Diaspora in the Workplace: Scattering of People and the Mission of God


Editor's Note: This advance paper relates to an afternoon session at the Lausanne Global Workplace Forum and is intended to facilitate interaction on the topic prior to the gathering in June 2019. GWF Participants are encouraged to use the discussion area at the bottom of the page. The authors of the papers will be monitoring the discussion to help shape their related session at GWF. (See all GWF Advance Papers)

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The Lausanne Catalysts for Diasporas are Sam George and Sadiri Joy Tira. Learn more about this issue network.


Human migration is a global reality today and has become one of the most defining issues of our times all over the world. At the beginning of the 21st century, more people live and move about in places other than where they were born, either voluntarily or forcibly. Some move in pursuit of economic or educational opportunities, while others are forced to flee famine, wars, poverty or persecution. The recent advances in technologies of transport, telecommunication, and Internet as well as new global realities of trade, labor, and finances are causing unparalleled human mobility from everywhere to everywhere.

The ever-increasing cross-border flow of money, information, goods, and people are not going to halt any time soon, despite the emergence of new barriers and laws that try to curtail people movements. It might slow down at some places and change directions in other regions, but it cannot be entirely stopped. Human dispersion has reached record levels in history and is essentially transforming societies, economies, nation-states, and even churches in profound ways. For sending countries, immigration raises concerns of ‘brain-drain’ on one hand, but also creates hopes of remittance and knowledge transfer by fostering human and economic development in ancestral homelands. For receiving countries, new immigrants alter the sociocultural, financial, and political landscape, while struggling with integration and citizenry.

The people movement is very significant to Christianity since it has reshaped the faith throughout its history. There is an inextricable interconnection between migration and mission because dispersed people have always been a causative factor for the advancement and decline of Christian faith in different places and times. God is sovereign over human dispersion and is moving powerfully among dispersed people everywhere. The scattering brings people closer to the gospel of Jesus Christ and diasporization is creating new momentum for the furtherance of the gospel globally. Christianity has always been on the move as it can never be held captive to any people, culture, or geography. The new heartlands of Christian faith in the Global South are scattering its people at unprecedented levels and becoming a mission force worldwide.  

Globalization of work

As people and capital move, work also moves from place to place. People move for better prospects and work moves for cheaper labor and proximity to natural resources or markets. The nature of modern work, workers, and workplaces have been greatly transformed on account of global migration and the increased human mobility is transforming the realities of work and the labor force globally. The recent advances in hardware, software, bandwidth, and data have made it easier, quicker, and cheaper for businesses to interact with employees, suppliers, and customers in real time. The latest tools like smartphones, social media, and hypermobility are aiding long-term and long-distance mass migration. The growing trends of outsourcing, 24x7 work cycles, artificial intelligence and multinational teams continue to transform the nature of work itself. The increased efficiency in information dissemination helps to spread innovation quickly and also eliminates many middle-level activities.

Work-related migration constitutes the largest share of the migrant population of the world and many economies are utterly dependent on foreign workers, while many families and economies are reliant on remittances. Without adequate support and representation, migrants become victims of exploitative systems in foreign lands. Many are forced to work longer hours with lesser remunerations in hazardous conditions than their peers in the host nations while others suffer in oppressive, unfair, and discriminatory working environments. The crossing of geographical and cultural boundaries for safety, opportunity, and progress comes with enormous burdens to displaced people, and migrants grieve over losses suffered by displacement while not fitting fully into the host society. The wanderings take a psychological toll over long periods of time and the future generations wrestle with identity confusion, intense longing for belonging, and divided loyalties.

Workplaces have become more diverse as workers are recruited from distant shores and many jobs and services are becoming obsolete or replaced by intelligent machines. The factories in China and software companies of India compete for workers globally, while workers in service-sector jobs and farming in agrarian regions come from far and wide from rural areas within the country and around the world. Housemaids of Arabian palaces, construction workers in major metropolises, and retail clerks in slick showrooms come from faraway places. Some are concerned that foreigners steal well-paying jobs from locals and migrant workers increase the crime rate and diseases in the host society. Others argue about unemployment, sweatshops, human trafficking, and prostitution that go with migration. The proponents of globalization claim that it helps developing nations to grow their economies through increased employment and transfer of technology, while many critics of globalization argue that it weakens national sovereignty and results in the loss of some of its most valuable natural and human resources to foreigners. The pull factors of migration such as better income and living conditions, educational and economic opportunity, or lure by friends and social media, and the push factors such as poverty, insecurity, violence, famine, natural disasters, ethnic cleansing, persecution, and armed conflicts will continue to propel people to explore gainful employment and safety in lands far beyond their own.

Diasporas and God’s mission

Diaspora is a Greek word meaning, ‘scattering or dispersion’. Although the word appears only a few times in the Bible, scattering is a major biblical mega-theme running across its pages. It occurs recurrently in many different forms in the Old and New Testaments such as expulsion, wandering, alien, exodus, exile, sojourners, strangers, etc. The Bible is essentially a tapestry woven together with stories of migration, and can be deemed as a metanarrative of the diaspora. Most of the biblical characters were migrants such as Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, Ruth, Jesus, and Paul, and they all had a significant influence upon the world of their times and beyond. The theme of uprooting and displacement runs like a subtext of the entire biblical narrative, and the concept is indispensable in understanding the growth and expansion of Christian faith throughout its history.

