London: The whole world is right around the corner

London is one of the world’s most multicultural cities and is home to people speaking more than 300 different languages. More than one third of London’s 8.6 million people are now born outside the country. During the 2012 London Olympics the city was already home to people from every single competing country.

My own family story is one of immigration to London in the 1680s by my forebears. They were French Huguenot silk weavers whose religious beliefs were Calvinist. As refugees, they fled the religious persecution of protestants in France to join a thriving community of French immigrants in London’s Spitalfields neighborhood.

A shopkeeper sits in front of her grocery store selling items including Scotch Bonnet peppers, plantains, cassava, sweet potatoes, salt cod fillets, rice, coconut milk powder, guava juice, black beans and jerk seasoning. No, this store is not in the Caribbean, but in London, home to more than 80,000 British Jamaicans and one of the world’s most ethnically-diverse cities.

Since World War II, this colorful city has seen successive waves of migration, initially from the former British colonies, and more recently from Europe. Poland, India, Pakistan, Romania and Ireland are the top five countries of birth for foreign-born residents. The countries and cultures are represented by the eclectic and international mix of stores, restaurants, places of worship and religious festivals found in many London neighborhoods.

For example, London’s annual Chinese New Year celebrations are the largest outside of Asia. London’s most popular takeout foods include Chinese and Indian, alongside the more traditional fish and chips. Every time a Londoner refers to curry, pajamas, shampoo or vitamins they are using words assimilated from migrant languages.

This melting pot brings unprecedented opportunities for IMB missionaries to engage with people from all around the world. An IMB missionary mom living in London said, “We told the kids that instead of going to the world, God brought the world to us. It was really amazing. One of my son’s friend groups included children who were Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Mormon and agnostic.”