Mahatma Gandhi realized his life’s calling when he was living as a “diaspora” outside the country. Gandhi, like many other Indians, went to London for his higher education studies and graduated in law. Later, he and his family moved to South Africa, where he could practice law and build his career. It was in South Africa that Gandhi realized his calling to be a leader of the masses. It was in the diaspora setting that his experiments with truth started. After his success in South Africa, Gandhi returned to India and eventually was handed the baton to lead the Indian Independence movement. India has never been the same.
Thousands of Indians migrate to different parts of the world for better prospects in education, career, and quality of living. In a globalized world, the choice to migrate to other countries is not a difficult one. Many countries actively look for skilled immigrants who will help build their economy; Indians, like those of other ethnic communities, seize this opportunity. The growing Indian diaspora in recent times have become very influential in their adopted countries. This trend is likely to increase in the coming years as India’s booming economy continues to grow and politically takes its rightful place in global affairs.
Major denominational churches in southern India, like the Marthoma Church and the Church of South India, have sent pastors to serve the flocks who have migrated to other countries. In most places, the purpose has been to provide pastoral care to their own congregations. In a few exceptions these congregations have made attempts to reach out to their own communities who are not yet followers of Jesus Christ. A few have even tried missions (e.g., Marthoma Church Youth in Chicago, Illinois, USA, is involved in mission trips to Mexico; a Tamil congregation in Singapore is involved in mission trips to Cambodia). Pentecostal and charismatic groups have been more involved in mobilizing others in their diaspora community to follow Christ.
Pandita Ramabai of Mukti Mission was challenged to follow Jesus and be involved in missions during her overseas visits. Brother Bakht Singh, who established an indigenous movement of churches across the country, decided to follow Jesus while completing his higher studies in the West. There are many more Indians who have been influenced during their lives as diaspora and are now actively involved in missions.
Influencing the Indian Diaspora in this Generation
It is in this context that we have to ask the question: How we can influence the Indian diaspora to be discipled to follow Jesus Christ in our generation?
Most Indian mission organizations have long been pre-occupied with the task of reaching the unreached within Indian political boundaries. The least mission leaders have done in involving the Indian diaspora is to raise funds that will support the mission work in India. This is often done by kindling the sentiments of the Christian diaspora community to gratefully acknowledge their roots by contributing their surplus income to meet the mission needs in India.
In the context of these fund-raising efforts among the Indian diaspora, mission leaders have ministered at large to the spiritual needs of the Christian community. Little or nothing has been done to envision and equip the Indian Christian diaspora to reach out to their communities or to others in their adopted countries.
The “Diaspora Strategy”
The Apostle Paul’s mission strategy to reach the unreached was to go to the places where the Jews were scattered within the Roman Empire. The Jewish diaspora became the gateway to reach the Gentiles with the gospel. Paul’s calling as an apostle to the Gentiles was fulfilled greatly because of this “diaspora strategy.”
The diaspora strategy is not new. For example, during the colonial age, pastors and priests were first sent to minister to the settlers in foreign lands before they started to reach out to the indigenous people in those lands. It is now time for us in India to deploy this strategy to reach every Indian person, and thus all peoples.
For many centuries, the Jewish community waited for their Messiah. When Jesus Christ was sent into this world, the Roman Empire and the Jewish nation had relative peace from war which facilitated the life and ministry of our Lord. Scholars have interpreted this to say that the Roman Empire, their governance, and their roads and trade was a kairos (the “right or opportune moment”) movement in God’s plan of salvation. The Indian diaspora’s growing influence and the rise of India in the global affairs is also a kairos movement in the global mission movement. Indian missions must rise up and take the challenge of reaching Indians and the world for Christ. There are two ways this can be done:
- Indian mission organizations must start sending their workers to serve the diaspora community in other countries. The main purpose of this should not be focused on raising funds for missions back home, but to envision and equip the Christian diaspora to fulfill their calling in their adopted countries. The role of such workers must be to envision and equip Christians in effective witnessing in their workplaces and marketplaces. As this ministry grows, we will have many diaspora Indians expressing their desire to move to other needy places in the world to fulfill their mission call.
- Indian Christian leaders need to create viable structures that will help Indian mission organizations to recruit, equip, and send missionaries to other countries. Many workers will also choose to return to India and be involved in the mission movement. It is time we tell the Indian Christian diaspora that we do not just need their money, but we need them to be involved in the global mission movement. We must play the catalyst role to make this happen.
The global mission movement is in a very critical stage with the population of Christians in Asia, Africa, and Latin America eclipsing those living in the West. The economic power structure is also slowly shifting from the West to the East. India has a very important role to play in this context. The Indian Church and mission leaders must release their personnel to be involved in global missions. The first task in this is to envision and equip the Christian Indian diaspora to influence others in their adopted countries to follow Jesus Christ.
When Gandhi returned to India, congress leaders took special efforts to integrate his leadership into their movement. This changed the movement from being an elite movement to a mass movement. It is difficult to say how the Indian mission movement will transform the world if we begin to involve the Indian Christian diaspora in our task. However, a transition has to take place in the Indian mission movement so that the Church of Jesus Christ will continue to grow across the world.
How will we respond to this new challenge in missions? How long will we still claim we are busy serving the tribal and Dalit people groups in rural areas? We need to look beyond our immediate context and widen our horizon to the global vision. The Great Commission is not limited to political boundaries. It is a global commission and we Indians cannot restrict it to India. Let us join hands together and take up the call to be involved globally.