Historically, the meaning of the term “diaspora” first referred to Jewish people living outside Israel. Some say it now describes those that have left their original homeland involuntarily, like Africans who were forcibly removed through slavery, or refugees fleeing the conditions in Syria. Wikipedia defines it as “a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale.”
It’s interesting to note how the gospel initially moved throughout the world through diaspora populations, as those living in Jerusalem who first followed Christ ended up being “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” as they “went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:1-4) Churches sprung up where the gospel took root as people were dispersed.
Reaching the Diaspora
Alternatively, when diaspora peoples who may not know Christ come to our homeland, how should the church respond? Is there an example in the history of the church of a people reaching out to an incoming displaced people that we can learn from?
In sixteenth-century Geneva, Switzerland, the church became a hospitality hub.¹ Refugees came from France, England, Scotland, and many other European locations. Not all were Christians, and not all had the same understanding of the scriptures, yet the city doubled in size to meet the needs of the incoming immigrants.
Many things stand out as we look back at this time. Not only did the church help care for the physical and financial needs of those coming in, they also committed significant resources to training pastors and educators from those peoples and continued to mentor them from afar when they returned to their homelands or moved to other areas. This influence contributed to the spread of the Reformation throughout Europe.
“Yet the church took on the responsibility to care for those in desperate need and seized the opportunity to advance the spread of the gospel…”
Not everything went well. There were power struggles and rejection of those who did not share similar ideas. Yet the church took on the responsibility to care for those in desperate need and seized the opportunity to advance the spread of the gospel by training pastors and educators.
In 2017, it was estimated that almost 260 million people live outside their country of birth.² Are we aware of the immigrant populations that are in our vicinity and their needs? Where do they come from and how can they be helped?
- Wendy H.