Isa on the Diaspora Road
by John Becker and Paul Dzubinski
A conversation with John Becker and Paul Dzubinski.
Photo courtesy John Becker
Paul: My daughter nudged me. Her eyes sparkled and she had a smile on her face. The man we were talking to was a Muslim neighbor of ours who had a German accent. “Ve are here from Munich, yesterday are ve arrived.” I smiled too. My daughter and I both knew some German, so it was fun to listen to him. Talking with people from other countries opens a window on the world. Through that window, we see treasures to be discovered about so much and also about who Jesus is and how to live for him. Everyone experiences Jesus a little differently from us, and a person from another country even more so.
John: That reminds me of E. Stanley Jones’ book Christ of the Indian Road. He describes sharing Jesus with Indians. That experience caused him to see Jesus through the window of the Indians’ lives. He began to let go of the way he had always seen Jesus. He ended up setting aside some traditions and religious history in order to tell them about Christ.
In a similar way, in Christianity Rediscovered Vincent Donovan shares how he rediscovered Christianity by communicating the gospel through the means and traditions of the Masai of Africa and appreciating their “communal faith.” These are just two treasures from the rich lessons learned in gazing through the window of another person’s country and culture to see the gospel among foreign people on a foreign soil. The messenger is transformed and renewed by the recipients of the message.
This happened to us too. It’s beautiful when a new culture or community embraces the reality of the gospel. It is like a brand new flavor being introduced to the ice cream family—it looks, smells, and tastes unique, but it is still ice cream.
Paul: I really like your ice cream illustration. In Spain, there are gatherings of Muslims who are followers of Jesus. They don’t meet with Christians, but their gatherings focus on reading the New Testament, prayer, and on Jesus himself. It is a different “flavor of ice cream” because they have different needs and come from a different context.
John: I will never forget an experience one year while we were home in California. I was on my way to our church’s evening service when I noticed a Pakistani couple hitchhiking. I couldn’t pass this opportunity up so I pulled over and offered them a ride. I took a chance and asked if they wanted to join me for the service. To my surprise, they agreed. We got to church and found some seats.
The service started with the National Anthem since it was patriotic Sunday. I didn’t know what to do. The patriotism of the service only helped compound the presupposition that Christianity and America are one and the same thing—that to be American is to be Christian. It is very unlikely they got the message that Jesus loves Muslims. I never heard from the couple again and I don’t believe anyone from the church followed up with them.
Paul: That is the opposite of what we are talking about, isn’t it? There is nothing wrong with a church celebrating what God has done for the country in which they live. It can really be a good thing. But for the Pakistani couple you brought to church, it certainly did not help them.
John: Yes, but it is also true that most of our approaches to sharing our good news with Muslims are by inviting them into our Christian/American culture. We host homework clubs, English classes, play groups, and much more as a way to engage with others in our communities. All commendable efforts that meet felt needs. Yet when they want to take the relationship further and follow Jesus, they have to sacrifice quite a bit to be “one of us.”
When we focus on the programs and on helping them to adapt to our country, we miss the opportunity to see the grace of Jesus through their eyes. It is better to help them reach their goals of succeeding in their new lives and learning to see things the way they do. Both of these point them to the love of Jesus.
Paul: In a way, it is like a spiritual version of the book The 5 Love Languages. If you are used to an impersonal god, Jesus’ love is amazing. If you are used to gods that always need to be placated, Jesus is incredible because he seeks you out to show his love for you. It is a great chance to see how people understand Jesus’ love for them.
This opportunity is more available to us than ever. People are incredibly mobile. In fact, according to the United Nations Migration and Remittances Factbook, “More than 215 million people (ca 3% of the world’s population) live outside their countries of birth” (2011).
In the United States it is estimated that two million people from majority Hindu countries legally came to the U.S. in 2012. About the same number are estimated to come from Muslim majority countries as well. The graphic below shows which countries they came from and what the majority religion is in each country.
