The recent report from the Office for National Statistics has shown a significant net increase in the number of people immigrating to the UK. Immigration is always a sensitive political topic and the emotional strength of feeling on both sides of the debate can fuel caricature and foster fear. Perhaps the most common perception of the immigrant is that they have come to the UK in order to find a ‘better’ life. However, this is not always the case.
In his ground-breaking book Turning the Tables on Mission, Israel Olofinjana chronicles the experiences of a very different type of immigrant. Men and women who have left prosperous lives in their countries of origin in order to embrace far from ‘better’ lives here because of their faith. Dr Jonathon Oloyede, for example, was medically trained in Nigeria and preparing for a financially well-rewarded future in his home country when he felt a call of God to leave all this behind and come to the UK as a missionary. Another, the now reverend Rodrigo Assis da Silva, was pursuing a successful, well-paid career in the Brazilian Air-force when he too felt led to come to the UK where he would be having to start life again from scratch.
These men and women have often had to overcome resistance from their own families as well as personally confront the financial costs of leaving their established lives behind. Yet, once here, they have devoted themselves to serving and working with the UK population across cultures and races even in the face of naked racism and resistance from the indigenous church. In the past, the UK sent out many thousands of missionaries around the world. They took their faith and values with them and sought to integrate and share them with those of the lands they went to. Now, very often from those same destinations, many are being led by that same faith to come at no small cost and share their beliefs and values with us in the UK.
Turning the Tables on Mission highlights the experiences and wide-ranging contributions of these pioneers in the UK, and ‘forces us to re-orientate our gaze and to see new and older ethnic minority communities in the UK as major assets to church and society’ (Dr William Ackah, Birkbeck, University of London). Amidst the swathes of immigration statistics their personal, honest accounts provide depth and new insights into the complex motivations behind those coming to this country. These are men and women who are, faster than many may think, shaping our society and culture and, whatever our views, we would do well to learn from their stories.
It is often argued by those in favour of immigration that those who have the courage to up and leave their homelands in order to pursue better lives elsewhere must be worth welcoming due to the tenacity and determination they are showing. Israel Olofinjana tells us about a small but significant group of people who are showing even more resilience and boldness, leaving their homes and families not because of economic hardship but because of heartfelt conviction that they have a message we need to hear and that it will cost them to share.
‘Turning the Tables on Mission: Stories of Christians from the Global South in the UK‘’is published by Instant Apostle.It is available from CLC and Gardners, and online in paperback and electronic formats.
Israel Olofinjana is a Baptist Minister pastoring a church in London and he recently established the Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World.
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