Several years ago, a missions group in the UK working with international businesspeople from the Far East had a frustrating problem: only about 20% of those who came to faith and were discipled in England remained in contact with believers when they returned to their homeland. That’s actually the global average for returnees.
They created a study task force and identified several factors. One of the crucial components was communication patterns between the ministry partners in the UK and the homeland. They created systems of communication and cooperation across regions, along with other changes. Soon nearly 80% of the returnees remained active in homeland fellowships. Changing an organizational pattern or system was an important part of the answer.
The Missing Middle
If you pick up a recent tome on diaspora missions, it will deal with diaspora missiology or practice but very little has been written to help missions-sending organizations engage effectively with global migration. Yet all around the globe, missions-sending entities are organizing themselves for diaspora engagement, whether it be a missions agency, church denomination, or ministry network. The NextMove network, a ministry of Frontier Ventures, lives in this organizational space, the missing middle of diaspora missions study.
Good organizations are a gift to mankind. The modern missions movement quickly created sending societies such as the Baptist Missionary Society that sent William Carey to India. For two hundred years these sending organizations have focused on the cultural homelands of the people they seek to serve. This geographic field structure was a reasonable expression for missions organizations in its time. But the world has changed.
The recent technological advances in transportation, communication, and global economics have created an unparalleled surge in migration. Missions-sending groups, both western and from the Majority World, seek the means to engage with this new phenomenon which leads to deep change for organizational philosophy, structure, and resources. The NextMove network is a peer-learning community for those tasked with bringing their sending organizations into the world of global migration.
For many ministries this time of increased religious restriction in the Chinese mainland has sparked a heightened interest in the Chinese diaspora. Here are four questions for your sending group that have been an important part of our NextMove learning curve.
Four Questions for Your Sending Organization
First, is there organizational clarity concerning what God has called the ministry to do in the Chinese diaspora?
Answering this question has different parts. We begin by gaining an adequate understanding of the nature of the Chinese diaspora. It is one of the oldest, largest, and most complex diasporas. It varies greatly around the world. Chinese communities have existed in the Philippines for centuries and have a rich Christian heritage. But in Africa the growing Chinese population is new and mostly unreached.
Next, there must be an awareness of God’s calling for the missions organization. Is there an organizational commitment to missions in migration? Is this commitment siloed among a few ministry teams or widespread throughout the organization? Is there a process in place, such as a ministry task force, to promote change?
For groups working among the Chinese, once migration is seen as an essential part of the ministry, it becomes possible to further refine their calling. Is the focus on an unreached Chinese people group in migration, helping to strengthen Chinese diaspora churches, mobilizing local host populations to reach the Chinese diaspora, or perhaps mobilizing the Chinese diaspora churches for missions back to the mainland, other diaspora locations, or even to other people groups.
One of our NextMove partners is a network of diaspora ministries in a southeast Asian country. This network contains a large cohort of Chinese churches. With seven million immigrants, mostly unreached, now living in this country, the network has focused its energies within the country’s boundaries. They perceive a clear call to mobilize workers to stay in country and reach the nations God has brought to them.
Second, is there organizational alignment around this diaspora engagement?
Diaspora missions can fit into any organizational structure if there is an intentionality to create and maintain systems essential for working with dispersed populations. What is not helpful is to assume that the structures and procedures that were adequate for geographic-focused missions just need a little tweaking. Diaspora missions, from necessity, means there is a consciousness about, and connection with, places around the world outside of the immediate ministry location. Local concerns and time constraints tend to push global connectivity into the background unless there are intentional procedures in place that foster communication and cooperation across the ministry regions.
One of the goals in my own ministry organization is to identify and resource a diaspora champion within each of our ministry teams. This person’s responsibility is to create connections not only with the cultural homelands, but also with other diaspora locations of the people/affinity group. Embedded in a global web of trusted broker relationships, the champion has the opportunity to learn about, and cooperate with, ministry flows around the world. It is likely that future leaders within the people group are coming to Christ and being discipled somewhere else in the world. Without systems of communication and cooperation local ministries will be ignorant of what God is sending their way.
Resourcing and Retraining
Third, has the organization resourced its people to work in the world of global migration?
The simple truth is that missions in global migration can be substantially different from missions in the cultural homelands.
All cultures experience generational change, but generational change in diaspora settings is on steroids. Not only are there important differences between first, second, and third generations in migration contexts, but personal and group identities are also in flux. Even in the best of settings, migration brings increased levels of personal and family difficulty. These and other factors call for a learning process for those working among people on the move.
Those who have been accustomed to working in the cultural homelands will face different challenges in the diaspora. Something as simple as providing a good Bible translation can become complex. Not long ago I sat with a diaspora family in a Middle Eastern city. At the dinner table were the couple’s two teenage daughters, and in the conversation, I asked what languages they used every day? At home, the parents’ mother tongue; with teen friends on the street, it was English; at the private school they attended all classes were in French. They were partially fluent in three languages, but not completely fluent in any. What Bible should they use?
Resourcing and retraining for diaspora contexts embraces such topics as personal and group identity change in transnational contexts, generational issues, social media engagement, legal and economic advocacy, reciprocal flows of gospel influence between the homeland and diaspora locations, hospitality issues, returnee issues, and many others.
Fourth, what are the markers along the way that indicate the ministry is on the right path?
When entering into any new area of ministry it is difficult assess progress. But the failure to wisely evaluate typically leads to accumulating vanity metrics, such as counting activities instead of genuine disciples.
It is generally the organization’s leadership that makes evaluation an essential part of its culture. If periodic evaluation and the permission to learn from success and failure are expected ministry components, then teams can begin to establish evaluation markers that fit their context.
This need to learn what are the right evaluative questions is a motivating factor for missions organizations to be part of peer-learning networks, such as NextMove. Learning in a network is an open-loop feedback system that increases the likelihood of generating an objective evaluation.
These four questions can be captured with the CARR acronym that stands for Clarity, Alignment, Resources, and Results. The NextMove network works with western and majority world missions organizations as they work through these four areas of investigation.
Please contact us at NextMove if we can be of assistance to your ministry as it engages with the global diaspora.
Director of Research and Consulting, NextMove John Baxter is the founder of NextMove and an international catalyst for the Global Diaspora Network (a Lausanne interest group). John also serves as the director of Diaspora Initiatives for Converge International Ministries, diaspora advisor for Missio Nexus, and an adjunct professor for missions at …View Full Bio
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