The Directives to Diaspora Christian Leaders

There are two kinds of migrant leaders: some are voluntary migrants; others had no choice but to leave home. The voluntary migrants are often frowned upon by the people back home; they are seen as having been materialistically-motivated to leave. Even if they were not, they are often more prosperous now, and their Christian authority is seen to be compromised. They are seen to have deprived the work of God in their home country of the gifts and experiences they took with them.

Even those who felt they had no choice but to leave are still open to the temptations of materialism. Their first goal is to survive, and they have to bend all their efforts to do that. They want to prosper, and when and if they do, it gets into their blood—but not without a tinge of guilt about how well they are doing compared to those left behind at home. This can be masked by developing a critical spirit of the people back home. Where this is so, they do not easily develop a practical concern to make a sacrificial contribution to the evangelization of their motherland.

When this is the case (and they are part of a diaspora church), they tend to become ethnic ghettos, and the church tends to have varying degrees of internal strife. They do not make much of an impact either on the host population or on their country of origin.

Changing Hearts and Habits
How can it be different? There is an answer in Jeremiah 29. This is a letter from Jeremiah in Jerusalem to the first generation of deportees to Babylon. We may summarize what he says in this way:

  • See it as in God’s plan (29:11) and believe it has a positive purpose.
  • Take the long view. Count on seventy years, not two years (29:10). Do not be susceptible either to triumphalist or doom-mongering prophets (28:2, 29:8-9). Get property and become self-sufficient in food (29:5). Have healthy families (29:6).
  • Make a social, spiritual, and economic contribution to your host city (29:7). Take advantage of the administrative opportunities presented to you (e.g., Nehemiah, Daniel and his companions, or Esther).
  • Make a new and deeper covenant start in knowing God (29:12-13). Having escaped the ruts of your previous life, seek God whole-heartedly and discover him in new ways. Plumb the depths of the word of God like Ezra. Much of the truth that we take for granted emerged from this period. There is much we would not have known if the people of God had not been scattered. The concept of the new covenant came out of the diaspora. The promises we love so much come from this period. They that waited on the Lord from Judah to Babylon like slaves needed to learn “to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint,” and even dream of mounting up on wings like eagles.
  • Keep hope alive (29:14). There is a future and a hope. It may not be in your generation. If the exile was to last seventy years (i.e., two or more generations), and those who got the letter would not live to see the return, they could leave that to their faithful God.

There is evidence that some diaspora churches are following Jeremiah’s guidelines, and the contribution to world evangelization is remarkable.

(This article was edited from “Postcript: The Challenge of Diaspora Leaders for World Evangelism” in SCATTERED: The Filipino Global Presence, edited by Luis Pantoja Jr., Sadiri Joy Tira, and Enoch Wan. 2004. Manila, Philippines: LifeChange.)

Rev. Tom Houston has been a pastor in Scotland and Kenya. He has served as the Chief Executive Officer with The British and Foreign Bible Society (1971-1983), as president of World Vision International (1983-1988), and as international director for The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (1989-1994).