Today's piece is written by Rev. Dr. Jacob Dharmaraj, President of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists.
Having a conversation about the current global diaspora in order to find a speedy solution is like trying to nail JELL-O on a tree, as everything about human diaspora is fluid and flowing. That was how I felt recently when I was in Washington D.C., for the denomination’s Immigration Task Force meeting.
There is much complexity in the cause, process, and consequence of the phenomena of global diaspora, and no single discipline can enable us to explain the cause or offer solutions. Diaspora mission is interdisciplinary, vast and varied. It involves national geography, cultural anthropology, political demography, mass communication, globalization, urbanization, ethnic and race relations, and active participation of multi-religious groups and communal agents at all levels. Most importantly, diaspora mission is multi-directional and it demands multilevel coordination and collaboration.
Now that the global community has come to realize that the governments around the world must act immediately to alleviate the sufferings of the immigrants, refugees and asylum speakers, The United Methodist Church, along with its ecumenical partners and connectional components, is also determined to step in and take an active role in this vital ministry.
Diaspora and Migration
Migration is a phenomenon that has accompanied humanity since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. But the recent forced migration has been accelerated by modern day globalization, wars, natural disasters, and intense persecution of vulnerable minorities on account of their religious convictions and racial or ethnic identities. Today a little over three percent the world's population live in a country other than where they were born. That is estimated at 250 million, up from 195 million in 2005. Females account for 49 percent of the total. Six out of every ten international migrants reside today in developed countries, and the majority of those originated in developing countries. This reality has deep implications not only for interactions among peoples and their religious beliefs but on Christian mission as well.
Diasporic mission is relatively a new area of mission engagement for the church, as it defies conventional modes of mission engagement which is lineal and mono-directional; sending rather than receiving, absorption rather than incorporation, assimilation rather than amalgamation. Unlike traditional mission, diaspora mission puts human physical needs ahead of spiritual needs; advocacy ahead of evangelism, and contextualization ahead of church planting.
Diaspora mission operates from a non-spatial, transnational, global, and "de-territorialized” zone. The missional approach, therefore, is mobile and flexible. In other words, the site of mission engagement in diasporic context is without social, cultural and religious boundaries, which are normative in traditional mission activities.
Believers Being In-Betweeners
The current cultural, social, linguistic and religious divides are a formidable and complicated ball of wax. They call for people who have both skill and will to transcend culture, language, and other barriers; those who can serve as “in-betweeners,” to build bridges of understanding, mediate relationships, and negotiate partnerships in ministry,” as Paul Hiebert, a missionary and a mission theologian says.
What our changed world expects from the church today is to focus its attention from mere relief work to justice and advocacy ministries beginning from addressing the root causes of the problem.
The changed world demands a changed methodology. Just like the government agencies alert and prepare people and nations from around the world long before tsunami, tornado, earthquake, and all forms of natural disasters occur, or even before medical epidemic and human health crises break out, Christian mission groups can set up one or more research centers and prepare an ongoing data-base to alert the appropriate mission agencies and groups about the looming or emerging problems. It can be accomplished easily in collaboration with our ecumenical partners and secular prophets like environmentalists, human-rights activists and others. I am not saying that this is a utopian project but at least, it will help those who are interested in the future of the church.
In the final analysis, diasporic mission is not about doing the same thing in a better way. Better is a mirage. It keeps us tethered to the same way of doing like others do. Better is temporary. It is a flimsy edge that can be tumbled. Diasporic mission is all about avoiding the crises to take epic proportions. Addressing the root causes of the problem is to strive for long term solutions and avoid band-aid relief.