I recently went to a conference called “Welcoming the Stranger” and learned a new term: Diaspora Ministry.
What is it?
Approximately three percent of the earth’s population is living in a country or setting that is different from the one in which they were born. In other words, there are many immigrants and refugees in our world today and many are coming to the United States and Canada. Many of these people have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, either because they come from countries that are closed to this kind of witness (think Saudia Arabia) or because of a lack of workers for the harvest (only one percent of the world wide missionary force works among Muslims).
This then is a tremendous opportunity to share our faith with those who may have never heard the saving good news of Jesus.
What will it take?
A paradigm shift. For years we have sent people like Johanna Veenstra, one of our early missionaries, to Africa and other places far away. Now ministry is happening close to home, right in our communities. We can all be missionaries by simply being good neighbors and good hosts.
What is the next step?
We need to be intentional about ministry to a changing world. Learning about our changing neighborhoods is a good place to start. What are the ethno-linguistic backgrounds of my neighbors. Learning about other faith groups and taking an interest in their experience of faith is essential. Above all, love. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13, we won’t get very far unless we have love for our new neighbors. We can also do a few practical things. Offering an ESL (English as a Second Language) course is a good place for a church to start. This is a structured program that meets a real need for new immigrants. Helping newcomers to obtain a driver’s license, insurance, health care, among other things, is always appreciated. The CRCNA has some good programs, like Cadets and GEMs and Coffee Break Bible Studies. Why not invite newcomers to be involved in these programs? What better way to learn about a new culture? International students are often open to having a host family in the area. This has tremendous potential for advancing the Kingdom of God. Many international students return to their countries of origin never having been invited into the home of someone in North America. What a lost opportunity. In Canada, the government still allows church groups to hand out Bibles at Citizenship Ceremonies – but there aren’t enough volunteers to do this!
The beauty of working in the diaspora is that many immigrants have social networks in their countries of origin and so the Gospel can work its way back through these social networks. One Thai pastor, who was discipled by a church in Canada, gave thanks for their support that enabled her to study for the ministry. Now she is looking forward to returning to Thailand as a “Canadian missionary.” She is eager to share the message of God’s love with her many relatives and friends. She will have many open doors.
Let’s wake up as a church to these new opportunities. The Great Commission is calling all around us.
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