Global migration opens doors for gospel opportunities

Ben Greene

Pastor & writer

  • Missions

God is orchestrating a spiritual mashup through millions migrating from their cultural homeland. The least-reached are leaving the least-traveled to live, work and learn among the most-reached.

For example, Christians from the Philippines relocate to unreached countries for work. At the same time, American disciples learn in classrooms or labor in cubicles alongside unreached people from the farthest corners of the world.

Job seekers, new students and crises like war or famine drive a global migration of at least 500 million children and adults. The total could be 700 million — one out of every 10 people on Earth may be living away from their cultural homeland.

“The greatest untapped mobilization potential for missions in our time is the majority world church moving in migration,” John Baxter, Converge’s director of diaspora initiatives, said. “But that potential is largely untapped.”

John B 

At least partly, Baxter has Boeing to thank for discipleship moments among the world’s diasporas. In 1969, Boeing introduced the 747, making air travel much more affordable.

“The world changed in 1969,” Baxter said. “You have access to people you never had access to.”

Consider the diaspora of people who’ve left Iran. Many Iranians are dissatisfied with the ayatollahs who wield significant influence in the Muslim nation. So, hundreds of thousands of Iranians have relocated since the 1980s. 

As a result, many have encountered the gospel. Faith in Christ has resulted, and now the knowledge of Christ through these migrants has created a church inside Iran.

Related: An Iranian has planted a Converge church in Washington

“Sometimes, when people are on the move, they’re open to new friendships, new ideas,” Baxter explained. “Their world has been turned upside down. They are willing to listen to new voices.”

In response, Converge has a ministry focused on equipping the church for gospel opportunities among these millions going and coming for work and education.

Organizations like Converge are powerful for God’s purposes

Baxter is confident people achieve more when organized together. His studies of history, especially economic history, show it’s natural for people to cooperate in a structured way. 

But, as he studied other massive accomplishments by groups, he realized those achievements required slavery or semi-voluntary servitude like serfdom. Now, however, people can voluntarily structure themselves according to their values and unique gifts.

To do his part in the Great Commission, Baxter thinks and works on an organizational level with Converge staff and churches. He travels, speaks, leads and builds relationships so that Converge workers do missions with migrations in mind.

“I work with organizations because that’s the best way for me to influence the global missions force,” he said.

Diaspora work means coming alongside existing global servants

For Baxter, this opportunity to share the gospel with hundreds of millions is a new complement to the church’s ongoing global work. In other words, current missionaries and diaspora workers can labor together as they see God at work.

He’s quick to paint a picture of Wolof people who leave Dakar, Senegal, and move to Lyon, France. Since many people become more open to new ideas, faiths and ways of life in new places, the Wolof people in Lyon may begin choosing Christ.

In those moments, Baxter’s friend and colleague, Jeff Moody, said there is a real spiritual opportunity.

“Displacement creates disruption, and when there’s disruption, there’s usually a sense of openness,” said Moody, who works for Frontier Ventures, a community that serves pioneering leaders among least-reached peoples.

The global workers in France, Senegal and even Europe, Baxter explained, could strategically discuss how to mobilize someone to enter what God’s doing in Lyon.

“The Billy Graham of Dakar could come to Christ” through such a scenario, he added.

Even so, that wouldn’t mean the whole team relocates or stops their work in Senegal, where most of the Wolof live. However, the embrace of diaspora ministry by the global church and the organizations that support Christ’s work means creating some agility for unexpected opportunities.

Related: Read how Converge workers strategically serve the Wolof in Senegal.

The migration is bringing opportunities to U.S. churches

Since millions of people from all directions and cultures come to U.S. cities, Baxter and the Converge International Ministries team are coming alongside churches.

“No matter where you live in America, there’s a diaspora context around you,” Moody noted.

Baxter explained that churches in the United States have three levels of service if they want to engage the diaspora.

First, they can minister to relocated people, helping them get driving licenses or tutoring refugee children in after-school programs. Second, U.S. churches can support the creation of new churches among ethnic groups from cultures that have accepted church as a norm.

Finally, the most challenging level for American disciples is engaging with resistant, least-reached peoples such as Somalis.

“This is a true cross-cultural mission endeavor,” he explained. “Our churches need to send people to embed in these cultures, just like a missionary when he or she goes overseas.”

In the Twin Cities, Converge’s From Scattered to Gathered Initiative equips and invites local churches to minister to Somali refugees. As a result, these refugees generally receive practical help with genuine gratitude from American believers. Yet, Baxter said, Somalis are very resistant to the gospel.

Related: Bruce and Julie Adamson do global work among Somalis in the Twin Cities

Converge’s International Ministries staff are available to help churches however they want to serve.

“We are in these learning networks that most local churches just haven’t had the ability to be in,” Baxter noted. “We can help them avoid a lot of pain if they allow us to help.”

Related: John Nargan’s ministry — from America — is reaching the least-reached people around him.

Moody had three suggestions for American disciples to befriend people in the diaspora. First, show hospitality, then learn the culture and lastly, find a new footpath that intersects with people in the diaspora.

“We’ve got to open our front doors. We’ve got to open our car doors, open our hearts up,” he said.

Moody once volunteered to pick up an Iranian man at the airport who had just moved to the United States. Over the years, he and his family have connected with people in the diaspora in many ways. But even short interactions like meeting the Iranian man at the airport have power.

“I get the chance to shape this guy’s entirely, very, very first impressions of what it means to be in America,” Moody said. “I’m a follower of Jesus, getting to have the opportunity to do that. Those are the kind of chances that we can step into if we’re willing to.”

Another example of ministering among the diaspora for Moody has been joining a running group near his home in Gainesville, Florida. The running group includes Americans and many people from India.

He joined the group because he already wanted to exercise more anyway. So, a running group with people from other cultures perfectly suited him.

“Find it in a way that you can actually do,” he said of finding new paths into the diaspora. “I was starting to exercise anyway. So, it was a perfect fit.”

How can the diaspora ministry take root around the world?

Years ago, Baxter was in the southern part of Paris, a highly populated Muslim area.

One Sunday morning, he noticed something very important: the Paris Metro was full of people. However, none of those people were indigenous French people. Moreover, none of those people were Muslims.

The train was full of Christian people from Francophonic African nations. Hundreds of thousands of Africans from these countries live around Paris. And on Sunday mornings, these people go to church.

“Is there a potential missions force in Paris to reach French-speaking Muslims?” Baxter asked. “They all share a common migration experience.”

Seeing believers share their faith as they migrate or meet neighbors who migrated keeps Baxter’s passion stoked. Even as he retires next year, seeing the gospel take root among the world’s diaspora is an equally needed ministry alongside other global workers.

“If one out of 10 people is in migration, and we neglect them, have we completed the Great Commission?” Baxter asks.

Converge is asking God for a gospel movement among every least-reached people group – in our generation. Learn how we are playing a role in accomplishing the Great Commission and how you can be involved.

Ben Greene, Pastor & writer

Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.

Additional articles by Ben Greene