The unknown missionary force targeting a suburb near you

Cross-cultural mission in our own backyard

While doing research for a refugee-focused social enterprise project, Lisa Bateup spent half a day hanging around at Bankstown Centrelink, in western Sydney.

“I had four very significant conversations with people on the steps of Bankstown Centrelink – complete strangers. I prayed with people – three of them were Muslim background, one was a Kiwi; and on that day, I asked every single one of those people, ‘Have you had contact with a local church?’ And 100 per cent response was that they had not.

“And this is the opportunity that we have. There are people here in our community and they’re open to the gospel and we’re just not reaching them because we’re not going to where they are.”

Cross-cultural mission isn’t something that you have to go overseas to do – there are real opportunities here.

As director of CultureConnect – a local arm of mission agency Interserve which seeks to equip churches and ordinary people to do cross-cultural ministry right here in Australia – Bateup is passionate about bringing the gospel to spiritually open refugees and migrants.

“But here’s the thing: if I’d gone up to any one of those people and said, ‘Can I tell you about Jesus?’ – game over, thanks for playing. You know, the conversation’s over. It’s very much about having the conversation about them, finding out what’s going on in their life, what is God doing?”

Bateup’s message is that cross-cultural mission isn’t something that you have to go overseas to do – there are real opportunities here. And the church needs to think about sending people to be intentional cross-cultural missionaries in Australia in the way they think about sending people overseas.

“This is something for ordinary people – and for the church to invest in it the way that they invest in mission work overseas,” she says.

According to the last census, there are more than six million people in Australia who weren’t born here, with more than five million speaking a language other than English at home. And yet, Bateup says, “though they are here in Australia, many of them are outside the reach of the gospel simply because they’ve never had a chance to hear it explained to them in a way that they understand.

“In the Sydney metropolitan area, according to the last census, almost one in two people is a migrant and so we say this is a work of God – you know, God is bringing people here. We know that his purposes are for people of all nations to come to know him. We know the calling that he’s placed on us,” she says.

“The gospel is Jesus is Lord – he died on the cross, he has defeated the powers of sin and death and he is building his kingdom. And so for us, we need to be saying, ‘what is God doing?’ and seeking to join him in what he is doing. And so then when you look at what is happening in the world, at the movement of people around the world, the opportunities to hear – this is what he is doing! And we have the privilege of joining him in that!”

“You’ve got to be able to connect with people in their everyday life and – guess what? – that takes time, it takes availability.” – Lisa Bateup

Established in 2007 by former Interserve missionary Andrew Schachtel, CultureConnect has three goals: to equip churches to send people to do cross-cultural work in churches in high migrant areas, especially from Asia and the Arab world; to train and support that missionary community; and to develop social enterprises for migrants and refugees. She notes that Interserve is about holistic mission – that all of life is your ministry and Jesus transforms all of life.

“The thing is that the job is so big that it’s not just a job for a handful of experts that have been overseas – it’s a job for the church; but the church needs help to do it. And so we’re involved in training everyday believers in how to connect with people from different cultural backgrounds, how to engage them in spiritual conversations, helping people understand world views.

“So we’re training the church – that’s the first thing. The second thing that we’re doing is that we’re providing missional community for people who want to be leaders of cross-cultural work in Australia – people who are called by God to invest themselves and their lives in cross-cultural ministry here.”

These cross-cultural mission workers can, for example, follow up people who come into churches for ESL (English as a Second Language) classes.

“English classes are a great way to meet migrants in the community. And many, many churches have been doing that for 15 years. The issue is what comes after the English class? It’s engaging with people – the gold is what happens outside of the class. You’ve got to be able to connect with people in their everyday life and – guess what? – that takes time, it takes availability, and that’s why we need people like the CultureConnect team.

“Many rectors have said to me ESL doesn’t contribute to church growth, but there’s steps between English class and church and often those things aren’t done – and what happens at a typical church Sunday gathering just isn’t accessible to people, and so we have to think about different ways of engaging with Scripture.”

