Sadiri Joy Tira at Starbucks

Diasporas: People on the Move

Sadiri Joy Tira 28 Aug 2009

I am at Starbucks watching people.  Yes, I “people-watch” at Starbucks.  If you have ever wondered where to meet people from around the world, spend a couple of hours at Starbucks.

I met Ibrahim* at Starbucks.

Ibrahim is a Ph.D. student from Nigeria.  He loves Toronto and the Canadian lifestyle.  Though raised as a Muslim, in Canada he feels free to explore what “the world has to offer.”  Ibrahim is dating Nia, a recent immigrant from the Philippines who works in telecommunications.  On Sundays Nia attends a local Catholic church, because she says there she “feels at home.”  Both Ibrahim and Nia are looking for community in Canada.

I also met Florica* at Starbucks.

Her father is Romanian and her mother a Filipino.  Florica was born in the United States, but she divides her time between her American Ivy League university and her university in the Philippines.  She travels across North America representing her Asian-American Culture Society.  Her boyfriend is an Irish American Catholic.  Florica is constantly researching her roots and has a great desire to connect with both her families in Europe and in Asia.  I think that she is the face of the future.

I met another interesting person at Starbucks – Dr. Albaker.*

Dr. Albaker is a medical specialist living and working in Toronto.

He is very busy, but still takes the time to drop into Starbucks for a regular coffee break.

People are on the Move.  Undeniably.

But what does this mean for local churches?

In this “borderless” world, can you imagine the international ripples if only my Starbucks friends encountered Christians in Canada who have been trained to interact cross-culturally; who share their cross-cultural interests; who have been given strategic evangelism and discipleship tools?  Can you imagine them telling their families about new faith in Jesus Christ?  In turn, can you imagine their families introducing Jesus Christ to an extended network of relatives and friends “back home” including friends who are “people on the move”?

There are thousands of “people on the move” in Canada.  One need not look further than the local Starbucks to meet Diaspora peoples.  They are studying in our schools, drinking coffee at our cafes, serving our meals at our favourite Sunday restaurants, playing with their kids in our playgrounds, and jogging around the park with us.  They may even be living “next door.”

On the other hand, there are people from “here” moving “there.”  My brother-in-law, Rudy* is a Filipino-American Civil-Engineer, raised in Hawaii, and with the US Navy.  Just recently, he was stationed and deployed to Afghanistan as an engineering instructor.  Imagine how many people he comes in contact with who have the potential of being witnesses for Jesus Christ in a war-torn country.  Imagine if Rudy was trained and equipped with evangelism and discipleship tools.  If Rudy and other Christians “on the move” like him were trained in cross-cultural communication and were effectively debriefed on their hosts’ culture, imagine how they could witness.

People today are on the move!

Now here is the question:

How can we better reach “people on the move”?

  1. Rethink “Diaspora” as part of God’s sovereign design to accomplish His mission ( i.e. Missio Dei).  When we think of Diaspora Missions it cannot be categorized as “Local Ministries” or “Foreign Ministries.”  Rather, it is “GLOCAL” – here and there simultaneously; affirmed and supported equally by word and deed.
  2. Teach our congregations to be hospitable.  Here’s an example from Canada:  The most recent statistics from Canada Citizenship and Immigration indicate that in 2007 alone, Canada:
    • welcomed 302,303 foreign workers as temporary migrant workers
    • granted initial entry to 233,971 foreign students
    • welcomed 27,956 refugees
    • granted 236,758 people permission to make Canada their home as permanent immigrants.  Of these, the Top Ten Source Countries for Permanent Immigrants were (in descending order): China, India, Philippines, USA, Pakistan, UK, Iran, South Korea, France, and Columbia.

Canada continues to welcome immigrants in the thousands.  Find out how many immigrants came into your country in recent years, and you will be amazed.  Are these not the very people we are trying to reach “out there”?

  1. Build awareness.  We need to educate our congregations to be effectively relational in our “global neighborhood.”  We need to try the new Somalian restaurant (for example) and then invite our friends there to expose them to the culture of our new neighbours.  It is important for Christians to build cultural awareness that will result to authentic relationships making them credible witnesses for Jesus Christ.
  2. Come up with more “creative ministries.”  Pearson International Airport (Toronto), for example, receives three packed Emirates Airbuses A380 (this is the largest passenger aircraft and seats up to 853 people) flights a week.  Simple math:  853x 3 flights/week x 52weeks/year =133,068 passengers/year on Emirates Airlines alone!  Most of the passengers are coming from the Gulf region.  Do we have a strategy to reach these “people on the move” who are tourists, businessmen, international students, and new immigrants?  These are the very people our International Workers are trying to minister to “over there.”  On the subject of creative ministries – in recent years, Filipino International Network (FIN) brokered a partnership between Operation Mobilisation, Campus Crusade for Christ, the Seamen’s Christian Friends Society, the Alliance Graduate School in Manila, and FIN.  This partnership formed Alliance of Churches at Sea (ACAS).  Since Filipinos compose over 25% of the global maritime workers, ACAS has been training Filipino seafarers to plant churches on board cruise ships, super tankers, and container ships among “people on the ocean.”  In such a short period of time, we have now churches on the ocean!  This is a case of a multi-directional and trans-national approach to church planting.
  3. Accelerate formal and non-formal trainings for our future pastors, international workers and lay leaders to prepare them for ministry in our “borderless” world.
  4. Pray for the “people on the move.”  Also pray for the people ministering to them.

We now have an unprecedented opportunity to introduce the Diasporas to Jesus Christ and invite them to become part of His Church.  With Lausanne Diasporas, we are proactively responding to this major global trend of Diasporas and the Diaspora issue will be addressed at Cape Town 2010.  Pray that Diaspora Missions will be embraced by the Whole Church.

*Names have been changed.

Sadiri Joy Tira (D.Min., D.Miss.) is the LCWE Senior Associate for Diasporas, the Global Ministries Diaspora Specialist for the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, and the International Coordinator for the Filipino International Network.