The state of Diaspora Mission in the UK some reflections

I spent 24 hours last week at All Nations College in Ware with a wonderfully eclectic group of people from, it seems, almost every corner of the globe. Gathered to think, reflect, muse, confess and pray together around the topic of diaspora mission in the UK. With my CTE hat firmly on I was present to discern how this these challenges around diaspora mission might be helpful in the conversations around mission and unity at a national ecumenical level.

We were gathered from Ethiopia, The Sudan, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, China, Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica, Singapore, Kenya and many more. You may ask what this has to do with CTE? Surely, we are focused on churches in England? Indeed we are. But the English church landscape has changed quiet extensively over the past 30 years since the Swanwick declaration in 1987. Those intervening years have seen growth of migrants coming to the UK for economic reasons but also reasons connected with war, famine and political

Ably, and insightfully, led by the Revd Joel Edwards [CBE] over two keynote sessions we heard about the vexed issue of migration. Roughly 14% of the UK are foreign born and whilst immigrants and migration are not a new subject increasingly those from migrant communities feel visible in uncomfortable ways. Whether starting with 1601 edict from Elizabeth for removal of the Moors to the influx of Poles and other Eastern Europeans Immigration and asylum continues to be a divisive issue.

Firstly, the idea of diaspora is itself a contested notion. What does the term diaspora include, who does it include? There are not definitive answers being aware that diaspora includes a range of people with different perspectives on what diaspora means and for whom? Diaspora deals with belonging, displacement and longing. Any immigrants from any place have to create a new identity in their new home and that can be over against the host culture, or somehow complex tandem with it.

Joel highlighted what he called the missionary/migrant intersect Reflecting on his own experience as a Jamaican immigrant who arrived in Britain in 1960 as a young boy – he suggested that many came to help rebuild Britain both physically and to some extent spiritually. Many who came in the 1950s/60s/70s – consciously came as missionaries. Entering Britain as economic migrants but also Christian missionaries by default.

Joel also helped us be honest about the reality that there is a demonization of the diaspora – a misrepresentation people from abroad coming to take our jobs and health services and women (!) Whilst that narrative was not always explicit there continues to be an undertone, a deep myth. Joel also drew on the book of Daniel suggesting that this was part of the geopolitical reality for Daniel in Babylon especially in Daniel 3 and 6. Intensify their ‘otherness’. The underlying issue of racism was a reality for Daniel.

So, Joel asked the question, “How do you reach out if you are the Demon? How do the diaspora community save people who consider that you are drowning them?”

Joel also traced briefly traced the nationalism that seems particularly prevalent at the moment globally and locally. The issues of political identity, issues of land, and issues around trade are fuelling nationalism. That is a central question in the Brexit divide about sovereignty. Britain is a nation searching its soul. There seems to be a thin line between nationalism and rapid fundamentalist visions of that.

The generational shift for the diaspora in experience and perception need to be taken note of. The 2ndand 3rdgenerations have completely different relationships with the host culture and are often far better ‘translators’ of culture than their parents and grandparents.

Again, Joel drew on Daniels experience versus the experience of those who wept by the rivers of Babylon.

On day 2 Joel critiqued some of the attitudes of the reverse mission movement from Latin America and Africa that had grand plans or ambitions to bring revival to England because it tended not to be based on dialogue and was a I will tell you will accept rational. This did little to engage white British people. In expounding the story of Daniel and the Babylonian exile story he used a little phrase that suggested a humbler approach to diaspora mission attitudes in England. That of bringing what he called “Yahweh consciousness”. Daniel’s presence in Babylonia didn’t result in mass conversation but did consistently cause the king to acknowledge that there was no one like the Lord Almighty. Might it be that the presence and bold faith of diaspora communities in England raise the levels of “Yahweh consciousness” in our nation.

Diaspora Mission conferenceI came away thanking God for the being able to meet Peruvian missiologists, Ethiopian and Lithuanian church planters, Brazilian and Nigerian strategic leaders who are shaping the ecclesial landscape of England in dynamic ways. We have much to learn in pilgrimage together.

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