant workers play specific roles in nation building. They toil away at erecting skyscrapers, building hotels, constructing roads, harvesting produce, and raising babies. However, in God’s sovereignty and providence, they are also there for kingdom building.
When I ponder the challenges and opportunities presented to us today, and are predicted for the next decade, I think of the “father of modern-day missions”, William Carey. He lived in a time of tumultuous change—a pivotal time in world history during which paradigm shifts forever transformed the minds of people. Despite the changes in his world, I doubt that as Carey sailed with his family from London to India, in the spring of 1793, he could have imagined a future of “flying ships” that would transport people from across the globe to his own English neighbourhood in a matter of hours.
Today, people from the 10/40 Window are scattered all over the globe. The Chinese and the South Asian diasporas are two of the largest in the world. Who would have predicted the recent political explosions in North Africa, driving Egyptians, Tunisians, Syrians, Libyans, and Iraqis into exile? The refugee situations of recent months are staggering—not to mention the millions of Jewish people, Africans, Armenians, and Palestinians who have been scattered for centuries. All these people are from the 10/40 Window, the area on the map that was known in early Protestant missions as the “regions beyond.”
These days, we often look to traditionally Christian countries (e.g., Australia, Canada, England, and USA) as receivers of people from the regions beyond. But let us shift our focus to places such as Qatar. In many traditionally “resistant” parts of the world (where we must keep our missionary work discreet), it is indigenous diaspora kingdom workers who are reaching other indigenous diaspora workers who in turn reach out to their “resistant” hosts, and it is they who are returning to their own countries as “reverse migrants.”
Remember our Nepali, Korean, and Filipino brethren? There are many others, including Ukrainian business leaders, Vietnamese factory workers, Iranian American English teachers, Ethiopian doctors, Japanese German artists, meeting Jesus, living life, sharing faith with people from everywhere and they are doing this while they are away from their respective countries of origin.
Our world is vastly different from Carey’s. We live in an increasingly borderless world—with transnationalism, decentralization, and deterritorialization. Almost 220 years after Carey’s overseas journey, we are living in an era of mind-boggling shifts and shakes. Today, not only are we going “there” to the mission field, but “they” are moving—our mission fields are ever-changing. Advances in technology have allowed people to live as though they were both “here” and “there” simultaneously. Furthermore, strides in evangelizing many indigenous groups have changed the face of missions.
Everywhere I go, I meet diverse people who come from distant regions who do not know Jesus Christ. Providentially, God has brought these people within my reach. It was he who “determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live…so that [they] would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).
Missions is on the move. People from the regions beyond are now around us. Migration is predicted to accelerate over the next decade. Just like Carey, millions of Christ’s ambassadors are boarding ships (e.g., ships on the sea, ships in the air) to reach other migrants.
In Nagaland, India, I encouraged predominantly Christ-following Nagas to partner with traditional mission initiatives to reach the religious giants of their region—the Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists who immediately surround them. I also encouraged them to systematically organize, strategize, and train to reach beyond their region, as the Naga kingdom builders launch as foreign workers and international students into our borderless world.
I am reminded of my own countrymen, the Filipinos who are leaving our homeland in droves. In August 2007, Mary Wilder, medical doctor to Pakistan and professor of missions at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, said of the Filipinos, “… A hundred years ago, the Filipinos were a mission field. Now, they are moving out to take their place in missions, reaching around the world in very creative ways.”
MISSIONS STRATEGY FOR LOCAL CHURCHES MOBILIZING THE GLOBAL CHURCH
More than a decade ago, during the Lausanne Movement’s Bi-Annual Leadership Conference in Hungary, Ralph Winter reflected on the seeming imminence of a “borderless world”1: “The world that we now live in has become borderless… In 1974 the political climate was very different—it was the age of the Cold War, ‘state dictatorship,’ and many ‘closed doors’.” (personal communication, June 22, 2007)
As I ponder on the recent surge of national movements on the international stage, and ensuing proposals to “build walls” to curtail flows of migration, I look back on this conversation with Winter with gratitude for the all-encompassing embrace of the Creator-Redeemer God and with renewed hope in the borderless reach of his Church.
Old Reality, New Opportunity
The historical evidence and biblical examples2 of migration as a reality of human existence abound, thus “migration is not a new problem to be solved, but rather a reality to be managed” (Swing 2015). Hein de Haas, professor of sociology at University of Amsterdam, describes migration as an “intrinsic part of a broader development process” (de Haas 2016). Undoubtedly, human scattering has impacted all communities, countries, and regions throughout history.
