I’m 50, and it’s safe to say that people in my age bracket have had this experience. You know what I’m talking about: that moment when you meet the in-laws. You meet the boyfriend or girlfriend, and when things progress, you meet the parents. Those of us who have gone through this experience can testify that it can be a pretty awkward situation. Movies come to mind: “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “Meet the Parents,” or “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (the 1967 original, not the 2005 bad remake). These movies are both funny and painful because they reflect reality: meeting new members of the family is akin to a collision of worlds that changes everything and everyone.
We experience the same awkwardness and uneasiness when meeting new ministry partners. When a church connects with a new population with whom they can partner in ministry, it can be an awkward experience. Most of the time, both parties are working from presuppositions and even prejudices about the other, and cultural differences (food, language, music, art, etc.) can quickly become insurmountable obstacles.
Nevertheless, as in these movies, when we press forward through our differences and obstacles, we discover that we can be partners (and even family) after all. This is how I feel about the relationship with between the US majority Church and the US Hispanic/Latino(a) church, as well as unchurched populations. I think that we are at a kairos moment in which we can break through our differences by the power of the Holy Spirit and join hands as members of the household of God to fulfill the mission of the Church. Thus, I want to challenge you to view American Hispanics/Latinas(os) not as simple objects of mission, but as partners; not as the strange people that God is making you interact with, but as an intricate part of the work that God is calling you and your church to do. With this purpose, as with any new in-law, meet the new partners!
Despite all the headlines and political rhetoric, the truth is that Hispanics/Latinas(os) have been a part of this country from the beginning, and today represent more than 56.6 Million people (all demographic data courtesy of the Pew Trust-Pew Research Center). Yes, some of us have committed criminal acts (along with individuals from every ethnic group on the planet), but in reality we are farm hands, maids, gardeners, doctors, nurses, lawyers, pastors, writers, journalists, seminary professors, store managers, truck drivers, engineers, singers, dancers, actors, Star Wars fans, Trekkies, Harry Potter fans, and even some are on team Edward and others on team Jacob.
Some of us are natural born citizens, many in the 5th or 6th generation. Some are naturalized citizens, and others, may be in flux. We prefer to live in California, Texas, Florida, and New York, but there are Hispanics/Latinos(as) in every state, including Alaska! The majority have Mexican roots (69%), but that leaves plenty of room for Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, Venezuelans, Colombians, Nicaraguans, Costa Ricans, Panamanians, Brazilians and so many others to make noise. And by the way, this diversity of ethnicities, within the umbrella of Hispanic/Latina(o), means that we love different kinds of foods, have different preferences when it comes to music, and have varying views about government, family life, and God.
Speaking of the Almighty, we are a very religious bunch. 40% of Hispanics/Latinas(os) attend church at least weekly, 60% pray daily, and 43% have a very literal view of the Bible. While we prefer the Roman Catholic expression of the faith (55%), we also have embraced Protestantism (22%), and some are having a disagreement with the King of Kings (18% are nones or other). We are also young—the median age of the US Hispanic/Latino(a) population is 28 years of age; and thus, we are ambicultural. That is, we see ourselves as “200%ers” (this phrase is a trademark of NBCUniversal Media LLC) – 100% American and 100% Latino.
This means that we embrace our Latino(a) cultural roots and expression, but at the same time, we are proud to serve in the US Military (like my two sons). During the Olympics, we cheered for both Team USA and our countries of origin. Moreover, when it comes to language, we love English as much as Spanish (according to Nielsen Public Research more than 35% of Hispanic/Latina(o) household speak English and Spanish regularly and interchangeably; only 22% speak either Spanish or English exclusively).
Now that you have met your new partners in ministry, where do you go from here? I want to invite you to do three things to enhance your partnership with the Hispanics/Latinos(as) in your neighborhood:
Don’t assume. You know what happens when you assume. Learn about the particular Hispanics/Latinas(os) in your area. Who are they? What is their ethnicity (remember “Hispanic” is a term invented by the US Census Bureau)? What are their preferences when it comes to food, to religious life, to music, to language? Learn about their country of origin. Listen to individual stories. Remember that they are not growing into Americans. They are “200%ers!”
Listen to how they want you to partner with them. Listen for how their individual story connects with your story and/or your church’s story.
Invite them to be a part of your life; don’t make them an object of mission. Invite them to share of what God has given them with you as partners, as equals, as members of the household of God.
I pray that you will look up and see all the partners in ministry that God has placed around you, including all those Hispanics/Latinos(as).