John: Let’s talk about who these people are and why they are moving. People who move around the globe are called diaspora peoples. Diaspora is a Greek word meaning “dispersion or scattering.” It describes ethnic communities or social groups that are dislocated from their home cultures, are on the move, or are in a transitional process of being scattered. Diaspora peoples are a global phenomenon with local implications.
In the news, they are generally thought of as people seeking a better life. They are also “forced” to resettlement due to expulsion, slavery, racism, or nationalistic conflicts. Today, diaspora people are often the result of what is called “push and pull forces” (Zaretsky 2010). For example, Thomas Friedman described East Indian Zippies as highly mobile, high-tech specialists who are pulled to the world outside of India as part of an Indian economic migration. These migrations of scattered people are presenting wonderful opportunities for evangelism right on our doorsteps (2010).
Other diaspora people may be:
• International travelers for study, business, tourism, or labor migration
• Political refugees from conflict • Displaced populations due to disasters
• A community experiencing social transition due to new cultural trends (Zaretsky 2010)
Generally speaking, the movement of peoples is from East to West and from South to North, to the eight wealthiest nations in the world. If we separate out the Muslim migrant communities, we have the following statistics:
|Muslim Neighbors In:||Making Up:||% of Population
in Host Country:
Paul: So, how can the good news of Jesus become a part of our Muslim neighbors’ lives and communities? Jesus loves them just as he does us. We should see them through the loving perspective of Jesus. After all, we want people to authentically walk with Jesus as his followers. We, too, can benefit from hearing how people from these different cultures come to understand Jesus. We can gain the deepened perspective on Jesus you mentioned regarding E. Stanley Jones’ experienced in India.
John: It is time for us to embrace missional living that is open to the world’s Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus scattered across America and in other countries. In our limited research we have found a few encouraging models from which to learn. Their premise is living as missional communities. The intent isn’t to evangelize in order to fill their churches with Muslim converts. Instead, they are in community, dying to their culture, and embracing new cultures.
Rather than inviting, they are going. There is no hidden agenda, no masking intentions. Transparency is a value. They are known as Christians who love Muslims. They act as people who bridge cultures to engage in dialogue. The fruit is new faith communities being born out of existing social networks.
A new organization called Peace-Catalyst International runs Peace Feasts in which they encourage people to replace fast food eating habits with slow food community gatherings in Middle Eastern/South Asian-style restaurants. Peace Feasts encourage people to be intentional about cultivating an appreciation for other cultures.
Paul: That sounds like a great way to start. I have a friend in Los Angeles who likes going to the festivals put on by different cultural and religious communities. He says the food is amazing, the music fascinating, and you can learn some great new cultural dances.
John: Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. That also means making friends with folks who may have difficulty speaking English or who are shy because they do not know our ways. Patience and kindness are in the fruit of God’s Spirit. An African brother of mine recently said, “It is difficult to practice kindness by yourself.”
Paul: As I think about our conversation, it seems like we are saying that by reaching out to diaspora people, especially to those of other religions, we
• Rediscover the person of Christ apart from the cultural trappings of Christendom • Learn other ways to live out our faith
• Discover that the process of seeing Jesus through the window of another’s perspective transforms us as well
There are treasures to be discovered about Christ and how to live for him when you engage with people from other cultures.
Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011. Accessed August 30, 2013, from http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/migration-and-remittances.
Wan, Enoch. 2010. “Diaspora Missiology.” Paper presented at Tokyo 2010 Mission Consultation, May.
Zaretsky, Tuvya. 2010. “Glocalization, Diaspora Missiology, and Friendship Evangelism.” Lausanne World Pulse. May. Accessed June 30, 2014, from www.lausanneworldpulse.com/themedarticles.php/1280/05-2010.
John Becker has been serving diaspora peoples in Africa, Europe, and North America for the past twenty years. He is the international coordinator of Vision 5:9 and director of ministries for AIM International.
Paul Dzubinski is the leader of the RDW Launch Lab, which is the innovation lab for Frontier Mission Fellowship. He has been serving diaspora peoples for many years and has done church planting in Europe.
EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 1 pp. 80-85. Copyright © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.