Our Missionary God: The Diaspora on our Doorstep

These are exciting days to be involved in missions. In June 1980 there were 1,800 known mission agencies sending 70,000 missionaries; in 2013 there were 4,000 known evangelical mission agencies sending 250,000 missionaries from 200 different countries (according to the Global Network of Missionary Structures).

The Finishing the Task Network, launched in 2003, is focused on unreached groups with over 100,000 in population. In 2003 there were 639 groups in this category. By 2010 all but 95 of these groups were engaged. The church in Africa, Latin America, and Asia far outpace the church’s growth in the northern hemisphere. In 1900, Africa had 10 million Christians, representing about 10% of their population. In 2000, Africa had 360 million Christians, representing nearly 50% of their total population. This has likely been the largest shift of religious affiliation at anytime, anywhere in history.

The South Korean church plans to send 100,000 missionaries in the next 20 years, and the Philippine and Chinese churches are on the same trajectory. This reality gives a whole new sense to Matthew 24:14: “And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all the nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”

A new phenomenon is occurring in Canada and in other western countries where the church is not flourishing like those in the southern hemisphere. People of different ethnic and religious backgrounds are arriving as immigrants, migrants, or refugees, all seeking a safe haven.

A diaspora movement is happening now and our churches must respond to this new reality. Rather than join the growing xenophobic band wagon, churches and mission-minded followers of Christ must see this new and growing reality as an opportunity for mission. The current diaspora movement is proving to be the next era in missions.

It is estimated that 214 million people worldwide now live outside of their country of birth. Between 1988 and 2012 the number of permanent residents in Canada has increased from 150,000 to 250,000 with projections to grow. Currently, there are 1.1 million Muslim people living in Canada with projections of triple the growth (through immigration and larger family size) in the next 20 years. God is sending the World right into our neighbourhoods!

What is the Church’s response in Canada?

Do we react with fear, or a response characterized by faith? The Bible is in many ways a book about diaspora people. God has historically used the migration of His people to fulfill His plan. The Jews in Exodus and the first Christians in the book of Acts are two examples. God works in and through diasporas to grow the church. God’s strategy is to disperse people to other nations and then prepare them to receive and proclaim the Gospel, which then transforms their new identity into becoming a diaspora for Christ. We have a worker serving migrant workers in BC. He has led Mexicans to Christ who then go back home to small villages, where no missionary would ever visit. As a result, families are being won to Christ and local churches are being established in rural Mexico.

In recent years a whole “Diaspora Theology” has been forming to address the new demographic realities of Canada. The church is learning new lessons concerning:

  • Ministry to Diaspora peoples or outreach from Christian Canadians to immigrants, refugees and new Canadians.
  • Ministry through Diaspora peoples or outreach from diaspora Christians to their own ethnic group.
  • Ministry beyond Diaspora peoples or outreach from diaspora Christians to other diaspora groups.

The current influx of the nations at our doorstep is a huge opportunity for the church to love and win people for Christ. Diaspora people, especially from the most difficult places on earth to send missionaries, are being won to Christ in unprecedented numbers after arriving in Canada. I just heard of three Muslim women converted to Christ through two of our new church plants. The trauma of displacement to a new country often creates a spiritual awakening and sensitivity as immigrants and refugees orient themselves to their new surroundings.

Immigrants need to know where God is when all their familiar landmarks have changed. They’re looking for a possible new identity that integrates both the old (home country) and the new (new nation). They need to find safe people — new friendships — and safe places to discover practical help as they navigate their adopted nation. The local church can provide all of this as it realigns its mission to capture our new demographic realities.

How might Fellowship Baptist churches be agents of grace to the diaspora people? What is your view of immigrants — even illegal immigrants? Is God concerned for those people? What call to action does God have for each of us? In this edition of THRIVE we investigate the “other” neighbours in our neighbourhoods.