Soon after the birth of Christianity at Pentecost (Acts 2), Roman persecution forced the followers of Christ in Jerusalem to be dispersed all over the Mediterranean world and ‘the scattered believers preached the good news of Jesus wherever they went’ (Acts 8:4). The Jewish diaspora locations of the first century determined the trajectory of early Christian growth and expansion. At those diasporic sites, the gospel diffused across cultural lines to include Gentiles, and it traveled further along the Roman roads using the Greek language into the entire Hellenized world. Then it moved further beyond, across linguistic and cultural lines, and the center of gravity of Christianity shifted westward and eventually made great strides into Europe, but it also declined in its former centers in the regions of Palestine, Asia Minor, and North Africa with the rise of Islam. The Protestant Reformation brought significant growth of Christianity in Europe and resulted in the dispersion of millions out of Europe. The scale and spread of migratory flows reached new heights, beyond any historical precedence at the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and the 19th century and set in motion a massive transfer of population from rural to urban areas within and across national borders. Some 12 million African slaves were taken across the Atlantic in the 17th century, and after slavery was abolished, the indentured labor system displaced tens of millions to European colonial plantations across the world. The great century of Western missionary expansion (1814 – 1915) involved migration of millions of Europeans, most of whom were economic migrants, and this migratory surge also made Christianity look European in many parts of the world.

Migration, both voluntary and involuntary, has played a huge and determinative role in the development and expansion of Christianity. From the very beginning, Christian faith and migratory movement have been closely intertwined. The early Christians were largely migrants and operated from societal, economic, political, and religious margins. Uprooted-transplanted people experience homelessness and alienation which leads to making a bold new commitment and assuming faith in a very personal way. The marginal locations of the new believers became new centers of the Christian movement, which in turn produced many new margins only to decenter the center again. In different times in history, different peoples and places have become the chief representatives of Christianity. In fact, Christianity is a de-facto mobile faith with its missionary mandates and mobility of its adherents. Christians are more likely to travel beyond places of their birth since they are not bound to any locale, and their peripatetic encounters with foreign cultures result in new endeavors in adapting and translating the tenets of their faith and practices into new contexts.

Economic migration, religious persecution, refugees, trade routes, commercial hubs, and hybridized people are critical to understanding the expansion of Christianity in history. When people move, they carry their cultures, beliefs and faith practices to their places of wanderings and eventual settlement. Christians make up the largest share of the displaced population and many are becoming Christians in foreign lands. The immigrant churches are thriving everywhere and reviving and diversifying Christianity in their host nations. The cultural diffusion of the gospel in diasporic contexts and new generation of hybrids are producing greater momentum for the missionary activities worldwide.

Diaspora missiology

At the 2010 Cape Town Congress of the Lausanne Movement, ‘People on the Move’ was recognized as a strategic focus area for the global church. As a result, many churches and mission agencies embraced the global trend of diaspora, and diaspora missiology is emerging as a major discipline of study in many seminaries worldwide. It was akin to strategic focus areas like Unreached People Groups, Holistic/Integral Mission, 10/40 Window, Cities, Business as Mission, and other mission thrusts provided by the previous congresses of the Lausanne Movement. Though the diaspora agenda has made some progress in the last 8 years, the missional impact and opportunity of the diasporic communities remain embryonic, and much is yet to be done in order to educate and mobilize the whole church to take diaspora missions seriously.

Diaspora missiology is a new missiological framework for understanding and participating in the redemptive mission of God among people living outside their places of origin. The sovereign work of God in the scattering and gathering of peoples across the earth is part of God’s mission and redemptive purposes for the world. Both biblical and contemporary history attest to the soteriological significance of diaspora. The human dispersion presents many missional opportunities and practical challenges to local congregations in sending as well as receiving countries. It offers Christians in the host nations an opportunity to obey the biblical commands to love the stranger, defend the cause of the foreigners, visit the prisoners, practice hospitality, and provide practical help. It also allows immigrant Christians to minister to people in host nations while reviving, diversifying, and universalizing Christianity. It requires both clergy and laity as well as church and mission agencies to work together in both sending and receiving nations of migrants and missionaries. Diaspora is a providential and strategic lens to view missions to the nations and ushers in a new era in global missions, from everywhere to everywhere.

The diaspora missiology framework advocates a three-fold paradigm: a) mission to the diasporas, b) mission through the diasporas, and c) mission beyond the diasporas. When diaspora people from ‘unreached’ places in 10/40 window and elsewhere have come to live next door to Christians, they present new opportunities for missions without going across the world, and for training all members of the church to minister effectively to their new neighbors, colleagues, and friends. People in migratory transitions are generally more receptive to the gospel. Host Christians grow in intercultural competency, and sclerotic ecclesial rituals are transformed by engaging with immigrants. Diaspora Christians minister to their kinsmen, friends, and family in ancestral and adopted homelands. Diaspora Christians are also effective cross-cultural bridges in reaching other immigrant peoples as well as people in the host society.

Conclusion

The global church stands at an exciting kairos moment of opportunity and challenge with the unprecedented and accelerating pace of human migration worldwide. Scattering (diaspora) and gathering (ekklesia or church) are two major interwoven themes across the pages of the Bible as God scatters people in order to gather them and the gathered ones are scattered across the street and around the world on God’s mission. The diaspora agenda of the Lausanne Movement hopes to get the whole church—every follower of Jesus in every walk of life everywhere to take the whole gospel to everyone everywhere in the whole world.

References

Scattered to Gather: Embracing the Global Trend of Diaspora (revised edition), 2017.

Sadiri Joy Tira and Tetsunao Yamamori (editors), Scattered and Gathered: A Global Compendium of Diaspora Missiology, (Regnum: Oxford, 2016).

Sam George (editor), Diaspora Christianities: Global Scattering and Gathering of South Asian Christians, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018).

Sam George and Miriam Adeney, eds., Refugee Diaspora: Missions amid the Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of our Times, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Press, 2018).

Contact: Dr. Sam George (sgeorge@lausnne.org) and Dr. Sadiri Joy Tira (sjtira@lausanne.org)