I love shows about strange food. Maybe it is because I love strange food. I like them even more when I can learn something from them, and this upcoming piece by Anthony Bourdain on CNN’s Parts Unknown is all about the radical diversity found in one US city… Houston.
I have noted before that Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the United States. It is home to hundreds of different people group populations, and many of them have formed into tight-knit cultural communities around the metro area. We may not think of Texas as a crossroads of the nations, but we should. The news is certainly not lost to CNN, and they place Houston’s diversity on display by showcasing its food.
Below is a video preview of the upcoming episode. Not only is it fun to watch, but if you pay close attention, it gives us some helpful information when it comes to the Great Commission.
200,000 South Asians in Houston
You heard the guy. 200,000 people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal all live in the Houston area. They have a vibrant community with its own business networks, social circles, economy, and probably their own phone book. I have visited Hindu temples in Houston that rival any I have seen in India.
And Houston is just one of the many cities in the US that is home to a large South Asian population. At the beginning of the video, the DJ claims that this Little India in Houston is the best Little India in America. There are others, we have one in Raleigh, and there may be one near you.
I beat this drum all the time, but this is a Great Commission opportunity. The world’s most concentrated lostness is found in South Asia, and here are hundreds of thousands of South Asians within driving distance of evangelical churches. Of course, missions to this South Asian diaspora is going to look different in a lot of ways than the traditional ministry of a church. But, it can and should be done. If you have no idea where to start, check out these resources.
Similar people groups often cluster.
Notice Bourdain points out that Pakistani and Indian peoples do not normally get along. The young man in the video speaks as though they are part of the same community in Houston. The guy’s answer is telling. Back at home, they do not, but being part of an immigrant community in another country causes some of those distinctions to vanish in light of the more diverse groups around them.
I find this to be true in my own city of Raleigh. When I was a missionary in West Africa, the different tribes were very distinct. Their identity was bound primarily to their tribe. However, many of the West Africans from various tribes that have moved to Raleigh cluster together. Certainly, some of the communities (the Sene-Gambians for instance) are large enough they develop their own community. In many instances though, the distinctions between groups are minimized compared to the differences from the other people around them.
They cluster, but they are still distinct.
While similar groups do come to the US and mix with one another, there is still an important level of identity that matters for missions and ministry. While the representative from the South Asian community notes how well the different South Asian groups get along, it is very important to notice the pride placed in their identity as South Asian in the video. They display their culture, and they are proud of it. At one point, the DJ even rouses the crowd by having all the “brown people” cheer. Yes, unique groupings of people occur, but that does not mean all distinctions vanish.
Realizing the importance of culture and identity is so very important in missions. Different groups are reached different ways. The gospel never changes, but the culture to which it is communicated does. It is not enough to assume our very Western, very English-centered way of “doing church” will ever reach such a distinct community. Honestly, it is a bit arrogant of us to ask them to do it our way. We like to talk about how the gospel tears down racial divides, and it most certainly does. That said, the gospel must still be communicated to lost people in a way that makes sense. The gospel tears down racial divides for those who have been changed by the gospel. If our goal is to seek out the lost, then we are the ones responsible to cross that cultural barrier. Imagine the benefit of planting churches that speak the languages and exist in the culture of these 200,000 South Asians in Houston.
Oh, and I threw in one more video from the preview of Bourdain eating with a Congolese family: