Strangers in a Strange Land: Ministry to Diaspora and Sojourning Peoples
This issue of Mission Round Table looks at ministry to “Strangers in a Strange Land,” people in migration or living outside their homelands.
Loving the stranger begins with loving the God who loves the stranger. Only as we get to know the strangers in our midst can they become our friends. And only as we share Christ with them can they become, not strangers and aliens, but family members.
We need to be aware that the movements of people bring opportunities for the gospel to flow in multiple directions. Moving gives some people an opportunity to encounter Christ for the first time and others an opportunity to take Christ to new locations. People who have encountered Christ on foreign soil and begun to grow in faith need to be prepared for the challenge of transitioning back to their home countries. Deeply contextualized discipleship is thus an essential part of mission to the strangers.
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Missional Migration – Lightyear
The term “diaspora” has also been used to describe migrants. But whilst the original use of the term broadly encapsulated migration and colonization, literature has also identified multiple applications of the term, recognizing the different forms of transnational communities. Whilst diaspora communities may emerge from migration, not all migrants can be considered diaspora. Moreover, whereas migration describes the process and politics of people movement, diaspora is a term better used to describe the identity politics of those who have moved—and even there, not all migrants are diaspora. Here, I will use the term migration, as opposed to diaspora, for two reasons. Firstly, by considering migration we are able to take into account the social dynamics and politics of leaving, arriving, staying, and returning, whilst simultaneously considering the implications of these for those who did not migrate. The reality that some are left behind is critical in our consideration of missional migration. Secondly, the current trends in migration tend towards less “rooted” identities in the host country. This means that a large number of migrants do not develop any sense of diaspora identity. (Think of Myanmar migrant workers on fishing boats.) Finally, by considering migration, we are also able to dialogue with the issue using the terms in which it is being discussed in the world in which migrants themselves live and breathe, a world characterized by uncertainty, precarity, and increasingly narrow choices.
Taking a wider “transnational perspective” enables us to see international migrants “not as anomalies, but rather as representatives of an increasingly globalized world who have found it possible to have multiple localities and identities . . . who are anchored neither in their place of origin nor their place of destination.”
Hopes, Dreams and Dangers: Nepali Young People and the Next Generations of the Church in the UK – Richard Evans
“As the West brought its love for God to us in Nepal, so now we are bringing our love for God back to the West,” Sornim shared with me during a recent conversation.
The son of a retired Ghurkha soldier—whose father Simon Sunwar came to Christ in 1997 and whose family migrated to London from Hong Kong in 2007—Sornim represents a young generation of Nepali Christians born in Nepal (or intermediate country) but brought up and educated in the UK. This so-called “one-and-a-half generation” is now actively working together with its seniors, the “first” generation, to plot both the present and future of their Nepali diaspora church, the “second” generation, in the face of significant challenges and opportunities.
In many places, including London, these families found themselves in areas lacking organised Nepali fellowships—a void that precipitated a ten-year journey of struggle, consolidation, stability, and growth from which the UNRC, along with other “survivors”, has now emerged.
What follows is a brief presentation of preliminary findings from interviews conducted with members of the UNRC and others from within the wider Nepali Christian community in the UK. During these conversations possible future scenarios for the Church were shared alongside an immensely rich mixture of Christian life stories and associated global journeys.
Mission to, through, and from Diaspora: Foundations and Demonstrations Drawn from International Student Contexts – Terry McGrath and Victoria Sibley-Bentley
… From Pentecost at the beginning of Acts, diaspora have played a significant role in establishing the church and initiating mission. According to George Wieland, reading Acts missionally leads to the realisation that the examples of Scripture can influence and motivate people to leadership and action. Being aware of such biblical examples can encourage individuals whom God has sovereignly placed or allowed to be in a position to influence policy outcomes for the gospel, in particular, the gospel in and through diaspora. The Seoul Declaration on Diaspora Missiology speaks of a “missiological framework for understanding and participating in God’s redemptive mission among people living outside their place of origin.” It is of enormous strategic importance that we focus our understanding of mission to include mission to, through, and from, the diaspora of the world. We, the authors of this article, work among international students, a small but strategic subset of diaspora, and from this we draw some illustrations that reflect God’s work and purposes to, in, and through people who are part of diaspora movements, of which international education is but one.
The following returnee’s story from the ISMNZ ministry context exemplifies this heart.
