Anti-immigrant cloud threatens transnational missions

The growth of immigrant church leaders seeking to evangelize their fellow immigrants in the U.S., often through transnational groups and congregations, is coinciding with “America’s volatile relationships with immigrants [and] the waning interest of second and third generations who have little memory of their homeland,” reports Christianity Today magazine (July-August). Most of these mission initiatives include modest church planting efforts, child sponsorship, and elder care programs based on family and social networks among the poor and working class, writes Andy Olson. The growth of “diaspora missions” has become a hot topic among missiologists, largely because they are seen as representing a new paradigm of integrating preaching with social concern and often operate outside of established mission organizations. They also tend to be “glocal,” meaning that national borders are “seen as more of a nuisance than a defining trait.” Olson notes that interviews with more than two-dozen mission leaders “revealed a picture of a growing but tenuous movement.”

Olson continues that “In Latino churches in particular, where a vast swath of worshippers are undocumented, the specter of deportation has chilled many outside activities and forced pastors to turn inward to console their congregations…. Potentially as consequential as the recent crackdown on immigrants are President Donald Trump’s repeated threats to shut down—or at least tax—immigrant remittances to Mexico. Nearly every mission program in this [article] relies heavily on personal money transfers.” Anti-immigrant sentiment has long made this movement more fragile, but even if it withstands the “current national zeitgeist, there is no guarantee the next generation will want to carry [these missions] forward,” Olson adds. As the second generation becomes more financially comfortable and at home in the U.S., they do not realize the poverty still existing in their home countries and may exhibit waning interest in engaging in missions there.

(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188; Religion Dispatches,