The state of diaspora mission in the UK conference was recently held at All Nations Christian College in Ware, Hertfordshire. It was well attended with about 60 participants representing Bible Colleges, church networks, mission agencies across Europe- with a huge percentage of people coming from the UK.
One of the visions for this conference was to gather missionaries, church leaders, students and practitioners seeking to be involved in diaspora mission in the UK, and across Europe. The goal was that these groups of people would enhance collaboration and learn from one another, with the hope of increasing the impact of evangelizing Europe with the Gospel of Christ.
The presence of Rev. Joel Edwards as a plenary speaker was a great blessing. He offered great insights on the issue of diaspora and what it means to be of a diaspora status. In his first session, he offered an amateur overview of diaspora experiences in the context of Christian missionaries within the UK. His presentation included the vexed issue of immigration and migration, relating this with the story of Daniel as an immigrant in Babylon (Daniel 1). Just like Daniel, you find that most Christian missionaries come to the UK or Europe, by default with immigrant status. With this, Rev. Joel also pointed out how this can serve as a disadvantage because the people from the host country may not be very receptive. They may see immigrants as people who come to change their country and cause economic decline. Issues like rampant nationalism emerge and politicization of the migrant becomes prevalent. This was an interesting angle to take, as at the end of the session he posed the question– ‘How do diaspora communities in the UK reach out as missionaries if the people they are reaching out to do not receive or accept them?’
In the same measure, diaspora communities face the challenge of identity and belonging, especially with the desire to balance out the mother culture and the current culture they are in. Many find themselves with a deep desire to create a place of belonging in the new culture without drawing largely from the host culture. As a missionary, this is particularly hard because one of the avenues of reaching out to people in the host country is by largely being immersed in that culture and almost do things the way they do- at least for a while.
As much as the diaspora discussions were interesting, the other sessions involved missionaries across Europe sharing their experiences and stories. The stories shared were not only encouraging to the Christian community, but they allowed us to celebrate what God is doing across Europe. We had Pastor Tani Omideyi of Temple of Praise church in Liverpool, share his experience of pastoring a multicultural congregation in the UK. From his story, one could see how he has managed to lead the church in such a way that the host culture is acknowledged, while at the same time the diaspora communities have an equal voice. One of his greatest tools has been Rick Warren’s circles of commitment- community, crowd, congregation, committed and core (see the link to the diagram below). The idea is to know where your congregation members fall in these five categories, and the challenge is to formulate processes that move people from the outside inward. One of the ways Pst. Tani has done that is through the celebration of each culture represented in his congregation- through food, music, dressing and language.
Another fascinating story was from Pastor Peter Rong. Pst. Peter is a missionary originally from South Sudan to Romania. He has been in Romania for the past 28years and his passion for making Jesus known still burns brightly. He ministers at Spiritual Revival Baptist Church in Bucharest. His main message was that of sharing the Love of Jesus and truly making disciples of all nations. His stories include discipling and baptising people from Iran, Ethiopia, Romania and many other countries across eastern Europe. You can read more about Pastor Peter Rong’s story here https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/meet-sudanese-pastor-refugee-church-bucharest-180316002433075.html
One last story included that of Rita Rimkiene of World Café in Brunswick Baptist Church-Gloucester. Rita and her team have a heart for refugees and the homeless and one of the ways they show their love to these people is by building a community with them around food. Being a ‘stranger’ to this country herself, she understands the challenges of trying to navigate through so many things-including making friends and meaningful connections. One of the ways Rita and the team show love is by embodying hospitality, and that way they are able to bridge the physical and the spiritual needs of the people they reach out to. (http://www.brunswick-baptist.co.uk/the-world-cafe-gloucester/)
The conference also included group discussions (approximately 4 people in each group) and this created a bigger platform for everyone present to share their stories and network at a deeper level.
This conference sparked many good discussions and left most, if not all present, to think through diaspora mission and the issue of immigration. All in all, we should remember that migration is to be viewed as an opening for the evangelistic dimension of mission. As missionaries to the UK, and across Europe, our allegiance ought to be first to God, and then be Christ-like by showing love to the people we have been called to minister and serve. That to some extent may require us to enter the host culture with a humble posture and a willingness to learn first, before we engage in matters of discipleship.