History could almost be told by understanding the movement of peoples all over the world. Old Testament scholar, M. Daniel Carroll says, “Migration is part of the human DNA. This is who we are.” Today, there are more people on the move than ever. Some people are being driven away from their homeland and are now counted among the 59 million (UNHCR) refugees/asylees/displaced people around the world. Many more cross borders out of desperation to seek work or opportunity in another land. Although estimations vary, 232 million people are counted in this number (those holding a passport of one country while working in another). Millions upon millions more have now moved permanently away from their homelands while retaining a cultural, linguistic, and familial connection with their former home. All of these people come under the category of diaspora. According to Robin Cohen (2008, p. 12), diaspora people are defined by these core elements:
- Dispersion across borders either by force or by choice.
- Orientation to their homeland, sometimes an idealized notion of homeland.
- Maintenance of group boundaries (through language, culture, and religious practices).
Diaspora realities are especially noticeable in global cities. In just two weeks in Kuala Lumpur, I have purchased from a Pakistani shopkeeper, had something installed by a Bangladeshi technician (working for a Swedish company), encountered Nepali security guards, and eaten meals cooked by Burmese, Indonesians, and Iranians. More than ever, I hear of Malaysians adjusting to a world where people from all over the world are now neighbors, coworkers, and friends. Many of the diaspora peoples face horrendous hardships compelling the church to respond in love.
There is no time more poignant for a Diaspora Symposium than now. If you live in Malaysia would you consider attending the National Diaspora Symposium held in KL on Sept. 6-9. For more details and registration go to www.ndsmy.org.