From a theological perspective, Luis Pantoja Jr., the late Filipino-American theologian, writes in the seminal diaspora missiology volume Scattered: the Filipino Global Presence: “Humankind is designed for mobility and conquest… mobility is endemic to human nature. People reside in or move from one place to another because God made them with such instincts” (Pantoja 2004, 81). At the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, the Lausanne Diasporas Leadership Team affirmed:
The fact is that God created nations (Genesis 25:23; Psalm 86:9-10) and languages/cultures (Genesis 11:1, 6, 7, 9), and determined the place (space) and the timing (time) of our habitation. The passage in Acts 17:26-29 implies that He not only “uses” the “diasporas;” but designs, conducts, and employs such “diasporas” for His own glory, the edification of His people, and the salvation of the lost. Every dispersed person and people group has a place and a role to play in God’s redemptive history. (LDLT 2010b, 12)
International migration continuously affects demographic distribution, economies, structures, and cultures globally. Currently, mass migration is driven primarily by “demography; disasters; the digital revolution; distance-shrinking technology; north-south disparities; and environmental degradation” (Swing 2016).
In the publication Trends in Total Migrant Stock: The 2015 Revision, the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat reports that “The number of international migrants—persons living in a country other than where they were born—reached 244 million in 2015 for the world as a whole, a 41% increase compared to 2000” (UNESA 2015, 1). This includes “almost 20 million refugees” (UNSD 2016) and ten million stateless people who are denied a nationality (UNHCR 2016).
Further, the report states that:
In 2015, two thirds (67%) of all international migrants were living in just twenty countries. The largest number of international migrants (47 million) resides in the United States of America… Germany and the Russian Federation host the second and third largest numbers of migrants worldwide (12 million each), followed by Saudi Arabia (10 million), the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (nearly 9 million), and the United Arab Emirates (8 million). (UNESA 2015)
Migration’s colossal increase presents a complex challenge and urgent opportunity for the Church. While government agencies, aid organizations, and community institutions grapple with the effects of modern population movements, missiologists, denominations, and local churches scramble to respond with sensitivity and relevance to God’s movement through the scattering of humans at this time in history.
Defining Diaspora Missiology
Evangelical missiologists including Samuel Escobar, Tetsunao Yamamori, Christopher Wright, and the late Ralph Winter were early proponents of a concerted study of migration and missions and were informed about the development of what would later be referred to as diaspora missiology. The integration of migration research and missiological study has resulted in practical diaspora missiology, a new providential strategy for missions.
At the November 2009 Lausanne Diaspora Educators Consultation held in Seoul, South Korea, also referred to the Seoul Consultation, participants produced an enhanced definition of diaspora missiology. The definition of diaspora missiology coming out of the consultation was “Diaspora Missiology is a missiological framework for understanding and participating in God’s redemptive mission among people living outside their place of origin.”
In the 2014 edition of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, Winter and Bruce Koch acknowledges diaspora missiology:
As history unfolds and global migration increases, more and more people groups are being dispersed throughout the entire globe. Dealing with this phenomenon is now called “diaspora missiology.” Not many agencies take note of the strategic value of reaching the more accessible fragments of these “global peoples” (Winter & Koch 2014).
Diaspora Missiology as Strategy
It must be stated that diaspora missions is complementary to traditional missions, and diaspora missiology should not be perceived as a usurper to traditional missiology. However, diaspora missions is distinct from traditional missions. A key difference is in its focus. Traditionally, Protestant mission strategies are landlocked and geographically focused. In contrast, the priority of diaspora missions is every person outside the kingdom, everywhere.
If God determines where people will live at certain times so that wherever they are in the universe they can call upon him and find him (Acts 17:26-28), then the Global Church, (specifically, the local church) must come to understand that the whole gospel is for the whole world. This means there is no difference in priority between reaching out to Kazakhs and Thais in Calgary, or Somalis in Minnesota and Khmer in Long Beach, and reaching out to them in their countries of origin.
Let us look at a local community. At 51% foreign-born, with 232 nationalities represented, Toronto is considered the most diverse city in the world (Davey 2016). In Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park community, the top ten languages spoken in homes are: Urdu (3,975); Persian/Farsi (765); Gujarati (700); Pashto (465); Tagalog (460); Bengali (300); Spanish (295); Panjabi/Punjabi (255); Arabic (225); Greek (205) (Toronto 2014, 3). What can the local church do?
This leads to the next question – What is a church? This has been the question of many theologians. What are the social dimensions of the Church? Consider the following model.
A decade ago, a church-birthing team of twelve members moved into the Thorncliffe Park community of Toronto. This team moved into high-rise buildings of the community with the intention of becoming a light in the community and building authentic relationships with new Canadians. They strategically positioned themselves within a one-square-kilometre radius. Their leader describes their ministry this way:
We bring the love of Christ in the hallways by helping people to unload their groceries, loving and talking to people as we ride together in the elevator, helping their children with their homework, helping their family members get their driving licenses, passing out winter jackets, playing soccer with them during summer months. Furthermore, we don’t believe that churches need to have walls. I mean bricks and stones.
