Reaching the Scattered: The Sikhs in my Neighborhood

I was in our neighborhood mall the other night, when I encountered my old friend, who once served as vice president of my denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. It was during his term in the early 1980s that the First Filipino Alliance Church (FFAC) in Edmonton was envisioned. I had the privilege of leading the team that planted FFAC and then served the congregation for over two decades.

While seated across from each other in the food court, we could not help but overhear the (louder) conversation of 15 men who had occupied two tables near us. These gentlemen in turbans seemed to be having a brain-storming session. I could clearly hear their discussion on how to go about building another Gurdwara. “Twice bigger than what we have now” challenged one distinguished looking gentleman.

In 2011, there were 52,335 adherents of Sikhism in Alberta (Statistics Canada, National Household Survey Profile, Alberta, 2011). In Edmonton alone there were 19,555 Sikhs. In the southeast quadrant of Edmonton, 12,285 of them are my neighbors. In fact, my next door neighbor is an Orthodox Sikh. In Edmonton, there are three Gurdwaras; two are walking distance from my home.

The followers of Sikhism are represented at every level of Canadian society and in every industry. They are vital and respected Canadians.

So what is my point? Here is why I am writing about this people group:

1. Western missiologists make a big deal about the Unreached People Groups in India. What about the diaspora Indians from the State of Punjab who have migrated and have become our next-door neighbors?

2. How do we interact with Sikhs? We need to be educated. Some people even make the wrong assumption that Sikhs are adherents of other religions. Furthermore, I get the impression that the Western Church fixates on two major religious groups from the 10/40 Window, but tend to forget about the Sikhs (and others). Do we live out our faith in community with Sikhs as we passionately introduce Christ to others? Do we position our personnel and financial resources to respectfully reach out to them?

3. There is a small congregation in Edmonton that has partnered with some leaders in Sikh ministry in Edmonton. Last weekend, they conducted a seminar to educate attending Edmontonians on Sikh culture, philosophy, and sociology. The seminar pointed out differences between Sikhs and Christians, and provided suggestions for how to reach out to our Sikh neighbors. How would our local churches benefit from more intentionality (like the church in Edmonton)?

4. How prepared are our seminary and Bible school students to engage the Unreached, Unengaged People Groups within our communities, such as the Sikhs? Are these students well positioned to minister in our fast-growing multicultural and pluralistic societies?

Back to the Sikhs in Edmonton. In the 1980s, my friend was influential in the birthing of the ethnic congregation FFAC. Fast forward 16 years, I am praying that more denominational leaders will read the times and will respond with urgency and creativity.

In 1988, FFAC purchased its first property from Gurdwara Siri Guru Singh Sabha. I did not know at the time that the sale would contribute to the building of a larger Gurdwara. Had I been more aware of the growing Sikh community in Edmonton, I would have been more intentional at dialoguing and building relationships with the Gurdwara leaders.

Little did I know at the time, FFAC would come full circle to send out its own international workers (missionaries) who would actively participate in reaching the people of Edmonton. Perhaps it is time for FFAC to benchmark its historical ministries and intentionally reach their Sikh neighbors.

It is time to engage the unreached and unengaged in our neighborhoods. In 2014, God has allowed our paths to cross with thousands of scattered people and he has given us the tools to educate our congregations. Let us rise to this opportunity with gusto!

Sadiri Joy Tira is chair of the Global Diaspora Network and senior associate for diasporas with Lausanne.