Around the globe, 232 million people live as immigrants. The United States alone hosts the largest amount of immigrants compared to other countries, with 45.8 million migrants living here.
That’s why one of the major themes of the 2014 Missio Nexus conference, held this September in Atlanta, Ga., addressed the trend of diaspora around the world. The concept of diaspora—originating with the Jews leaving Israel for homes across the world—refers to migrants who live somewhere foreign, but still retain a desire for their homeland.
The effectiveness of reaching people groups in diaspora with the Gospel comes with its own challenges and advantages. Among the speakers addressing these issues were Jenny Yang, Vice President of Advocacy and Policy, and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
“It’s not true globalization until they start speaking into your organization as much as you are speaking into theirs.”
Diaspora, globalization and short-term missions
WorldVenture’s own missionary, Larry Stucky, presented his research at Missio Nexus for the Evangelical Missiological Society. Stucky’s presentation centered upon a case study he conducted of diaspora in San Francisco, Calif., a region WorldVenture hopes to target. Marty Shaw, vice president for International Ministries, said the 360 people groups in San Francisco pose a challenge, as they are hard to find within the urban community.
“You can look at the general demographic maps and not see them,” said Shaw.
In other words, the gathering of executive missions leaders at Missio Nexus focused on what happens when international missions come home—whether through immigrant or diaspora communities. But the conference touched on other trends, including globalization and short-term missions. While both are reoccurring trends—and have been for more than 15 years—the discussions vary when discussed in the United States or abroad. Whereas international missions conferences operate on a practical level—dealing with workers in the trenches—this year’s Missio Nexus was more theoretical.
And yet, on issues like globalization, missionaries in the U.S. still have a long way to go to achieve that status among the nationals they serve.
“It’s not true globalization until they start speaking into your organization as much as you are speaking into theirs,” said Shaw.
Vision 5:9, an organization with 120-plus global organizations focused on Muslim ministry, was one organization Shaw was excited to hear from. According to the organization, only 50 percent of Muslim people groups have a resident missionary, indicating the amount of work to be done on that mission field.
“These are the kind of groups we really want to partner more closely with,” said Shaw. “Our people in Muslim ministries are doing very well, but we will do even better when we network and partner with others who are learning and doing. So we both need to learn and contribute to the global efforts.”
A chronic dating relationship
“How do you balance the expectations of current generations and what is reality, what makes a difference if we’re going to disciple the nations?”
Besides the trending topics of diaspora, globalization, and short-term missions, conferences like Missio Nexus also shed light on the internal goings-on of missions. Big and small organizations alike are struggling with the same issue: finding people to commit their lives to international gospel work. Recruiters compete for the same people at the same places, with only a limited number of qualified workers. Comparatively, WorldVenture’s standards are even higher as well.
What leaders describe as a “chronic dating relationship” permeates the landscape of missions. Younger generations—who reject the idea of working the same job for 40 years—don’t love the idea of being on the mission field long-time either. The interest for missions hasn’t changed, but the generational idea of vocation has.
And yet, missionaries say their most effective years of ministry occur later in life—between the ages of 40 and 60.
“How do you balance the expectations of current generations and what is reality, what makes a difference if we’re going to disciple the nations?” asked Shaw.
Part of a Larger Picture
Overall, WorldVenture has good standing within the missions community, in relation to recruiting, member care and projects.
“We’re doing very well, and I think we’re well-respected within the missions industry,” said Shaw.
While many leaders at these types of conferences know WorldVenture, some know it by its older names, or they know a person. Shaw said that’s something to fix, as it’s important for WorldVenture to have a platform among the other organizations.
In addition, conferences like Missio Nexus remind missions-minded Christians about the different conversations taking place. The networking and hallway conversations with other leaders make the conferences worth it to Shaw, as well as hearing the main sessions.
“There are healthy discussions taking place; there’s good interaction among evangelical missions in North America,” said Shaw. “We need to go out and be part of a bigger picture.”