Subtitle: Planting a Church or Starting a People Movement? – What one wants to achieve in an urban situation, or any situation, influences the details one looks at within the ethnic / social diversity which exists. Probably no attention will be paid to social distinctives if you want to get 20 people together in a church setting. Even in a church of 200, there may be little to no regard to the communities (people groups) from which individuals come. But if you want a people-movement, assuming this goal is not rhetoric-only, much attention must be paid to communities and their inter-relations.
Yes, in an urban environment ethnic and social boundaries are more fluid and porous, but the core values and beliefs of people may still be very intact, similar to their parents, grandparents, and other ancestors. The real issue is perspective and strategy; if you are looking for ethnic and social distinctives, you see them. If you are looking for the breakdown of distinctives and merging that is what you see.
An Example from Kathmandu
Let’s attempt to view things from the standpoint of people on the receiving end of mission and ministry. In the 2001 census for the Municipality of Kathmandu, around 662,000 of 672,000 people recorded their caste / people group. Individuals knew their caste and tribe, allowing it to be recorded. Typically in an Indian city, 99% of those of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe status are able to supply their community / people group / caste / tribe name when asked. This is true in both urban and rural settings.
The Starting Point
The starting point, I would assume is, “what is the community the people themselves consider they belong to?” bearing in mind the answer given initially may be the answer they think we want. But after two years of living among them and being trusted by relationship, their answer may be more detailed. There is too much of classifying people by what we think they are, rather than who they perceive themselves to be. That is an arrogance on our part, not a respect of people as people, who are living as members of communities.
We live in a world where those involved in ministry and missions oft times have minimal knowledge of what has been done in recent years, or even a few decades ago. I observe very little encouragement to learn. It seems we want to re-invent all the time, not learning from the efforts, labors, successes, and failures of colleagues who have labored or are laboring amongst people.
A Personal Journey
I was raised in the South Pacific region, and decades back watched a Serbia-Croatian football game which taught me much: forget the game, watch the crowd. Attending University with Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian students added to this awareness of the importance of ethnicity. Not all from Vietnam were the same, nor all from Cambodia the same. Living in a village in Cameroon provided more experiences of social differences, and who interacted with whom.
After living in South Asia 20 years, married to an Indian national, being accepted as an insider, watching how people were treated differently in banks, on trains, by officials, in disaster zones (including the central government flying in Bhangi community people to pull bodies from flooded roads and ditches), who married whom … I concluded caste-ism is alive and very practiced in housing societies, suburbs, towns, villages … and in the Christian church, too.
The Key: How People Perceive Themselves
Let us start with the social distinctives the people have and how they perceive themselves. The significance of the distinctives may vary from locality to locality. What is accepted in one locality may not be valid even a street away. If the distinctives seem unimportant in one location, wonderful, but it would be a failure of thinking to assume it is so everywhere.
Would we consider initially placing members of distinctively different people together, people who have a history of not getting on, in a church plant in UK, US or Australia? Then why does so much of mission attempt that in other parts of the world? Lack of knowledge and expediency are poor substitutes for respecting people as people and recognizing the dignity and realities of community.
Again, what we want to achieve will shape how we see a mass of people in a location.
Provided by: A South Asia Researcher
From the Joshua Project’s website: http://www.joshuaproject.net/south-asia-church-planting.php