Ministering to Diasporas: An Interview with Dr. Sadiri Joy Tira

Dr. Sadiri Joy Tira, Filipino-Canadian missiologist and Lausanne Movement Senior Associate for Diasporas, talks about “people on the move” and how Lausanne’s Diasporas Leadership Team is working toward Lausanne’s mission of “the whole Church bringing the whole gospel to the whole world.”

Q: What is your role as Lausanne’s Senior Associate for Diasporas?

A: Part of my responsibility is, using the Lausanne platform, to initiate and motivate diaspora Christians to actively participate in world evangelization. Another responsibility is to communicate and represent Lausanne’s work whenever and wherever I am given a chance. I do have a team of associates called the “Lausanne Diasporas Leadership Team” who work with me toward Lausanne’s mandate and goal.

Q: Briefly discuss the “global diasporas” as you see them with the eyes of missions.

A: To begin, I need to define our use of the term “diaspora.” Then, I will give you a brief overview of the global diaspora situation and how it is relevant to missions.

Lausanne's Senior Associate for
Diasporas talks about diaspora
and world evangelism.

We use the term “diaspora” to refer to the phenomenon of “dispersion” or movement of any ethnic group. For our discussion, I will also use the terms “migration” and “people on the move” to refer to this people movement.

In 2005, the International Organization for Migration estimated that the number of international migrants had reached 192 million. This means that approximately one of every thirty-four persons in the world is a migrant. This figure, extrapolated by experts, is expected to reach 200 million by the year 2010. This is a lot of people—five times more than the entire population of Canada. This is not to mention the Internally Displaced People within their region or country. This includes refugees, migrant workers, trafficked people, international students, government and armed forces personnel, people involved in family reunification plans, permanent immigrants to accepting countries, etc.

Factors leading to diaspora can be of a voluntary or involuntary nature, such as urbanization, rapid globalization in the labour industry, geopolitical shifts, catastrophic natural disasters (e.g., hurricane, flood, earthquake, tsunami), national and ethnic conflicts, socio-economic advancement, cultural exchanges, and pandemics resulting in a crippling of the workforce (e.g., HIV/AIDS). The “push” factors contributing to mass migration are as myriad as are the “pull” factors drawing the migrants to host countries.

The top ten receiving countries are the United States, the Russian Federation, Germany, Ukraine, France, India, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Pakistan.

We read in the Bible about “people on the move.” In the Old Testament we read about Abraham and his children, who during their journey encountered Jehovah. In the New Testament we read about Jesus Christ, who came with the message of the good news for all nations (Matthew 28:16-20). We read stories of the early Church being persecuted and consequently scattered (i.e., diaspora).

In Acts 17:26-27, Paul articulated a missiological purpose for human migration:

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

This time of mass migration in our borderless world presents the whole Church with unprecedented opportunities to take the whole gospel to the whole world—a world that is wide open because of people who are moving to all four corners of the globe. This brings us to the idea of “diaspora missiology.”

Q: “Diaspora missiology.” Would you describe that term for us? What is the difference between “diaspora missiology” and “traditional missiology”?

A: If “diaspora in missions” refers to dispersed ethnic groups who are actively engaged or actively involved in fulfilling the Great Commission regardless of vocation and denominational affiliations of individuals involved, then “diaspora missiology” is, as Professor Enoch Wan of Western Seminary defines, “a missiological study of the phenomena of diaspora groups being scattered geographically and the strategy of gathering for the kingdom.”

Now diaspora is not a new phenomenon. People have been moving throughout all human history. Social scientists (including sociologists, anthropologists, and human demographers) have always studied the mass movement of people. But now, due to the number of migrants, even lawyers (immigration lawyers), economists, and political scientists are carefully paying attention to this phenomenon.

Migration seems to be affecting everyone and promoting change in many communities. We also have to remember how the migration factors (e.g., the post 11 September 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks context; natural disaster situations) are requiring change in government policies. Epidemics such as AIDS and the HIV-virus are a push force for thousands of people—a situation calling for the attention of the international medical community. Furthermore, in a world where everyone is increasingly connected, something like an illness affecting a small number of migrants has the potential of affecting many more, and so migration is a factor in national health care programs. The challenges and opportunities presented by migration are all-pervasive!

In recent years, missiologists too have started to focus their attention on the great “scattering” of people. This is what “diaspora missiology” has focused its lens on. In this emerging field of missions, researchers are to learn much about the phenomenon of diaspora from social and political scientists in the thematic study of topics such as globalization, urbanization, ethnicities and race relations, ethnic and religious conflicts and their resolutions, pluralism, and multiculturalism. Then, missiologists face the task of integrating the factual findings with missiological understanding in ministry planning and evangelism strategy.

To clarify, diaspora missiology has these elements:

  • Its focus is holistic Christianity and contextualization.
  • Conceptually, diaspora missiology is de-territorialized (the “loss of social and cultural boundaries” in mission strategy), glocal (a mission strategy that is simultaneously local and global), inter-disciplinary, and hybrid.
  • The perspective of diaspora missiology is non-spatial (not geographically divided or confined; i.e., home/foreign, regional/global, urban/rural), and is borderless. It is transnational and global. For example, planting churches is not only on land, but also aboard ships among seafarers.
  • The diaspora missiology paradigm goes where God is going and moves providentially where God places people spatially and spiritually, in contrast to traditional missions’ “sending and receiving.”

Q: How are you addressing the opportunities presented by diasporas through the Lausanne platform?

A: There are many groups (churches, organizations, denominations, local parachurches) already engaged in reaching diaspora people (i.e., international student ministries reaching foreign students on university and college campuses). We have organizations ministering compassionately to “people on the highway” (refugees). In the academic field, there is the Institute for Diaspora Studies (IDS), hosted by Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, USA, and by Alliance Graduate School in Manila, Philippines. Specialization in diaspora studies is also taking form at Fuller Seminary, Torch Trinity Graduate School in South Korea, and Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Oxford Centre for Missions Studies (U.K.) has several African and Asian students studying specific diaspora groups. This is an encouraging development in recent years.

For the first time, the Lausanne Movement formed the “Lausanne Diasporas Leadership Team” (LDLT). The LDLT is convening a strategic consultation from 4-9 May 2009 in Manila, Philippines, gathering diaspora specialists, including sociologists, anthropologists, demographers, theologians, government policymakers, legal experts, key denominational leaders, and mission organizations that have a diaspora mission thrust. We are also inviting representatives from non-government organizations, particularly labour recruiters and select business people.

We are hoping to formulate an Evangelical Diaspora Theology and Strategy to present at Lausanne III in Cape Town in 2010. Hopefully, our humble contribution to mission literature and practice will be embraced by the whole Church. It is our prayer that this will result in a calibrated and synchronized advance of the gospel of Jesus Christ among people on the move.