At present, Bateup has 19 people on her missionary team, half of whom are in Sydney. She would dearly like to take on more, especially in Melbourne where there are only three people serving at present. She points out that the the support and training they receive is equivalent to that offered to Interserve’s member care for people serving overseas, with hub groups, personal ministry plans and an annual conference.

“To be effective in cross-cultural ministry, you have to listen and understand others, you have to understand their world view.” – Lisa Bateup

As the daughter of a migrant from India, Bateup says her childhood experiences in Australia contributed to her heart for the outsider. Her early career in manufacturing leadership roles brought her in contact with many migrant factory workers “and I saw first-hand how open people were to discussing spiritual things. They would start the conversation! I also realised how the church did very little to engage with these people, people who are open to the gospel, who are our neighbours who we are called to love, but many had little or no contact with a local church.”

After joining Interserve as a CultureConnect team member in 2011, she spent five years ‘doing life’ with migrants in south-western Sydney and learned a great deal about reaching migrants and also about the need to better support local cross-cultural workers.

She became CultureConnect’s director after the founding director Andrew Schachtel retired from that role at the end of 2015. The following year, Bateup was part of the Hub at ADM (Anglican Deaconess Ministries), then participated in a year-long Entrepreneurial Incubator program run by Seed. In 2017 she received $10,000 in seed funding at the ADM annual funding event for a new youth program called CHAT.

CHAT – standing for Culture, Hearing, Asking, Telling – is a program of eight modules that helps children and young people develop skills in listening to people from different cultural backgrounds, asking respectful questions and sharing their own beliefs and worldview.

“We’re giving kids the skills to develop meaning relationships with people who are different to them, acknowledging those differences, not trying to pretend that we’re all the same, and that’s equipping them for the kind of world they’re going to live and work in as adults,” Bateup explains.

“But also for Christian kids, we’re giving them the skills of how you do cross-cultural mission because, in order to be effective in cross-cultural ministry, you have to listen and understand others, you have to understand their world view. You have to understand their spiritual longing and speak into that.”

CHAT began being rolled out last year by Scripture Union in government schools, with school chaplains being trained in facilitating it, while Interserve is looking to pilot the program in independent schools and church youth groups this year.

“Part of our aim in engaging, particularly with the church environment, is helping Christian kids think about the environments that they’re in at school but also when they’re going to be going on short-term missions – the sort of things they should be thinking about before they go,” she says.

“I think it’s a unique program and the feedback that we’ve had from the schools that have run it – from kids – is very exciting.”

“God is bringing people here! He’s bringing the nations to us.” – Lisa Bateup

Bateup says another reason to concentrate on cross-cultural mission at home is that it is getting harder and harder for mission agencies to send people overseas.

“Visas are harder to get, people who have served in countries where Interserve has sent people for decades are being asked to leave; and while we’re still very much looking to mobilise and send people, the reality is that that’s getting harder and God is bringing people here! He’s bringing the nations to us.”

However, she rejects the idea that the two areas of mission are in competition with each other for resources and priorities.

“They go together. We’ve already had people come from overseas who are now serving on the CultureConnect team. Andrew Schachtel did it; we’ve got a couple now working in Sydney who spent 13 years in the Middle East – they’ve returned to Australia, they’re fluent in Arabic, they’ve got all cultural skills and knowledge to be leading the work among Arabic speaking Muslims here.

“But we’ve also had people start here and then go to serve overseas. They work together and we see how we’re working here very much as an extension of how Interserve has been working overseas for 160 years – they’re not in competition.”

Lisa Bateup

Bateup says the main difficulty is persuading churches to see cross-cultural mission at home as a priority.

“There’s a lot of rectors out there who will say ‘this is a great thing you’re doing’, but it just doesn’t have the priority of youth and children’s ministry, of Sunday gatherings,” she says.

But as a resident of the Georges River region of Sydney, Bateup has seen many churches close because they haven’t adapted to the changing demographics of the area.

“Churches haven’t been able to make that change and so they have eventually shrunk and closed or parishes have merged together. There’s a real need across all of Sydney, but particularly in the Georges River region, to have people who are leaders of this work and able to mobilise other people to become leaders too.”

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