Multi-dimensional Discipling for Diaspora Communities: Partnership between Host Church, Ethnic Church, and Parachurch Organizations – Carolyn Kemp
Never has the need for intentional partnerships been more important than now. The challenge that confronts the local church, ethnic churches, and parachurch organizations in a host country with a view to discipling diaspora communities is immense. … However, of those who consider or respond to the claims of Christ while overseas only 20% or fewer continue to follow the Lord after returning home. When we think of the opportunity presented to us through diaspora ministry, this statistic is frankly appalling. If 80% of Boeing aircraft crashed, there would be an immediate investigation. Aircraft would be grounded until Boeing got to the bottom of the problem and corrected it. Similarly, until we address the issues surrounding this fall-out rate we will lose one of the most profound mission opportunities of modern times.
One key factor is a lack of contextualized discipleship designed to prepare returnees to stand firm as Christians back home. That preparation must start in the host culture and for that to take place a multidimensional relational discipleship model needs to be adopted which includes input from the host church, the ethnic church, and parachurch organizations. This paper seeks to present such a model.
“Going Home is Not What I Thought It Would Be”: The Unique Challenges Faced by Returnees – Pete
George represents many Chinese students who become Christians while studying in a Western country. He believed in Jesus after spending time in a vibrant campus ministry and attending church and a Bible study in English. A few years later, George returned to China and found it was harder than he ever imagined to keep his faith. His job requires long hours and involves corrupt practices that seem impossible to avoid. His parents are pushing him into marriage with a non-Christian woman, and even if he had any time on Sunday he can’t find a church where he feels comfortable. George is seriously thinking of giving up on the faith he found in the West.
Students who have become Christians while overseas face challenges when they return to China in the areas of family relationships, employment, and church. These challenges are so severe that it is estimated up to 80% of them will abandon their faith within a year of returning.
Why is it so hard for returnees to continue in their faith after returning home?
Preparing Diaspora Converts for their Return to East Asia – Stuart Bullington
In the early decades (1950s–80s) of international student ministry in the West, … the emphasis was on welcoming and extending hospitality to foreign students, with little thought given to the future prospects for those who came to faith in Christ.
Since the 1990s, however, as communications and ease of travel have improved, the full measure of the challenges new converts face in the East has been seen more clearly. Anecdotal evidence gathered in the author’s interviews with international student workers in 2010 indicated that a mass defection was taking place among returnees in China every year: 75 to 85 percent of those who had attended Christian meetings as students in the West never met with Christians in China, and thus fell away from the faith. In Japan informed sources have indicated that the defection rate is even higher.
This article will focus on the thousands of East Asian young people, especially the Mainland Chinese, who study at the university level in Western countries …
Japanese Cultural Dynamics: Their Influence on Japanese Abroad and their Impact on their Return – Graham Orr
Aki stepped through the door to Dublin Japanese Christian Fellowship one Sunday afternoon. Most non-Christians who come for the first time are shy and hesitant but Aki brightly announced to me, “I have already been to worship today. I was walking down Temple Bar and a missionary invited me in.” She used the Japanese word for worship, but awkwardly, as if she were not used to it. For missionary she switched to English. I nodded my acceptance with the non-committal, “Ah so desuka” to which she added, “They gave me a book.” She pulled it out of her handbag; thick and leather bound, it opened to double vertical columns of Japanese with chapters and verses marked with numbers. She closed it again to show me the cover with a gold embossed title in Japanese: The Book of Mormon. “Well done for going,” I replied, “would you like a cup of tea?”
There are as many as 1500 Japanese in Dublin. This is the largest number of Japanese in the UK and Ireland living outside of London.
International Friends – Claire McConnell
For much of my life I have thought about the desires mentioned in Psalm 34:7—“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It seems clear that some of my desires were given me even though I might have only expressed them to a friend and had never really asked the Lord for them. Other desires took a long time to come even after many years of praying. But there have also been desires that were clearly put into my heart and mind by the Lord. One such desire is the desire to care for those we often refer to as the strangers, foreigners, or sojourners in our land.
… I became a Christian at a young age and not long afterwards felt that God was calling me to work in China. He placed in my heart a concern for people who lived far away in a strange land, a desire that they should know the good news about Jesus and be able to call out to him and be saved. In my late teens the Lord gave me the desire to pray and I was able to join a group of people who kept themselves informed and prayed for Christian workers in Asian countries, including China. That was in the 70s when the possibility of living and working in China was still unimaginable.