If you were to hang out at a Christian bookstore at the edge of many Canadian cities, you might be surprised to see who is there. Ditto if you drive past a packed church parking lot any day of the week, or a bustle of people leaving a newly planted church in an industrial area, commercial space, or home. If you overhear someone speaking openly about faith in Jesus, or offering to pray with another in a public place, there is an excellent chance that the faces you see did not grow up in western Christendom—and those voices carry the cadence of exotic locales, most originating in the Two Thirds World.
Canada is a significant destination for Diaspora Christians around the world, some fleeing persecution, others poverty and war, and some are on the move (I think) because they’ve been called by Christ to missionize the western world—like the Filipino church planter I met in North York who planted an intercultural church in Mississauga which then birthed another congregation in Etobicoke even before the Mississauga church secured their first pastor.
They are not reticent about their faith. Like the Christians of the early Roman Empire serving the established classes, I am hearing anecdotal evidence of children demanding to go church because their nannies have told them about Jesus, personal caregivers leading seniors to faith in Christ, receptionists praying with clients in the waiting room, and other professionals I dare not name in print lest we jeopardize their timely unawareness of the need to compartmentalize faith so it cannot seep into the workplace.
Twenty years ago, I thought God had brought us the nations of the world so we could share Christ. Now I think I had it backward. We are the ones who need to learn that faith is no less a passion than World Cup Football, and spiritual conversations are as natural as discussing the weather. We are the ones who need to forget that our brand of Christianity had its capital in Europe—perhaps temporarily—and remember that the Church has always been the world’s most truly multi-national, multi-ethnic, inter-cultural corporations. We are the ones who must adjust to the new reality beyond our cultural borders where it is more normal to purchase a theatre to turn it into a place of worship than to sell a church and turn it into condominiums—and that others are doing just that in our midst.
Soong-Chan Rah, a 1.5 generation Korean-American scholar in Chicago has it right when he says that the real wave of transformation in the North American church will not be ushered in by hip young white guys with goatees and book contracts with the Christian media juggernaut, but by intercultural ministries. First generation immigrants often arrive with a vibrant faith, but with too many cultural barriers to communicate easily into other people groups. Their children, however, who arrive as young people but grow up with vibrant faith and a Canadian education and accent—these 1.5 generation immigrants are shaping up as a formidable force on the Canadian landscape.
Five years ago, I thought that perhaps 50% of church goers in the Greater Toronto area on any given Sunday morning were in black majority or immigrant churches. No one knows how many unregistered churches there are, but I suspect the percentage of worshippers is much higher today.