The Significance of Diaspora Ministry in an Age of Global Migration
Article by Daniel Topf, PhD
World Team is in the process of expanding its missionary work into Ciudad del Este in Paraguay and, at first glance, it may not be that obvious why this Latin American country is such a priority when it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission. After all, one could argue, Latin America is a continent with a strong Roman Catholic identity and a growing number of evangelical churches. Operation World, for instance, reports that 6.3% of Paraguay’s population is evangelical, while Joshua Project counts 8.01% in this category.1
However, just like in many other parts of the world, migration is an important factor when examining the spiritual needs in a particular city or country. As will be explained in the following, there is a strategic opportunity to engage in diaspora ministry in Latin American cities like Ciudad del Este, due to the growing number of Muslim immigrants living in these locations.
Muslims in Ciudad del Este
To understand why Ciudad del Este is such a significant location, it may be helpful to first talk about the expansion of Islam in Latin American in general. Historically, the Middle East has been the heartland of the Islamic faith, and from there it quickly expanded across North Africa, as well as eastwards, all the way to Indonesia.
In recent years, Muslim immigrants have also been arriving in Western countries, such as Australia, the United States, and many European nations. However, in Latin America the influence of Islam is now growing as well, highlighting the fact that it has become a truly global religion.2 For instance, a growing number of mosques are being built in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.
Significantly, Muslims have been successful in making converts among the native populations in these countries. With such growth, Muslims have begun to invest in Islamic education as well, such as through the Islamic Training Center for Latin Americans in Panama City, Panama.3
In the area of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, there are tens of thousands of Muslims, with many of them being from Lebanon and Syria. For the local, Spanish-speaking churches in Ciudad del Este it is quite challenging to reach out to these unreached populations living among them, considering that linguistic and cultural barriers must be crossed in order to successfully share the gospel with Muslims. At the same time, local Paraguayans are increasingly converting to Islam, among them a considerable number of women who change their religion once they marry a Muslim man.
One reason why Muslims have been coming to Ciudad del Este has to do with the economic opportunities this city offers. Ciudad del Este is a free trade zone and part of the dynamic Triple Frontier region, with a direct border to Brazil and Argentina. Doing ministry in Ciudad del Este therefore not only has a local component but opens up avenues for international missions as well.
The Bigger Picture: Diaspora Ministry as a Priority in Missions Today
Engaging in diaspora ministry by reaching out to migrants and refugees is not only something that is taking place in the Americas. It is happening all over the world, as missiologists and missionaries have increasingly recognized that God may have a special purpose whenever people are on the move.4
For example, people from resistant cultures and countries may be more open to the gospel once they find themselves in a different environment. From a legal and logistical point of view, it can also be easier to reach people in their new location, rather than in their home countries that are often quite hostile toward Christian missionaries.
In addition, once these immigrants from Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist backgrounds come to the faith, they can have an immeasurable impact on their home countries. As they begin to share the gospel with their friends and family, whether through phone calls, social media, or visits back in their home country, churches begin to grow and multiply in often unforeseen ways.
All these missiological principles and opportunities apply to the situation in Ciudad del Este as well, which is why it is such an important place for starting a diaspora ministry that focuses on reaching out to Muslims who have made this city their new home.
World Team’s Response
World Team is responding to the opportunities related to migration by establishing diaspora ministries all around the world. In the United States, the INN (= International Neighborhood Network) now exists in a growing number of key cities, enabling World Team missionaries to share the gospel with a variety of unreached populations. In European countries like Spain, England, and France, World Team missionaries are reaching out to immigrants as well.
In early 2022, World Team conducted extensive research to explore placing a team in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. In September of 2022, World Team organized a survey trip to this city to test the research and to hold in-person meetings with Latin believers in the region. Shortly after, a decision was reached to begin a new church-planting initiative in Ciudad del Este after receiving a warm welcome from local believers.
You can be part of this effort to reach Muslims with the good news of Jesus Christ in this strategic location. There are numerous opportunities to connect with diaspora Muslims in Ciudad del Este, such as through friendship evangelism, sports ministry, and language training.
If you are interested in this kind of work, please contact us by using the “Get Started” link below – we look forward to hearing from you!
Endnotes / Suggestions for Further Reading
- 1 See Operation World (Paraguay – Operation World) and Joshua Project (Paraguay people groups, languages and religions | Joshua Project).
- 2 As one Islamic resource puts it: “In the last two decades, Islam has flourished in Latin America and the Caribbean” while at the same time acknowledging that, “in comparison to the United States, the Muslim population in Latin America and the Caribbean is still very small” (Support Islam in Latin America | LaunchGood).
- 3 For this information I am indebted to Dr. Tony Vásquez, creator of the Manarah (“Lighthouse”) training.
- 4 Cf., Jared Looney, Crossroads of the Nations: Diaspora, Globalization, and Evangelism (Portland, OR: Urban Loft, 2015); Sadiri Joy Tira and Juliet Lee Uytanlet, eds., A Hybrid World: Diaspora, Hybridity, and Missio Dei (Littleton, CO: William Carey, 2020).