The landscape of the U.S. is changing rapidly, and the census demographics are beginning to reflect the diversity represented in our mission field here in North America.  The United States Census Bureau recently put out a new press release with a plethora of information about the upcoming census. The release was a laundry list of things, so I will quote the portion I want you to see here:

New data for five languages are available on American Fact Finder Table B16001: Haitian, Punjabi, Bengali, Telugu and Tamil.

  • There were 806,254 people ages 5 and older who spoke Haitian at home. Almost half (48.8 percent) lived in Florida.
  • Of the 280,867 people ages 5 and older who spoke Punjabi at home, 48.0 percent lived in California.
  • Of the 259,204 people ages 5 and older who spoke Bengali at home, 38.6 percent lived in New York.
  • The 321,695 people ages 5 and older who spoke Telugu at home and the 238,699 people speaking Tamil at home were more evenly distributed across many parts of the nation. For both languages, the highest concentration of speakers lived in California, followed by Texas and New Jersey (the number of persons who spoke Tamil in Texas and New Jersey are not statistically different). (U.S. Census Bureau press release)

According to the release, 21.1 percent of the American population speaks a language other than English in their home.

Let that sink in for a minute.  One in five Americans speaks a language other than English at home.  Now tell me how that is affecting the ministry of your local church?

Specifically, I wanted to point out that the census bureau is adding some languages this year. Of course, the obvious reason for adding languages is because we are adding a lot of people who speak those languages to the population. Enter: Haitian, Punjabi, Bengali, Telegu, and Tamil.

For most of you, the only language from that list you will recognize is Haitian. For the small remainder of you, you probably got jazzed because you know enough about South Asian missions to know those are all languages from the Indian Sub-continent. For some years now, the number of South Asian Indians moving to the United States has increased at a marked pace. Some major urban centers in the US now boast a sizeable Indian community. This inflow of South Asians is now so pronounced the census bureau is officially adding these languages to their research.

In addition, these communities often enclave in order to build tight, cultural communities that allow them to maintain language, culture, and religion. Many cities are developing “Little Indias” somewhere around their metro area. Here in Houston, we even have an official Indian district called Mahatma Gandhi square.

Of course, this is yet another piece of evidence that points to the need for churches to care about diaspora missions. If you’re not familiar with the term, “diaspora” refers to a group of people who live somewhere outside of their homeland. So, all these Indian peoples moving to Houston (or near you) are part of the South Asian diaspora.

Diasporas present an exciting new opportunity for local churches here in North America to get involved in international missions in an entirely different way. Have you ever looked on Google maps to see if your area has a Hindu temple? Give it a go. You may be surprised.

If you do have one, then consider trying to meet some of your new neighbors. Often, these temples give tours. As a Christian who wants to share the gospel with our new Indian neighbors, visiting their temple is one of those things you think you may not be allowed to do, but may actually be a good thing. I encourage you to look for ways that you can meet South Asians near you. And when you do, here’s one way to start some gospel conversations.

Keelan Cook
Author

Keelan is a Senior Church Consultant with the Union Baptist Association in Houston and is working on a PhD in Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He spent time as a church planter in West Africa with the IMB and doing ethno-graphic research in Washington, DC with NAMB. His focus is urban and diaspora missions.

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