Last year, my wife, Anne-Marie, and I returned to the UK after more than thirty years living in the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam with OMF.
The demographics of the UK have changed dramatically since we left for the Philippines in 1986. In the decade that followed, 281,000 more people came to the UK than left. Between 2000 and 2020, nearly 5 million more have come than left. This great influx of people from other parts of the world is often referred to as ‘diaspora.’ That includes those who came here from other countries but also the second and third generation born here.
God is sending the nations to our nation. What are his purposes in this? What does it mean for sharing the good news of Jesus? OMF has been wrestling with the effect of the worldwide movement of East Asians for several years. Here in the UK, it’s a question the whole British Church and all UK-based agencies need to grapple with.
Global Connections brings together agencies and churches to help the Church in the UK engage effectively and appropriately in sharing the good news of Jesus globally. OMF have asked us to spend part of our time working for Global Connections as ‘Catalysts for Diaspora Missions.’ It’s a new role and we’re still figuring out what it means. But the big question is: ‘what is God calling us to do as Christians, churches, and agencies in the UK, in response to this great movement of people?’
An opportunity to share
Diaspora peoples in the UK often provide a great opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Most of these new residents are not Christians, and many have never met a Christian. Some come from countries that are hard to get into, or communities that are hostile to foreigners and antagonistic to the gospel. However, here in the UK, they are often open to new friendships, though unsure how to make them in this different culture. They are open to new ideas, including hearing the good news about Jesus, especially if it is being shared by people who are concerned for them. God has given us a great opportunity and we want to help British Christians and churches make the most of it.
This year, and over the next few years, we are expecting many people from Hong Kong to come here, as the UK government has opened the door for them to make their home in the UK. Will churches welcome them? And keep welcoming them?
An opportunity to learn
Diaspora groups are not just an opportunity for sharing the good news, however. Many of them are already followers of Jesus and have much to teach us. They come from places where the church is growing, Christians are numerous, and are more confident about sharing their faith in Jesus than can be usual in our British culture. A few of them come to the UK out of a sense of calling to share the gospel here. However, most have come for family, jobs education, or for safety. Like the Christians who were forcibly scattered in Acts 8:1,4, they are followers of Jesus who share the gospel wherever they go.
These diaspora Christians are changing the makeup of the British Church. In the last twenty years, the number of diaspora churches in the UK has more than doubled to about 4,500 congregations. Members of diaspora churches are now over 10 per cent of the total UK church membership. In inner London, where more than half of church attendees are black, diaspora Christians are the majority of active Christians.
Many of these diaspora churches are focused on helping their own people stay on track as Christians as they adjust to a new life in a strange land. However, some have a vision for sharing their faith more widely. A few years ago, for example, the Chinese Overseas Christian Mission changed its slogan to ‘Reaching the Chinese to Reach Europe.’ And the Redeemed Christian Church of God (a Nigerian denomination) planted its first church in the UK in 1993 and now has over 850 churches in the UK. It has a vision to plant a church within five minutes’ drive of everyone in the UK.
It’s not all easy. Most diaspora churches are small and dependent on someone else for a place to meet. Many of their pastors have a full-time job and lead the church in their spare time. Reaching those of other cultures is cross-cultural work, whether those of other diaspora groups or gospel-hardened, traditional post-modern Brits. How can you encourage diaspora churches and believers? How can we partner together in sharing the good news about Jesus? Could the loan of a meeting room be the start of something bigger? For the sake of the gospel, God is calling us to work together and learn from each other as we seek to be his multicultural family to his glory.
Global Connections Catalyst for Diaspora Missions
1 Peter Brierley, ed. UK Church Statistic No 4: 2021 Edition. (ADBC Publishers, Tonbridge Kent 2020), p.9-10.