Review: Peoples on the Move

In his eminently practical Peoples on the Move, Intercultural Studies professor and ethnographic researcher Anthony Casey sets out to provide a handbook for ministry leaders who want to gain a deeper understanding of their communities

Casey begins by overviewing the current trends of globalization and migration. These twin realities present unprecedented “opportunities” but they also give rise to the “multicultural complexity of modern communities” (5) which can be overwhelming for those trying to reach the nations next door.

Next, he turns his attention to biblical figures—most notably Jesus—who exemplify “taking the posture of a learner who is fully engaged in his or her community” (8), providing support for the idea that planting the seed of the gospel should be coupled with an understanding of the soil into which it is being planted.

Chapter three helpfully explores the meaning of culture, the way it changes, and the way it unites and divides people. The cultural values spectrum is discussed at some length, with real-life examples included to make abstract categories such as “Task versus Relationship” (31) more comprehensible.

After laying this quick but cogent theoretical foundation, Casey dives into research methodology, beginning with a description of “The Most Important Tool—The Researcher” (40). Then, since “community research is most effective when a well-rounded approach is utilized” (51), Casey walks the reader through a process for reviewing a variety of online and community resources in order to gain an initial understanding of the group and/or area that is the focus of research. Advice for gaining access to a physical site for research and gaining access to people through the use of local guides called “informants” (62) is included, and a non-academic explanation of participant observation will prove helpful to those who are unsure of how to go about demographic research practically.

Chapter eight particularly shone in its explanation of qualitative interviewing and tips for the researcher on how to set the tone of an interaction, orient the interviewee, and keep track of all the data generated by the conversation.

At this point in the process, the inexperienced researcher might be overwhelmed with the “large amount of scattered data” (98) he or she has collected. But Casey proves a trusty guide, providing a step-by-step process for categorizing information and teasing out themes from a solid background knowledge of the community, as well as asking informed questions and making strategic decisions based upon the discovered themes.

Casey then includes a word on the unique challenges of planting a multi-ethnic church in a multicultural setting. In his experience, this kind of church is “often unsuccessful” (119). What follows is a truly fascinating discussion of cultural identity and the various strategies that immigrants use to cope with adjusting to a new country, but it may have been more helpful to provide and explain a viable alternative to multi-ethnic churches, supported with examples of mono-ethnic churches planted among immigrants which have been successful.

Does a church planter need months or years of study in the field of cultural anthropology and training in ethnographic research techniques to be effective in cross-cultural ministry? Not necessarily, Casey contends. Instead, in this ground-breaking work, he seeks to offer a concisely comprehensive guide for those who are new to this field but who see the importance of contextualizing the gospel when sharing it cross-culturally.

Casey’s stated intent was to “write something that was in-depth enough to be thorough but still readable for the regular person” (6), and he has accomplished this goal. Peoples on the Move is everything a pastor, church planter or missionary needs to know about community research, and nothing that they don’t. The slim volume’s conversational and engaging tone—leavened by real-life examples and personal stories—make it easy and enjoyable to read in an afternoon, but the principles and methodologies shared will serve readers for a lifetime as they seek to better know and love those they live among.

[This review was originally published in the Occasional Bulletin of Evangelical Missiological Society, Vol. 34 no. 4, Fall 2020. To read the whole bulletin, click here.]

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