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Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 206pp. $10.91.
J. D. Payne serves as the pastor of church multiplication for The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to his current position in Birmingham, Payne was a domestic missionary with the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and an Associate Professor of Church Planting and Evangelism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also directed the Center for North American Missions and Church Planting.
Payne’s book, Strangers Next Door, has a twofold purpose: (1) to educate Western evangelical churches on the large-scale global migrations that are taking place as the peoples of the world move to the West as long-term and short-term workers, students, refugees, and asylum-seekers (18); and (2) to challenge Western evangelical churches to reach, equip, partner with, and send the least reached people living in their neighborhoods to return to their peoples as missionaries (19). Payne’s book is neither a theology of mission nor a practical guide to missional living, though it includes elements of both. Rather, it is an impassioned plea and a vision, calling for evangelicals in the West to notice and act on a unique missional opportunity of the twenty-first century: the presence of migrants from least reached, unreached, and hard-to-reach people groups in Western countries, living right next door to us.
After defining his terms and outlining his theological assumptions in chapter one, Payne uses half of the book to make his case first that migration is occurring in the modern era on an unprecedented scale (chs. 2, 6, 7, and 8) and second that many of these migrants are moving from unreached or least reached areas of the world to Western countries (ch. 3), by which he means the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many of the countries commonly referred to as Western Europe. On both accounts, Payne demonstrates his claims very persuasively with extensive statistical data. However, with regard to his second claim, Payne reveals a significant theological bias that obscures much of his data, namely, he considers people groups comprised of less than 2 percent evangelicals as unreached. He borrows his definition of evangelicals from the Joshua Project (55), but based on which countries he labels as unreached, Payne clearly excludes most, if not all, members of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and mainline Protestantism, among others. For example, he lists France, Portugal, and Spain as among the most unreached countries in the world (60), three countries known for substantial Catholic populations. Although this bias does not diminish the importance of Payne’s overall thesis and argument, it does limit the usefulness of the book in determining which countries and peoples are unreached for one who operates with a more inclusive understanding of Christianity.
The rest of the book focuses on what Payne calls “diaspora missiology,” which brings migration research to bear on missiology. In chapters four and five, he demonstrates from Scripture that God has constantly worked through migrations to accomplish his purposes in the world. In chapter nine, he shares inspiring stories of people who have acted on this vision to reach the unreached through migrants. Finally, chapters ten through twelve offer guidelines and a strategy for accomplishing the task of reaching, equipping, partnering with, and sending migrants back to their home countries as missionaries to reach the unreached peoples of the world. Payne suggests helpful missiological insights in these chapters, but due to the nature of his book as a vision-casting plea, these suggestions remain surface level and brief. For example, his section on contextualization is three paragraphs long. Anyone wanting to learn about how to contextualize the gospel in migrant communities in their neighbors will need to look elsewhere for advice.
Payne’s overarching vision, that churches in the West should focus their efforts on reaching migrants in their neighborhoods from unreached or least reached countries, with an eye towards partnering with and sending those migrants back to their home countries as missionaries, is worthy of attention and consideration for all, including non-evangelical churches in Western countries. I recommend this book to any church leaders and lay people willing to re-envision their task of sharing the gospel with the nations. As Payne argues, for those of us living in the West, the nations have come to our doorstep and we are now confronted with an exciting missional opportunity to proclaim the gospel to them without ever having to set foot on a plane.
Garrett Matthew East
Missionary in Training
ACU Halbert Institute for Missions
Abilene, Texas, USA