You may notice from my previous posts that I frequent the coffee shop in my neighbourhood. True, I can have a cup of coffee at home. Why then do I head out to the coffee shop on a near daily basis?The neighbourhood cafe is a place of connection. It is a communal place where people pause from their busy days to share a space. Oftentimes, at the coffee shop strangers will strike up conversations. Sometimes, strangers will become friends.
So today at my local coffee shop, as I write this blog, I have already said “good morning” to some other morning regulars of our neighbourhood café—a couple of middle-aged South Asians and a table of South Americans. “Good to see you again. How is life? Are you ready for winter?”
It may seem easy to connect with the “scattered people,” but I have often heard the question, “How can we reach the immigrants in our community?”
To clarify, “Migrants” are “scattered people”; some are voluntarily, while many are involuntarily. For this post, I refer to international or global migrants or “externally-displaced” people; however, every community has internally-displaced people who must also be reached. “Immigrants” are specifically people who have “arrived in” a country from another country.
So what do we have to do to reach people in our community? I would like to direct readers to the Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town Commitment section on “scattered peoples,” but allow me to propose three initial steps:
- Ask God for open eyes, an open heart, and open arms. Obvious? It is unfortunate that this step is often overlooked, but it is the most important. How can we propose to reach others with the love of Jesus Christ if we have not been inspired to do so? We will need to seek the heart of Jesus before moving on to the next steps.
- Throw out the stereotypes, particularly in this time with the news highlighting the plight of millions of asylum seekers (refugees). Appreciate the lives beyond the stereotypes. We may meet visible minorities in our community who look different, come to the conclusion that they are immigrants, and proceed to communicate with faulty preconceived notions of their backgrounds. A couple of years ago, my surgeon was a recent immigrant from Armenia. His assistant was a PhD student from Iran. They were educated and influential. In my city, I have met many immigrants from all parts of the globe—India, China, and Somalia, Ireland, Serbia, and Poland. Many immigrants are needy and some come from developing regions. Others are highly educated and may be quite sophisticated and wealthy. Immigrants come from varied backgrounds with a myriad of experiences that cannot be condensed into easy generalizations.
- Put yourself out there. When I suggest that the world has come to our doorsteps and to our backyards, I do not mean for us to sit at home waiting and watching through our windows. We need to go to our community centres—local libraries, parks, or neighbourhood cafes. We must be available to make connections and friendships.
Now we can move on to the practical suggestions of the Cape Town Commitment:
Love Reaches Out to Scattered Peoples
People are on the move as never before. Migration is one of the great global realities of our era. It is estimated that 200 million people are living outside their countries of origin, voluntarily or involuntarily. The term ‘diaspora’ is used here to mean people who have relocated from their lands of birth for whatever reason. Some relocate permanently, and others, like three million international students and scholars, temporarily. Vast numbers of people from many religious backgrounds, including Christians, live in diaspora conditions: economic migrants seeking work; internally-displaced peoples because of war or natural disaster; refugees and asylum seekers; victims of ethnic cleansing; people fleeing religious violence and persecution; famine sufferers – whether caused by drought, floods, or war; victims of rural poverty moving to cities. We are convinced that contemporary migrations are within the sovereign missional purpose of God, without ignoring the evil and suffering that can be involved.
- A) We encourage Church and mission leaders to recognize and respond to the missional opportunities presented by global migration and diaspora communities, in strategic planning, and in focused training and resourcing of those called to work among them.
- B) We encourage Christians in host nations which have immigrant communities and international students and scholars of other religious backgrounds to bear counter-cultural witness to the love of Christ in deed and word, by obeying the extensive biblical commands to love the stranger, defend the cause of the foreigner, visit the prisoner, practise hospitality, build friendships, invite into our homes, and provide help and services.
- C) We encourage Christians who are themselves part of diaspora communities to discern the hand of God, even in circumstances they may not have chosen, and to seek whatever opportunities God provides for bearing witness to Christ in their host community and seeking its welfare. Where that host country includes Christian churches, we urge immigrant and indigenous churches together to listen and learn from one another, and to initiate co-operative efforts to reach all sections of their nation with the gospel.
May we Christians be known for our love of our “neighbours,” and may we welcome scattered peoples in Jesus’ name.