This group of believers is called the “Church Without Walls” (CWW) by some. CWW has partnered with the local Salvation Army to receive donations (e.g., clothing, household items) to help new immigrants settle into their apartments. During Advent and Lent seasons, CWW distributes thousands of The Jesus Film copies in DVD format as a gift to many families in the area. Many of their friends request more DVDs to send to their countries of origin.
CWW has also distributed thousands of Bibles – evidently, more than the local Toronto Bible Society sold in 2009. Today, this unique congregation continues to impact their community by helping new immigrants settle and integrate into the Canadian life. They have truly become “salt and light” in the most diverse city of migrants.
In 1974, during the First Lausanne Congress in Switzerland, Winter popularized the missions strategy of “Unreached People Groups” (UPG), coining the E1, E2, E3 or M1, M2, M3 strategies. Through his pioneering and authoritative research, missiologists have been able to better analyse UPGs and their need to be reached by the good news.
Missiologists adhering to Winter’s research methodology and strategy have produced several databases such as the Joshua Project (https://joshuaproject.net), which is “a research initiative seeking to highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the least followers of Christ.” However, strategy and methodology must adapt as opportunities and challenges change.
As we utilize great leaps in connectivity technologies and travel of recent years, it is encouraging to witness Christian missions making headway in communicating the good news to the most unreached. The work is still great, however, and the need remains urgent.
According to Finishing the Task (FTT) “there are 3,400 people groups who are not only unreached, but no one is even trying to reach them. Mission strategists call them ‘unengaged’” (finishingthetask.com). People representing these unengaged groups are found in the diaspora, scattered from their home countries.
The vital questions for local churches are – Are there least Unreached People Groups (UPGs) in their city? Are there diaspora peoples without a church? If so, who are they and what is the plan to reach them?
J.D. Payne, former national missionary with the North American Mission Board and now Pastor for Church Multiplication with The Church at the Brook Hills in Birmingham Alabama, echoes this thought. In his paper, “In Through the Back Door: Reaching the Majority World in North America,” published in the Missions from the Majority World: Progress, Challenges, and Case Studies, Payne argues that “many of the world’s unreached people groups (UPGs) reside in North America, and… the North American Church needs to identify, understand, and develop appropriate global strategies for working with [them].”
God, in his sovereignty, has scattered migrants. Church leaders must recognize the changing face of their communities with its missiological implications and celebrate global ministries as well as local diaspora missions.
Urbanization and multiculturalism are twin realities propelled by diaspora. Fed by a steady stream of migrants, the majority of diaspora groups live in the cities. Hence, the city is the focal point for diaspora missions and evangelization. The other vital aspect of diaspora missions is multiculturalism that is not only evident in society, but in the local churches.
Local churches are called to engage migrant peoples with innovative strategies. Specifically, Christ’s followers among the migrants must be nurtured in their faith and ultimately recruited and commissioned as church workers for diaspora missions. Local multicultural congregations must embrace their role as a mission force in line with denominational missions agendas.
Ministering to diaspora groups requires denominations and local churches to embrace out-of-the-box strategies and non-traditional approaches. Emphasis must be placed on relationship-building with migrants, holistic approaches to challenges and opportunities, and kingdom-partnerships with like-minded organizations to achieve the common goal of the Great Commission.
A diaspora vision sees multitudes of people groups who need to be won to Christ; but how is this to be accomplished? Some missions organisations, denominations, and local churches are already using diaspora missiology strategies. Condensing the strategies of this paper into a summary for local churches, regardless of size or budget, the following steps outlined by Lausanne’s Cape Town Commitment (2011) may be implemented. To actively participate in diaspora missions, local churches should:
- Recognize and respond to the missional opportunities presented by global migration and diaspora communities, in strategic planning, and in focused training and resourcing of those called to work among them.
- Bear counter-cultural witness to the love of Christ in deed and word, by obeying the extensive biblical commands to love the stranger, defend the cause of the foreigner, visit the prisoner, practice hospitality, build friendships, invite into our homes, and provide help and services.
- Discern the hand of God, even in circumstances they may not have chosen and listen and learn from immigrant congregations and initiate cooperative efforts to reach all sections of Canada with the gospel.
Thirty years ago, newly immigrated people were “mission fields on the move” (Escobar 2010) for local congregations in receiving countries. Now they are moving, reaching out to their hosts and to other scattered people in innovative ways. Although threats of national ‘wall-building’ abound, may local churches remain borderless, welcoming newcomers—Syrians, Iraqis, Colombians, Punjabis, Croatians, Sudanese, Somalis, Burundians, and many more—in Christ’s name. Only God knows what roles these current migrants will play in future kingdom building.
