Did you realise that Auckland is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world? In fact, Auckland is now more diverse than even London! If that doesn’t sound crazy, consider that the national dish of England is now Tikka Massala.
I joined 500 others at the Wellington Diocese’ Hui last Saturday. I was invited to lead a workshop on integrating migrants in the community. As I was preparing, it hit me that the ‘face’ of Christchurch had changed in the last six years since moved here. We’ve people from so many diverse cultures in New Zealand today – I mean, I’m Kenyan but I’m now also a true Kiwi citizen.
How is the reality of migration shaping the way we engage in mission?
We are well aware of the rapid changes and trends that have taken place across the world in recent decades. Globalization – with its benefits and problems – is increasingly apparent: from the access of information, communication, business and trade to education and the ease of international travel whether for business or pleasure. The need for economic sustainability, natural disasters, wars and displacement from political instability has resulted in unprecedented movements of people between nations.
In reflecting on my own personal journey from Kenya to New Zealand I’ve explored the increasing important of migration as both a reality and an opportunity to see the Gospel spread to the nations. Increasingly I am encountering young adults who are open to exploring overseas experiences as they finish their studies. This is a reality which I feel we should embrace rather than fight. The nature of the ‘global village’ means that people are going anyway.
The question is, how can we go as missional people – people sent out by Christ whether we are going ‘for missions’ or just to have an OE. Are we conscious of being Christ’s witnesses wherever we go and for whatever reason we go? There need not be a choice between a ‘mission trip’ and education or business overseas – why can’t education or business be the vehicle for mission? Likewise traditional mission need not be limited to the recognizable agencies. Greater independence means that more people are likely to make their own plans and forge their own paths. Migration is happening and perhaps our mission intentions and methods need to catch up with the movements that are already around us.
Of course movements between nations are not new in Church history. One need only revisit the remarkable ventures of the Moravian church begun in the 1700’s or South American missions to Japan or Filipinos to Muslim nations.
As local churches embrace the opportunities that migration provides we may want to consider preparing people from all walks of life for international ministry. Those heading overseas could benefit from training in cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity, how to work within a new culture, how to identify a person of peace (Luke 10). Some may consider choosing to live within a local community rather than automatically opting for an ex-pat enclave. Preparing people to cope with the difficulties of unstable situations will help them last the distance.
But the traffic isn’t just one way! Increasingly part of our ‘going to the nations’ may be across the fence, in the school playground or the work tea room. Many migrants to NZ will have come from places where Christianity is not openly recognized. They don’t always connect easily with a new culture and may in fact be isolated within their own small cultural communities. There are many opportunities for us as communities of faith to receive those coming among us, welcoming, offering hospitality to the ‘stranger in our midst.’
Often there is a shortage of Kiwis willing to work alongside people in their first critical months here. Other opportunities include opening your home to international students, including them in normal family activities. Perhaps include someone from another culture in your holiday or Christmas plans when many will be keenly feeling the absence of family.
Crossing divides isn’t new to Christianity. Isn’t that precisely what Jesus did, humbling himself to come as one of us and die for us (Philippians 2:5-11)? He was the ‘stranger in the midst,’ asking to be welcomed. Reflecting on Christ’s emptying of himself, we may need to consider what emptying we need to do. What baggage holds us back and weighs us down?
Global mission is available to us all, whether jumping on a plane or crossing the street. The opportunities are there if we can maintain mission as permeating every arena of our activity and not as an occasional add-on. Will we prepare ourselves to engage and to invest with ‘strangers,’ and to structure our churches to be places of welcome?
What baggage holds you down? Is God calling you to more deliberately welcome the strangers among us? If you look around your neighbourhood, what sort of cultural and religious diversity do you see?
Consider ‘crossing the street’ this week to meet someone from another culture or migrant to NZ.