Diaspora missions is fast becoming a buzzword among Christian missions around the world.
While it may sound new to many Christians, “diaspora” is in fact a very old phenomenon since the Old Testament times. This word originates from the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, meaning “dispersion or scattering” of the Jews after their captivity in Babylonia in the 5th century BC.
Fast forward to the modern times, the last century has witnessed an unprecedented spike in both international and internal migration largely due to globalization, technological advancement, natural disasters, regional conflicts, civil wars, oppression, and persecution. The effects of the current conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere are even more pronounced, resulting in the human tidal waves of refugees and displaced people flooding across Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia. As if history is repeating itself, the worst-hit refugee crisis area happens to be the very same area where the ancient Babylonian empire once existed.
Christian mission “fields” are thus being redefined in the process. Missions is no longer confined to going into fields that are abroad or elsewhere to reach the unreached. Thanks to people movements across the globe, many unreached peoples from overseas are now part of the diasporas right at our very doorsteps. Therefore, cross-cultural missions can now be done without going abroad. Missions has become “from everywhere to everywhere!”
Discussions about diaspora missions in Malaysia today mostly centre around migrant ministries, particularly among migrant workers who come from Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. Official statistics indicate that in 2015, Malaysia has over 2.5 million migrants representing 8.29% of the resident population. Over one million Indonesians and 358,000 Bangladeshis are working in Malaysia. Those from Myanmar, Nepal, India and Vietnam make up 250,000, 200,000, 133,000, and 82,000 respectively. These figures, however, do not include many who have overstayed or are here illegally.
Migrants, whether legal or illegal, economic or non-economic, voluntary or involuntary, are mostly made up of expatriate workers (professionals, skilled and unskilled labour), businesspeople, international students, asylum seekers and refugees. Professional expatriate workers, businesspeople, and international students are obviously most welcomed and desired by governments because of their financial contributions to the local economy through their expenditures and student fees. In recent years the number of undocumented migrants (including victims of war and persecution) have also increased, helped by porous borders with neighbouring countries, human trafficking syndicates and corruption.
What does this mean to the Church and the individual Christian? What are the implications? Clearly, it is an issue that cannot be ignored or taken for granted. The mission field is already right here at our very doorsteps!
The Church has a responsibility to love her neighbours as herself and proclaim the Good News in fulfilment of the Missio Dei. We are called to be compassionate and care for the “aliens” who are in our midst, especially the less fortunate. We are also called not to harbour any racial discrimination or religious prejudices that prevent us from demonstrating God’s love to them regardless of their status. Many are refugees, international students and migrant workers who could be struggling with loneliness, homesickness, financial woes, hopelessness, fears, trauma and uncertainties about their future. They probably just need a friend to talk to and someone who cares about them.
We truly want to see them gathered into the Kingdom of God. So we want to challenge you – will you pray for us and partner with us in our mission to share God’s message of love and salvation to them? Will you be Christ’s ambassador to them so that they will meet and encounter Christ through you?
Perhaps you would like to encounter Jesus Christ by personally meeting and serving these people. After all, Jesus himself was once a refugee too! He said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40).
Philip Chang is the Chair of Interserve Malaysia.