Thank God for our missionary heroes who have gone before to plant the seeds in the regions beyond. Thank God, too, for the opportunities given to reach the world in alternative and creative ways. What will the mission field look like in ten or one hundred years? These are exciting times. Every person (from everywhere) who is outside the kingdom is our priority. Alongside traditional mission strategies, let us use diaspora missiology strategies to creatively take the whole gospel to the whole world.
“Borderless world” was initially described as a world, virtually borderless, with local communities participating in a global market, virtually linked by global communications (e.g., the Internet). It is an economic term associated with Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s.
For a biblio-historical study on ‘diaspora’ and key words, and theological foundations for diaspora missions, see Lausanne Diasporas Leadership Team, “Position Paper: ’Diasporas’ and God’s Mission,” 2010.
Davey, Ed. 2016. “WS More or Less: The World’s Most Diverse City, More or Less: Behind the Stats.” Accessed May 13, 2016, from www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03v1r1p.
De Haas, Hein. 2013. “What Drives Human Migration?” Accessed October 13, 2016 from heindehaas.blogspot.ca/2013/12/what-drives-human-migration.html.
IOM. 2015. World Migration Report 2015: Migrants and Cities: New Partnerships to Manage Mobility. Geneva: IOM.
Lausanne Diasporas Leadership Team. 2010b. “‘Diasporas’ and God’s Mission.” In Scattered to Gather: Embracing the Global Trend of Diaspora. 11-28. Manila: LifeChange Publishing and Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.
Lausanne Movement. 2010. “The Seoul Declaration on Diaspora Missiology.” Accessed October 1, 2016, from www.lausanne.org/content/statement/the-seoul-declaration-on-diaspora-missiology.
______. 2011. “The Cape Town Commitment.” Accessed October 1, 2016, from lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment#p2-3.
Pantoja, L. 2004. “Formulating a Theology of Filipino Diaspora.” In Scattered to Gather. Eds. L. Pantoja, Sadiri Joy Tira, and Enoch Wan, 81. Scattered to Gather. Manila: LifeChange Publishing Inc.
Payne, J.D. 2009. “In Through the Back Door: Reaching the Majority World in North America.” In Missions from the Majority World: Progress, Challenges, and Case Studies. Eds. Enoch Wan and Michael Pocock, 75-95. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
Swing, William Lacy. 2015. “Migration Is Not a Problem to Be Solved; It’s a Reality to Be Managed.” United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe. Accessed September 30, 2016, from www.unric.org/en/latest-un-buzz/29774-migration-is-not-a-problem-to-be-solved-its-a-reality-to-be-managed.
______. 2016. IOM Director General’s Speech at the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants. Accessed September 23, 2016, from weblog.iom.int/iom-director-general-william-lacy-swings-speech-un-summit-refugees-and-migrants %C2%A0and-signing-iom-un.
Toronto, City of. 2014. “2011 Neighbourhood Census/ NHS Profile.” Accessed March 3, 2016, from www1.toronto.ca/City%20Of%20Toronto/Social%20Development,%20Finance%20&%
UNESA Population Division. 2015. “Population Facts.”
UNHCR. 2016. “Ending Statelessness.” Accessed September 30, 2016, from www.unhcr.org/stateless-people.html.
UNSD. 2016. “Number of International Migrants Reached 244 Million in 2015.” Accessed September 30, 2016, from www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/01/244-million-international-migrants-living-abroad-worldwide-new-un-statistics-reveal.
Winter, Ralph. 2004. Endorsement. In Scattered: The Filipino Global Presence. Manila: LifeChange, Inc.
Winter, Ralph and Bruce Koch. 2014. “Finishing the Task: The Unreached Peoples Challenge.” In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. Kindle Edition, 4th ed. Eds. Ralph Winter and Steve Hawthorne. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
* This article was originally published by EMQ, Vol. 53, No. 1. 2016 to launch the EMQ column focused on diaspora missiology. Permission from the author to re-publish this paper was granted to Asian Missions Advance.
Sadiri Joy Tira
Dr. Sadiri “Joy” Tira is The Lausanne Movement’s Catalyst for Diasporas (i.e. formerly known as Lausanne Movement’s Senior Associate for Diasporas). He also serves as Missiology Specialist at the Jaffray Centre for Global Initiatives at Ambrose University and Seminary (AUS), Calgary, AB, Canada; for the Advisory Council of Evangelvision out of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, USA; and on the Board of Directors for SIM (Canada) and MoveIn International. He is the Founding Pastor of First Filippino Alliance Church in Canada. Joy’s blogs are regularly featured on http://www.evangelvision.com/.