Diaspora communities, or “scattered people,” are all around us. They may have moved to our communities as immigrants, sought safety as refugees, come to study as students, or traveled to work in seasonal jobs.
As people move throughout the world, we constantly come in contact with people who may dress differently than us, speak a different language, and eat different food. People from a variety of cultures and faith backgrounds are no longer living across the ocean—they are living across town, across the street, or right next door.
“We can't help but come across people in the diaspora. How we react to them, and what we say, is part of our Christian witness today,” said Greg Sinclair, a Resonate Global Mission diaspora ministry leader who leads the Journeys into Friendship network.
Here are just a few reasons why diaspora ministry is an important focus for the Christian Reformed Church in North America:
1. We are a diaspora faith community.
When we perceive so many differences on the surface, it’s easy to separate ourselves as “us” and “them”—but it’s important to remember our shared identities. God’s people are people of the diaspora.
“When I think of diaspora ministry, I am reminded of our ancestors in the faith, Abraham and Sarah, who received God's command to leave their home, family, and nation and follow God to a new land where he would make them a blessing and a light to all the peoples of the earth. Throughout their history, God's people have always been a diaspora people, scattered among the nations,” said Zachary King, director of Resonate.
You might also know that the term “diaspora” has evolved from its early meaning as “the dispersion of Jewish people beyond Israel.” The early church emerged from the Jewish diaspora.
2. The Christian Reformed Church in North America emerged from the diaspora.
“Just as the Christian church in the first century emerged from the Jewish diaspora, so was the Christian Reformed Church birthed from a diaspora of Dutch immigrants,” said Ken Bieber, pastor of outreach and discipleship at River Terrace Church in East Lansing, Michigan.
Our faith is not the only thing that lends us an identity as diaspora people. Believers who started the first Christian Reformed churches were also people living in a new land, and many members today have descended from these families.
3. The Christian Reformed Church in North America is growing through diaspora communities.
As people move throughout the world, the Christian Reformed Church in North America is growing as a diverse body of Christ. One of the fastest ways the denomination is growing, both in diversity and in numbers, is through ethnic minority church plants.
“Many of our newest ministries are ethnically diverse church plants,” said Peter Kelder, Resonate’s regional mission leader in the Central USA region. “Hospitality to them includes opening our church buildings to diverse worshipping groups.”
4. We have the opportunity to share the gospel.
Diaspora ministry is important because as people move throughout the world, they may have the opportunity to hear the gospel for the first time.
“So many people are now in our cities and neighborhoods who have never heard clearly the gospel message,” said Ray De Lange, who serves as a Resonate missionary reaching a people group from a Muslim background in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Evangelism has gotten a bad reputation in the past. That’s one of the reasons many Christians might believe that people from other faith backgrounds aren’t open to the message of the gospel. And while some people may not be open to faith in Christ, many people are—when the gospel is shared in a loving and caring way, in both words and actions.
“This means that there is an unprecedented time opportunity for the Christian church to show and tell the good news to the world,” said David Kromminga. Kromminga and Mary Buteyn are planting a church with and for refugees in Berlin.
5. In fact, it’s a ‘kairos’ moment to share the gospel.
Not only do Christians have new opportunities to share the gospel with diaspora ministries, but it might be a kairos moment—a critical or opportune time. Paul Yu, Resonate’s regional mission leader for East and Central Asia, said that people who move are in a time of transition and may be especially open to new ideas and beliefs.
“While in transition, they are more flexible and more open to new ideas, faith, and ways of life while holding on to their traditional way of life, such as culture and language,” said Yu.
Yu said that it can be difficult to share the gospel in countries throughout the world, especially countries with strong ties to Islam. A few of his family members have served as missionaries in Syria for 20 years and have only seen one person accept Christ.
“It is so hard to do the mission work there, but when the Syrians are in Europe or in North America, they are all of sudden open to new ideas,” said Yu.
DeLange has witnessed this in his ministry among people from a Muslim background, too: “Many in our Middle Eastern people group who now live in the West are truly curious and interested in Christianity, a faith which was a taboo area for them in their country of origin,” he said.
6. We are called to care for our neighbors.
“In our world today, people have continued to move and become scattered all around the world, either voluntarily and based on their own decision, or involuntarily due to forced migration as a result of wars, political turmoil, and/or poor socio-economic living conditions,” said Sylvie Charliekaram, who works with refugees in Toronto and started Spiritual Growth Ministry with her husband, Nassar Zand. Through Nassar and Sylvie, Willowdale CRC in Toronto, has celebrated the baptisms of dozens of Farsi-speakers in their church.
Charliekaram notes that people who are moving to another country, especially if they are fleeing their homes as refugees, face many challenges. She describes seeking refuge as being “stranded hopelessly in a foreign land.” As Christians, we have an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ and care well for our new neighbors.
“Thousands of people come through the borders and find themselves living in the diaspora, and they have needs,” said Charliekaram. “They need to hear the good news of the gospel, they need to learn about the unconditional and everlasting love of God, and they need to be cared for and nurtured as our neighbors.”
That includes both in our words and actions. Many CRC established churches, church plants, missionaries, and other ministry leaders have stepped up to help immigrants and refugees navigate the new governmental structures and culture.
7. We can learn so much from diaspora communities.
“Not only does God teach us in the Word to welcome and help the ‘stranger,’ but God often teaches us through those who we connect with from other countries and cultures,” said Diane Averill, who serves as a local mission leader with Resonate.
At Resonate, we like to say that “mission is from everywhere to everywhere.” We can learn a lot from people who come from different walks of life, including how to pray. In fact, one of the reasons Christian Reformed Home Missions and Christian Reformed World Missions joined to form Resonate is so that we can all learn from one another about God and what it means to follow the Holy Spirit on mission.
“We are limited in our understanding of the Scriptures and the character of God due to our one culture understanding … with being more diverse, we grow in our view of God and God’s Word,” said Carla Bieber, a Resonate local mission leader.
“Diaspora ministry is important for the church because we live in areas that are constantly changing,” said Laura Osborne, who serves as a campus minister at International Campus Ministry, a Resonate partner at Western Michigan University in Michigan. Laura also works with the Reformed Church of America and helps to lead Resonate’s Journeys into Friendship network.
“Our neighbors look, speak, and maybe believe differently than us and it is a beautiful thing,” she said. “It can also be intimidating, so we need to work together to help educate each other.”
We work better together! Here are the ways you can get involved in diaspora ministry:
Prayer is so important for diaspora ministry. Pray that the Holy Spirit will prepare hearts to hear the gospel message, open people’s minds to the truth of the gospel, and provide opportunities for believers to share the good news of Jesus. You can sign up to receive weekly prayer requests from Resonate ministry leaders here.
Resonate ministry leaders are sharing the gospel with people from a variety of cultures and faiths every day—but they cannot do it alone. Your support is critical for this work. You can financially support diaspora ministry here.
3. Join Resonate’s Journeys into Friendship network.
Are you interested in bridging cultural divides and building friendships with people from a culture that is different from your own? Resonate's Journeys into Friendship network is a community of people who are dedicated to building relationships with people from a variety of cultures and faiths and learning how to best share the love of Christ with them. You can learn more and get involved here.