Author: Sadiri Joy Tira
Category: Diasporas, Media and Communications, Unreached People Groups
Diaspora – the word once strictly referred to the Jewish people dispersed throughout the globe and to the Jewish community residing outside Palestine/ Israel. Today, we hear and read about the African Diaspora, Armenian Diaspora, Chinese Diaspora, South Asian Diaspora, Filipino Diaspora, Japanese Diaspora, Korean Diaspora, Brazilian Diaspora, and more recently the Haitian Diaspora, etc. Evidently, "diaspora" is now a buzzword.
Recall the January 12, 2010 earthquake that shook Haiti and devastated its capital city, Port-au-Prince? Over 230,000 people were killed, leaving close to a million Haitians homeless. To respond to the great need emerging from this situation, the international community rallied to provide aid. Some countries, such as Canada, even announced plans to expedite immigration from Haiti.
Fast-forward a few months. On the morning of September 27, 2010, I walked into my favourite coffee joint, Starbucks (it looks and tastes the same all over the world, and is a bit of an "anchor" -- a familiar place, for the travel weary) for my regular morning fuel -- "Tall Pike" and The Globe and Mail.
The front-page headline jumped out at me: HAITIAN DIASPORA SPREADING THE GOSPEL OF VOODOO.
My interest was secured by two of my favourite words: Diaspora and Gospel. But the article was not talking about my Gospel -- the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it was talking about the "gospel" of Voodoo.
You see, as we at Cape Town discuss the opportunities and challenges presented by the "people on the move" and the implications on missions practice, other "gospels" are already making their ways across borders and into the lives of those who welcome them.
The Haitian Diaspora is not at all new to Canada and I am not suggesting that their recent influx (due to fast-tracking of immigration) is the cause of this particular headline. The fact is that Haitians have been migrating to Canada for years, but obviously the time is now "ripe" for Canada’s national paper to feature the Haitian Diaspora and the once taboo religion that many of them embrace on its front page.
Missiologically speaking, we can say that the Haitian heralds of Voodoo are being exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as soon as they arrive in Canada with its pronounced Christian heritage. We can say this of any newly arrived group and this statement is applicable beyond Canada. For example: "The –(enter group of your choice)—will hear about Jesus when they get here, so there really is no need to intentionally reach them with informed and strategic methods. We can just invite them to church”.
This is all very nice, but the fact of the matter is that the diasporas need Christian "hosts" whether these are Christians from traditionally Christian countries (e.g. Canada or the USA) or are Christians in diaspora (e.g. Haitian-Canadian Christians or even Vietnamese-Canadian Christians!) to intentionally engage them.
Some good friends of mine continue to believe that overseas missions is of higher priority, because diasporas who arrive in "traditionally Christian" countries will “inevitably be exposed to Christianity”. [But what is a "traditional Christian" country now, anyways?].
I love my friends, but clearly we are not on the same page. Geographical missiology is outdated in the reality of the 21st Century. I do not believe that diaspora missions should take precedence over traditional missions, but I do believe that they now must go hand in hand. What we do over there, we must do over here.
What kind of Christianity will the diasporas encounter if our local churches continue to move out of "immigrant sections" of the city; if our members are not informed and trained on how to intelligently receive migrants? How effective will our local churches be at reaching diaspora people if our local pastors are not trained to communicate and interact with them?
We send our best overseas. Apart from theological, biblical, and pastoral training, we invest in our "foreign missionaries" thousands of dollars in language training, cultural training, intellectual training, and guide them through a battery of aptitude and psychological tests to ensure that they have a high "success" rate in a cross-cultural setting. However, we do not intentionally or strategically prepare our workers for the cross-cultural setting "at home".
In my own Canadian hometown churches are moving out of areas that have become "high immigrant" areas (for whatever reason). Some churches are missing the great opportunity to intentionally reach Sudanese, Mainland Chinese, Indian, Bengali, Pakistani, Afghani, Russian, Bosnian, etc. right in their own communities! Some religious groups have even bought and transformed former Christian church buildings into altogether different spaces of worship, including mosques.
Host Christians are moving out and diasporic people with their own religions in tow are moving in. We can be assured that if Christians are not intentionally engaging, the diaspora peoples will most certainly set up their own temples and mosques right beside our churches.
I am not trying to frighten, I am hoping to challenge. If Christendom persists on pretending that it will "win" Diaspora people by simply "exposing them to Christian values" one day we will wake up to find that Voodoo has swallowed up one community after another. (I am just saying. You may replace the word "Voodoo" with the religion of your choice).
What is my point?
What we do over there, we must do over here.
What we are supporting over there, we must equally support over here.
Missions in the 21st Century must be multi-directional not lineal. It must be non-spatial, instead of geographical. Local churches must be educated that missions is not only "out there" but also "over here". There should now be no distinction of home and foreign missions!
Every person outside the Kingdom of God is the Church’s priority.
Dr. Ralph Winter effectively presented the E-Scale during the historic 1974 Lausanne Congress in Switzerland – this was the perfect strategy for that time, but times have since changed.
In 2004, Winter endorsed the seminal Diaspora Missiology book, SCATTERED: The Filipino Global Presence (Pantoja, Luis, Sadiri Joy Tira, and Enoch Wan, Eds., LifeChange Publishing Inc. 2004) with these words on its back cover:
“This book is both arresting and strategic because it addresses in depth what may well be the most important undigested reality in mission thinking today. We simply have not caught up with the fact that most of the world’s peoples can no longer be defined geographically.”
Lausanne Diasporas exists to motivate and mobilise the Whole Church to take the Whole Gospel to the Whole World. While the Whole Gospel never changes, today the Whole Church includes “people on the move”, and the Whole World is now “every where”.
Let us make headlines: CHRISTIAN DIASPORA [AND HOSTS] SPREADING THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST.
*Sadiri Joy Tira (D.Min., D.Miss.) is the LCWE Senior Associate for Diasporas.