Global Connections and God’s Purposes for Diaspora
Migration is one of the great global realities of our era. The United Nations’ World Migration Report 2020[i] estimates that there are 272 million migrants – people living in a country other than their country of birth. That is up from 150 million in 2000. Most move for work but many are forced to move by armed conflict, extreme violence, severe economic or political instability, extreme climate change or natural disasters. The result is a great diaspora (dispersion) of peoples around the globe to places that they did not grow up considering as home.
Since before Jesus’ time, the word diaspora has been used to refer specifically to the scattering or dispersion of the Jewish people. Since last century it has also been widely applied to other groups of people who are not living in their traditional homeland but still retain a sense of belonging to their people and original home. Thus, we may talk of the Chinese diaspora, the Nigerian diaspora, etc.
Many of those diaspora peoples are present here in the UK. They may be new migrants who arrived here in the last few years or settled citizens who were born here but still retain that connection to the homeland and people from which their parents or ancestors came.
Diaspora peoples in the UK are often a great opportunity for mission. They may come from communities with very few Christians and from countries where they are very difficult to reach. As they adjust to life in a new country, they are often more open to new friendships and new ideas. Many become Christians here. Some have then been the ones to communicate the good news back to their own people in their homeland.
Diaspora peoples are also an increasingly key part of the church in the UK. In the last twenty years, the number of diaspora churches increased from 1,850 congregations to about 4,500 congregations and from 3% of the total UK church membership to nearly 10% of it.[ii] If the church is at the heart of mission, then diaspora churches should be an increasing part of that.
Diaspora peoples often come from countries and communities where the church is much stronger and more vibrant. God is using some of these diaspora Christians to bring fresh life into our churches and to reach the unreached of all peoples in the UK. We rejoice in this and want to embrace and encourage it. At the same time, many diaspora Christians find it difficult to relate to existing British churches.
What should Global Connections’ role be in all this? As the UK network for world mission, GC brings agencies and churches together to help the UK church engage in world mission in contemporary and appropriate ways. What should that mean in this whole area of diaspora ministries in 2021 – for agencies focused on reaching the diaspora, for churches who want to reach and welcome the diaspora, for diaspora Christians and diaspora churches who want to engage in mission in the UK and beyond?
Ian and Anne-Marie Prescott have been migrants in East Asia with OMF International for the last three decades. They have now been assigned to work part-time with Global Connections as Catalysts for Diaspora Ministries to explore how Global Connections should be bringing churches and agencies together in new ways in this era of global migration and the diasporas resulting from it.
[ii] UK Church Statistics No 4, 2021 Edition, edited Peter Brierley, ADBC Publishers, Tonbridge, Section 9.1, and in FutureFirst August 2019, p.6, https://www.brierleyconsultancy.com/s/FUTURE_FIRST_Issue-70-AUGUST-2020.pdf.