Blog Entries

Where to Work in the Diaspora?

Before COVID-19, my agency had a global worker in western China who was involved with a minority people group. He had to leave during the pandemic and found it difficult to return afterwards. So we began a conversation concerning where, in this group’s global diaspora presence, would be a good place to work?

Where should we work in the diaspora? Typically, there are many possible locations to choose from, so how do we decide?

In one sense local churches have an easier time knowing what to do. Local churches have a geographic obligation, in that they have responsibility for whomever God sends into their area of influence. When I was a pastor in the United States during the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s, several hundred Bosnians moved into proximity to my church congregation. God sent them to us. It was simply a question of whether we could see what God was doing.

Mission-sending organizations have a different sense of calling in their diaspora work. There are usually many places for possible engagement with any given people group. My fellow agency worker could easily identify several places in southeast Asia to engage the group he was called to. But how to decide: Population numbers, ease of people group access, potential fellow mission workers and networks, or other factors?

Mission-sending organizations have limited personnel and resources to invest. How should they make good decisions? Instead of a clear obligation, such as churches have to their locale, agencies must use a process of discernment.

Acts 16 gives us an example of a discernment process. While seeing a vision may not be the means God uses every time, the principle is the same—where is God working? Paul had a good strategy to continue his work in Asia Minor, but God was working in Macedonia and invited Paul to join him. Henry Blackaby, in his study series called Experiencing God, popularized this idea of asking God where he was already working and joining him in his work

Access and Openness

Not all diaspora locations are the same. The primary mission values in the diaspora are access and openness. Access refers to the extent of meaningful engagement with a people group in a migration location. Openness refers to degree of receptivity among the migrating group to new friendships, experiences, and ideas—most importantly, the gospel.

The same people group will have differing experiences depending on the local context. There are places in diaspora situations in which an unreached people group is highly resistant to the gospel because of their interactions with the host population. There are also diaspora situations in which cross-cultural workers have little contact with the selected people group because they, the workers, are secluded in Western business compounds.

Just because there are large numbers of the migrating group in a locale does not guarantee God is working there. While God may clearly lead global workers to resistant locations, I believe, when possible, we should seek to find those diaspora contexts where the gospel is being received.

Focusing on the twin values of access and openness does not exclude other decision-making factors, such as population size, the extent of flows of influence back and forth from the diaspora location and the homeland, the number of returnees to the homeland, or the availability of local mission resources which may be in the form of local partner churches, the local majority world Christian diaspora presence, or other mission groups. While all these factors should be weighed, prioritizing locations where there is evidence of God at work is wise.

Mapping and Tracking

To find these locations is a combination of what we might call mapping and tracking. Mapping is the use of publicly accessible data. Internet searches of relevant census and migration information can create a list of possible engagement locations.

Tracking those locations where God is at work revolves around personal relationships. These relationships develop within trusted broker networks. Much of the relevant diaspora information we seek to know is not on the internet. It resides in the people on the ground who are either working with or are members of diaspora populations.

Often these local workers are hesitant to share their knowledge with people they do not know. A trusted broker network can partially overcome this hesitancy by connecting the global worker, who is seeking to learn about a particular location, with local workers, who are intimately involved with the local diaspora population. Trusted brokers represent nodes of diaspora missions involvement to the larger missions world. For example, many mission sending agencies have diaspora specialists who are known and trusted by all the agency workers ministering in diaspora contexts. I represent that position in my own agency. I can help connect workers outside of my agency to our diaspora workers in any of our ministry locations.

The trusted broker vets both ends of the connection. They learn about the individual seeking information and can pass that desire for connection along to the local diaspora worker. Both parties can then begin a relationship and build appropriate levels of trust and sharing.

For example, let’s say a mission group wanted to investigate whether God is working among Syrian refugees in Athens. They would be wise to reach out to people they already know in other mission agencies and networks such as the Refugee Highway Partnership. Those people in the agencies and networks can pass the request throughout their network because they know and trust the one asking. It could be that someone in the network knows of a majority world diaspora church in Athens involved with Syrian refugees and can facilitate a fruitful link.

Trusted broker networks are informal and are built through years of cultivating contacts and relationships globally. One of the most important things a missions group can do is to empower people in their agencies to build informal global networks that can be shared with all their global workers.

Working through trusted broker networks is an important step, but eventually there must be boots on the ground to gather more information for deployment decisions. Sending a scouting team to diaspora locations before committing large numbers of people and resources is typically a good idea.

These three steps—creating a potential map from public information, connecting with local workers through trusted broker networks, and sending a scout team—may very well save global workers a great deal of frustration and help lead them to places where God is presently at work.

In our NextMove network we liken this discernment process with looking for oil. Oil exploration companies will consult the known public information about the geology of a potential location. Then they run tests such as recording shock waves they create through the geological layers. Finally, they will drill a series of test wells.

All of this is done before major investment is made in a specific location. In the same way, we can gather publicly accessible information on a diaspora location, then we can run tests on the location by connecting with local workers, and finally we can drill a test well by sending a scouting team.

This is the discernment process we recommend to our NextMove partner agencies. If you or your agency are considering ministry among the Chinese diaspora and would like to talk about how this process could help you, please contact us at NextMove.

Share to Social Media
Image credit: Jéan Béller via Unsplash.
John Baxter

John Baxter

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

Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.