Sharing the gospel with South Asian migrants

The Sydney Anglican Diocese is gearing up to meet the gospel opportunity presented by the rising tide of migrants from South Asia by establishing the Archbishop’s Advisory Board for South Asian Ministry and Mission.

“This advisory board aims to resource Christian churches in Sydney to engage, evangelise and disciple a large and exponentially increasing number of people from South Asia in Australia with a heart to see a tide of South Asians move from darkness to light,” Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop Kanishka Raffel announced at the Satya Conference held at St Paul’s Carlingford last month.

About 200 people attended the Satya conference in Sydney. Joseph Jones Photography

“With such an enormous presence and inflow of people from these nations, it’s important to have a coordinated approach to ministry and to have a focal point where any church across the diocese seeking to minister, reach or disciple South Asians can come for assistance and advice.”

The new advisory board consists of members from the Satya Committee, a committee of Evangelism and New Churches (ENC), with Satya meaning truth.

“There’s a rising tide of gospel opportunity in so many communities.” – Kanishka Raffel

Raffel, who is of Sri Lankan heritage, said, “I’m so thankful for this committee, which has this magnificent name that means truth,” he said.

“Many South Asian people, in their indigenous religion, are people who would say they were seeking for truth – and the Lord says, ‘I am the truth and the way and the life.’ I think that’s why I was feeling emotional because I’d just like to see a lot more South Asian people who lift up their hands and hearts to say, ‘Jesus is the way and the life and the truth.’

“People have been prayerful and seeking to share the gospel with South Asian people for many years, but there’s a rising tide of gospel opportunity in so many communities.”

Raffel said for a long time, the highest migrant group in Australia had been from England and then from China. But in the past few years, the biggest growth had been from India.

“In the 20 years or so since 2000,  three million permanent migrants have arrived in Australia and 700,000 of them were born in India. Thirty per cent of them reside in Sydney. And the projections are that in northwest and southwest Sydney, in those growth corridors, 20, 30, 40 per cent of the population are likely to be people from South Asia. So it’s an important gospel moment for us as the church in Sydney to be responding to.”

Kanishka Raffel Joseph Jones Photography

Raffel announced that Ben George, assistant minister at Auburn and Newington Anglican Churches, would be the chair of the new committee, with Bishop Peter Lin as the liaison bishop representing the Archbishop. The body would aim to equip churches to cultivate friendships, to proclaim Christ and “to see many Indian, Pakistanis, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Nepali people coming to worship Jesus with us.”

Raffel described his surprise on seeing a distinct change in demographics while walking up and down George Street and through Darling Harbour when he first came back to Sydney in 2016 after serving in Perth for 20 years.

“This is an offer that will resonate with people who are seeking truth, freedom, forgiveness.”

In his talk from Acts, chapter 14, Raffel pointed out that both Hinduism and Buddhism – the faith of two-thirds of the Subcontinent – identify the problem in the human condition as ‘Samsara’ – the cycle of death and rebirth.

“The goal of both faiths is to achieve freedom for the ‘Atman’, the soul in Hinduism, or to break free from the cycle of karma in Buddhism. The gospel resonates with these. This is an offer that will resonate with people who are seeking truth, freedom, forgiveness,” he said.

“There is a need, of course, to respond with sensitivity and wisdom to the questions and concerns that our friends and culture have about Christian faith … But we must never forget what the Christian message is, especially when seeking to proclaim it to those who already have a faith. What is the message we want to bring to them? It isn’t primarily a message about family, or marriage, or the origin of life, or the age of the earth, or even about doing good, all of which are important in their own way.

“It’s a message about a man – the God-man, Jesus Christ. God’s Son, God’s King, the Saviour of the world, who brings forgiveness and freedom by his death. That is the message we want to share with people. That is the message that changes the world one life at a time.”

Raffel said many subcontinental people do not have the hang-ups about speaking about God that many Anglo Australians do because their worldviews typically integrate the religious and the secular.

“The Hindu worldview is of the divine force in everything, and everywhere, and especially in human beings. So there’s no dichotomy between material and spiritual, secular and religious – a much less hard division.”

“Resolving to share the gospel with them means resolving to strengthen and encourage them in the face of opposition.”

That’s not to say that gospel proclamation to South Asian people would not encounter opposition, as it does in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

“But I do mean that we ought not to think that the kind of opposition we experience, perhaps in conversation with Anglo Australians, will be necessarily reproduced among South Asian people now living in Australia. Opposition does not mean God is not at work. Opposition does not mean we need to change the message.

“The gospel of forgiveness and freedom always has to confront mistaken spiritualities and superstitions. Annually in India, the Chardham Yatra pilgrimage claims dozens of lives. The death toll has declined because of the [COVID] pandemic. In 2019, it was 90. In 2022, it was 108 in 27 days. And this year, so far, in 45 days, 119 pilgrims have died.

“Resolving to share the gospel with them means resolving to strengthen and encourage them in the face of opposition. They may lose their culture. They may lose their community. They may lose their family. They will need encouragement and strengthening. Not just a Sunday catch-up after church, but a new family in Christ.

“Opposition arises, but God has appointed some to believe. We need to confront superstition and put our faith in a living God. And as we proclaim Christ, and some believe, we must take time to strengthen and encourage one another. Because the road can be hard, but we need have no fear because we have put our trust in the Lord, who is trustworthy.”