Desi Diaspora – Book Review
Rev.J.N. Manokaran

“Desi Diaspora:  Ministry Among Scattered Global Indian Christians” is a timely book edited by Sam George and published by SAIACS Press, Bangalore in 2019.

Migration has emerged as a ‘hot topic’ as more and more people migrate to wealthier economy countries from weak economy countries.  Social and political instability also fuels migration.  Strangely, the Western world mostly, post-protestant Christian nations are recipient of most migrants than other nations.  The Biblical worldview of caring for sojourners has helped these Western nations to be generous and benevolent towards refugees and migrants. However, as right-wing politics around the world is on the rise, migrants are becoming political targets.  In this context this study is a welcome attempt to understand what is happening among and through India Christian Diaspora. 

In an era of huge people movement, Indians have dispersed to several nations around the world.  Christians among them were pioneers in new unfamiliar and unfavourable frontiers.  Sam George has done a great job of bringing those historical narratives and biographical stories of a few that would help us to get a glimpse of God’s magnificent work among scattered people termed as ‘Diaspora’.

The compilation of articles are from a variety of background and provides a mosaic of distinctive perspectives.  However, there are many missing gaps as more geographical regions and other churches have not been included in this volume.

Ram Gidoomal, prominent business person of Indian origin in his introduction has explained his physical journey from Kenya to United Kingdom as well as spiritual journey of knowing Christ and becoming part of His Kingdom.

Sam George writes: “Christianity is a translatable faith and diaspora settings call for fresh reconceptualization of our identity, community and mission in light of the gospel.

George Oommen brings out the struggle of immigrant Indian community that wishes to persist with creed, identity, culture and simultaneously transform which becomes a hard task.  “First generation diaspora wanted the church to be a space where both faith and chosen symbols of culture were used to assert an identity.  Indian Christian grew increasingly isolated and insisted about space, not necessarily because they were more religious than people back in India.”   Intergenerational conflict is a major issue where the youngsters are “Twice-alienated”  There is a danger of individualized, globalized and de-contextualized theology that could uproot diaspora church from cultural context and contemporary social context of host nation.

The book provides some important information like: 18% Indian Americans are Christians. Now more migrants are from Middle class and professional class. There are estimated 614 000 Gujaratis in UK. “Contrary to that popular opinion, there is a significant percentage of Indian Diaspora living below poverty line.”  “One of the estimated 3 million Indians in the US, about 350000 are 60 years and older.” Half of them came directly from India and rest through East Africa. John Daniel writes there are an estimated 100 churches with 10000 Tamil Christians in London.  One-fifth Fiji immigrants from India have come to Lord Jesus Christ after they left shores of India.

Varghese Mathai raises a valid question:  “Why are Indians who have made their mark everywhere else, only minimally visible in Christian spirituality?” Babylonian captivity helped the Jews to study the Word.  Esther is counterpoint to the book of Lamentations.  Hence, spirituality, spiritual excellence and exemplary leaders should emerge from immigrants as happened in Babylonian captivity.

There are some chapters that provide historical narrative of how churches in various parts of the world among Indian Diaspora emerged like Malankara church in USA. Tamil churches in London, reaching out to Sikhs in Singapore, Middle East nations…etc.  Suraja Raman writes about her experience of teaching in Kenya for theology students.

John Daniel writes: “The Tamil churches have failed to understand their potential in diaspora missions to a large extent, and they do not seem to have an interest or a vision for adaptation and a greater involvement in the city of London.” This could be the same story about other Diaspora churches which is not brought out by the contributing writers and editor.  One Middle East church had 89 guest visitors in a year from India.  Thus, this church could not focus on reaching Indian Diaspora in their community or indigenous people.

Testimonies of coming to Christ is well documented.  However, derivations from those experiences seems to be myopic without broader understanding of pluralistic Indian culture in terms of caste, culture, language and region.

The struggles of families of Diaspora and pastoral care for them is also well documented.  Life of spouses of H1B Visa holders that leads them to depression is a real challenge for the church to handle.  “Many Indian couples are living together because of social pressure and the stigma of divorce.”

Strategies to reach out to Indian Diaspora lacks substance, only old models are repeated.  General statements like affirming aspects of Indian culture is repeated without elaboration.  The models like reading bible in Sanskrit for those who do not understand the language is funny as God speaks to help people understand and bible translations were done with that intention.  The truth is: “The displacement out of land and culture is bringing them one step closer to Jesus and to putting their faith in him for their moksha.”  Shibu Cherian writes that the need is not a clergy-centric church, but a laity centric missional church to reach Indian diaspora.  Also it is necessary to understand this fact: “Indian diaspora churches must overcome the tendency to use only the financial resources of their members, and not their tie, talents and relational networks.”

Chandra S. Soans brings a refreshing article that brings out his vision and planting of church that would serve the marginalized in the host society.  His church Mission is divided equally between local and global work.

The book is a good addition to Indian Diaspora studies.  Editor Sam George has done a remarkable job.  In the future editions there is need to do two important aspects.  First, Mission Diaspora narratives from Malaysia, Singapore (especially Tamils), more non-traditional churches in US and Canada. Second, another article written by a missiologist who could discern patterns, understand trends, (other diaspora as well) and provide strategies should be included.  

-       J.N. Manokaran

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Rev.Manokaran is a gifted Bible Teacher who regularly organizes and conducts programmes and Workshops for Pastors and Chruch Leaders. He could be reached at jnmanokaran@gmail.com.