Reaching our diaspora neighbours

Same message, different location

A dilemma faced by many missionaries is how do you effectively share the good news with those who for various reasons cannot access the Bible in a language which they understand. This may be because they can’t read very well or because the Scriptures have yet to be translated into their language.  

Ten years ago, Simon and his colleagues in the Africa Inland Church in Tanzania faced this challenge as they shared the gospel among the Datooga people. As a result, a small collection of Bible stories were crafted into simple English and Swahili, then translated into the Datooga language and shared orally in Datooga homes.  

Ten years later, Simon, who has now returned to the UK and is serving among refugees in South London, faced a similar dilemma. How could he share the good news with some of the refugee men to whom he was teaching English? He then recalled the stories he had shared with the Datooga in Tanzania. With a little tweaking, he has been able to use the original simplified English version of the stories with some of his students. 

The situation with Covid-19 has meant that Simon has often had to meet his students outside for lessons, which are usually conducted on a one-to-one basis. Sharing the stories on a cold park bench in South London feels different from sitting under a tree in the Tanzanian sunshine, but the message of good news has not changed.

Do you want to start to reach out and connect with members of the diaspora in your community, but you’re not sure where to begin? Here are some starting points from people with experience that might be helpful…

1. Put yourself in their shoes. 

If you and your family moved to a very different country, you would probably hope local neighbours or colleagues would welcome you; help you to find your way around, learn the language, understand how things work, befriend you. That’s what most diaspora people hope for where they have arrived or settled in our country. As Christians, we are to welcome the foreigner. We can share the gospel best in the context of real friendship. 

2. Look out for new residents in your area. 

New residents will likely be glad if you greet them and strike up a conversation. Call round with a cake or flowers; invite them round for a cuppa. Be available to answer questions. Do they need any advice or practical help? Show that you’re interested in them, their culture and language. Pray for friendship to grow.    

3. Become known in their neighbourhood. 

We don’t need to cross continents to get to this mission field, but we do need to go to parts of our cities we may otherwise avoid. Diaspora communities grow where housing is accessible, often in poorer inner-city areas. Engaging with them means either moving there or regularly spending time there.   

4. Many volunteering opportunities exist. 

Volunteering opportunities tend to open up once we’re known. Diaspora people want to improve their English and want their kids to do well; they are looking for anyone who can help. Tutoring adults and helping children with school work are the best ways to get to know the whole family and build long-term friendship that can include talking about faith. You don’t need to be a teacher! There are kids’ clubs, Mums-and-tots, youth activities, and social centres that often need helpers. Even just using the local shops and amenities or sitting in parks or cafes where local residents sit can open opportunities to make friends.  

5. Live distinctively Christian.

“We are told that Christians are bad people, but you are good people!” – comment from a six-year-old. Diaspora people often come assuming we British are all Christians. To share the gospel, we must distance ourselves from prevailing trends. We need to consistently display and explain Christian life in practice.  

6. Minority groups often live in close communities. 

Their cultures tend to be communal. They depend on each other. They try to maintain as much of their heritage as they can. Religion is one aspect of that, so they often become more committed. Dissent may be regarded as personal betrayal. So questioning – let alone conversion – can be difficult.   

7. Ready to welcome converts? 

Converts may face being cast out of their community. They need to know that our community will welcome, nurture and integrate them. It’s a big long-term commitment for individuals and the local church, but well worth it. 

Some great resources for you and your church  

  • Friendship First and Joining the Family: Video-based preparation for churches. 
  • My Muslim Neighbour by Stafford Allen 
  • Come Follow Me: Discipling course for Muslim-background new Christians or seekers.

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There are so many ways you can be a part of reaching Africa's unreached peoples with the good news of Jesus Christ.