Hindi, Urdu, Nepali, Mandarin, Tagalog, Japanese, Korean, Bahasa Indonesia... These are just some of the languages you may hear spoken on the streets of Australia and New Zealand, and perhaps in your own congregation!
The speakers, especially if they are younger, may also have good English, and be more or less comfortable in an English-language setting. However, many of these neighbours, friends, and fellow church members have a different ‘heart language’, and come with their own cultural contexts, experiences and ways of thinking. Some may be able to find a church service to worship or receive teaching in their own language; many cannot. And it can be harder still for them to find study materials in their own languages to further their faith journey.
Against this background, Interserve Australia’s CultureConnect is actively involved in Christian ministry amongst people of minority backgrounds. Its goal is to help Australian churches engage in cross-cultural ministry within local communities.
And Theological Education by Extension (TEE) courses may be able to help. There are TEE programmes in many Asian countries including India, Pakistan, Nepal, China, the Philippines, Japan, Korea and Indonesia – and so there are TEE courses available in Hindi, Urdu, Nepali, Mandarin, Tagalog... in fact, all those languages listed at the start of the article! Courses in some of these languages are already being used in Australia and New Zealand, and many more language options are available through Increase, a network that connects and supports TEE programmes around Asia.
At the recent Increase conference, Exploring New Horizons, Increase Committee Chairman Zafar Ismail explained some of the ways that God is at work in diaspora situations.
- Mission through diaspora: Christians are displaced, and share the gospel in their new situation. This may be called mission through diaspora.
- Mission to diaspora: Host country Christians share their faith with diaspora communities. Often that would be impossible in the diaspora community’s home country; and in many cases it will be easier for someone coming from, for example, a majority Muslim or Hindu population to make the journey to faith in Christ outside their home country.
- Mission in diaspora: Within the same diaspora community, Christian believers share their faith with those of other faiths. Again, this may normally be impossible in the country they come from.
And then sometimes those who become believers while in diaspora may take the gospel back to friends and family in the country they came from. So perhaps we can add another category – mission as a result of diaspora.
In Australia in particular there are some examples of mission as a result of diaspora. Pastor Jason Lee* and his wife are now visiting Chinese-speaking communities in Australia as part of their ongoing work. Some of those trained in Australia are now returning to their home country with wonderful opportunities for mission and ministry there.
And Australia’s Urdu-speaking community can also benefit from the provisions of Pakistan’s national TEE provider, the Open Theological Seminary (OTS). OTS director Qaiser Julius said they were recently contacted about bringing their materials to Sydney for Urdu speakers living there. He said OTS had developed substantial resources and was committed to helping, but there were still challenges to be overcome.
“There is an Urdu-speaking community (in Australia), mostly from Pakistan, and they need this kind of teaching there. OTS can play its role but first we have to think it through, thrash out ideas and look for the right people to run this programme.”
What about Arabic-language TEE materials? Jiries Habash is Director of the Programme for Theological Education by Extension (PTEE) serving the Arab world. He knows of three tutors in Australia who are leading groups using PTEE’s Arabic language materials. These tutors were trained in Jordan, and are now serving the church Down Under, using the same courses that are being used in the Middle East.
David Ball, the Asia Coordinator for SEAN International, has a particular interest in diaspora. He contends that ‘diaspora’ is an integral part of the identity of the Church in the world. And if churches fail to reach out to other diaspora groups, they are missing something very important about the gospel message.
“Pentecost shows us that the church was born in a diaspora situation. In the early church, people moved around... We’ve got this context of a very fluid situation, with people on the move for all sorts of reasons... In his first letter, Peter writes, ‘To God’s elect, exiles scattered (= diaspora) throughout the provinces of Pontus...’ Peter writes to a diaspora church, and says we are all exiles, we are all diaspora. So the identity of the church is as diaspora, as exiles.”
Ball sees this as a powerful reason for reaching out to diaspora groups. He said that TEE has the tools to service diaspora communities, but it calls for cooperation and sharing of resources. He described different types of diaspora communities, with different needs:
- Temporary workers who are only away from their home countries for a few years. These will wish to study in their own language;
- First generation settlers who may still prefer to study in their mother tongue;
- Later generation communities who can be served by the local TEE group but may still need some help from outside.
The Increase network welcomes enquiries about receiving and using materials in languages such as Urdu, Chinese (traditional and simplified scripts), Tagalog, Nepali, Bangla, Thai, Tamil and many other Asian languages.
These tools are church-based so the local churches can in turn equip and empower their own members. To find out more about utilising multi-lingual TEE resources in your church or community see http://www.increasenetwork.org
Joanne Lane is an Australian freelance photojournalist. See www.visitedplanet.com
*Name has been changed