How It Feels to Be an African Immigrant

I love reading first-person narratives. It allows you to get inside the mind and heart of someone else and see the world through their eyes for awhile. When we’re trying to understand the perspective of the immigrants we are getting to know, reading books written by immigrants is incredibly helpful.

The book I’m featuring today is written by one of the Ethiopians who inspired my recent “How to Encourage Christian Immigrants” post. He also happens to be my husband! May his words be thought-provoking and inspiring as you seek to understand and love immigrants this fall!

Book Review of A Reflection on Diaspora Cross-Cultural Evangelism: An African Perspective

In 2010, Abeneazer Gezahegn Urga immigrated from Ethiopia to America to attend seminary. Though he enjoyed his studies from the beginning, he found life in the West jarringly different than in his homeland. What he observed was confusing and often disturbing. He felt the world had turned upside down and he was not sure where he fit anymore.

When feelings of dullness, depression, and purposelessness descended, Abeneazer found solace in journaling. He poured out his observations, frustrations, struggles, and insights. He recorded stories of sorrows and victories. Step by step, God brought him out of the haze of culture shock by revealing the strategic role that he could play as a non-western cross-cultural evangelist in the West.

He recorded this journey toward renewed joy and purpose in the same journal, recounting his exciting encounters in cross-cultural evangelism and his desire that other immigrants get involved. Eventually, in an effort to inspire and equip other immigrant believers in the Diaspora and those who want to help them, he compiled and edited his years of journaling into his recently published book: A Reflection on Diaspora Cross-Cultural Evangelism: An African Perspective.

At once incisively observant and pastorally encouraging, the book examines the real challenges facing Christian immigrants in the West while maintaining the conviction that Diaspora believers are key in any effective mission strategies for the 21st century. Believers from around the world have been brought to the West for such a time as this.

Abeneazer laments that the great potential of Diaspora believers as evangelists — their faith, commitment to prayer, experience with persecution and boldness in witness — is often muted by culture shock and its resultant divisiveness, depression and insularity. He points the way forward for his immigrant brothers and sisters, transparently describing his journey and inviting them to join him on a path to thriving as cross-cultural witnesses who “desire a better country, that is a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:6).

Drawing upon his real-life ministry experience after graduation as a cross-cultural evangelist in a major American city, Abeneazer warns against the distraction of divisiveness within immigrant churches, explains the importance of language acquisition for the sake of the Great Commission, and calls Diaspora Christians to reject ethnocentrism and missiopessimism (a term he coined to describe “lack of faith and joy on the front lines”) (p. 21).

He seeks to empower his fellow culture-crossers to realize that they can make an immense contribution to reaching the unreached wherever they find themselves, even far from home. As a final exhortation, he reminds believers that we are all immigrants — pilgrims on the way to our Heavenly Home.

A Reflection on Diaspora Cross-Cultural Evangelism would be a helpful discussion starter for Western and Diaspora churches and individuals wanting to get involved in cross-cultural evangelism. Abeneazer’s missional passion is contagious and his insights are relevant both for believing immigrants in the West as well as Westerners seeking to understand the immigrant experience.

Click here to get your copy!

[1] p. 21

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