A Latina pastor reflects on her experience in ministry
By Alma Tinoco Ruiz
The ethnic diversity that exists in the United States today is similar to the diversity that existed in Jerusalem in the earliest days of the church. Acts 2 narrates how God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, enabled Jesus’ disciples to share the good news with people from every nation under heaven:
When the day of Pentecost has come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. (Acts 2:1–6)
At the very founding of the church, God made it clear that the gospel must be shared with people from every nation under heaven, and, ever since, the church has been multiethnic, multicultural, and multilingual. People from other nations did not have to learn the language of the disciples to be able to receive the good news, but the power of the Holy Spirit made it possible for the people to hear the good news in their own languages. If we believe that God is the same yesterday and today and forever, then we must believe that the same Holy Spirit that was at work through the first disciples of Jesus Christ is the same Spirit that is at work in us today, equipping us to share the Word of God with all people.
We are blessed to live in a country where we do not have to go to all nations to make disciples of all nations. People from many different nations come to this country. The harvest is plentiful here. The question before us is how to take advantage of this great opportunity. I have been serving in the United Methodist Church in the North Carolina Conference for 10 years, nine years as a lay missioner and one year as a local pastor. I also served for six years in the Hispanic/Latino committee of the UMC.
Overall, my experience serving in United Methodist churches has been positive and encouraging. But my experience as a Hispanic pastor in the United Methodist Church as a denomination has not always been encouraging. For instance, I have encountered people who think that sharing the Word of God with people who do not speak English is an option, one of many missions we can choose, rather than God’s non-negotiable commandment. Thus, they do not see it as a priority. Hispanic/Latino ministries are viewed as a mission that only receives from the denomination rather than as a full contributing partner. One reason we are treated as a charity case rather than as equals is because the denomination believes it is giving more money than what Hispanic/Latino ministries are able to give back. Sadly, the United Methodist Church often does not value the contributions that Hispanic/Latino people, and people from other ethnic groups, can bring to the denomination. If we are not valuing the people living in our communities and do not see it as a priority to share the Word of God with them, how can we say that we are a faithful church? After all, as Acts 2 shows, God intended the church to be multiethnic, multicultural, and multilingual, so to be an inclusive local church is to be faithful to God’s plan. Thus, we must share the Word of God with people from different ethnic groups not because they need us, but because we need them.
Ultimately, we—both Hispanics and non-Hispanics, especially those in leadership positions—need to better understand the cultural concerns, challenges, and gifts of the different ethnic groups represented in the United States. How can we respect, acknowledge, and value our differences when we cannot even identify them? The diversity that exists today in the United States will not go away but only increase. And it is nothing new for the church of God, which from its very beginning included many languages and ethnicities. In order to be faithful to our calling to share the gospel, therefore, we must educate ourselves about the diverse communities in which we are serving and be prepared to welcome them in the church. We must demonstrate that we are a people who love, who embrace diversity, and who value all people.