In a Journey of Accompaniment & Service to Emerging Leaders

Love, Differences, and Valuing Others

Written byNPHLM Archive

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.


5 Replies
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Brent Blackwell

2015-02-20 16:51:12
Wonderful thoughts Alma! I see what you mean by the separation of communities within the church today even within personal experiences and values that I received from my upbringing. For 11 years I attended a predominantly white United Methodist Church and I cannot honestly remembering seeing anyone there that was not representative of my race or ethnicity. For years, I never understood what Hispanic/Latino missions was and it remained a foreign idea form my ecclesiological experiences. I remained ignorant and even accepted the idea that in such missions “we”, the congregation, were rightly placing ourselves in a place of authority and superiority over the groups that we were serving. I truly had no interest in uncomfortable, cross-cultural service. What a horror! I now recognize the errors of my way and thinking and that this is sooooo far from the Christ’s intentions of the Church. I believe it is the fault of the Church today that such misconceptions exist. Pastors are not properly equipping their flock for missions while they allow them to remain ignorant of issue and disinterested of people in serious need. Instead, congregations are allowed to believe that Latino Congregations are an act of generosity that they allow, rather than a necessity called by God (as Luis Velasquez is right to point out). People are allowed to think that bi-lingual services are an INCONVEINCE rather than a beautiful witness of PROPER corporate worship. I definitely do not have the answer to why such false realities exist and no solution is present in my mind. However, I do know that love is the barrier-breaker that is needed today. Love exists and reaches beyond such divides in ministries and cures the disease of ignorance. I pray that as an act of love, this Consultation will enlighten and radically challenge all of our understanding of ministry today.
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Rebekah Worley

2015-02-10 18:35:24
Thanks for this, Alma. The vision of the church should be interlocked with a vision of humility, looking at a neighbor and not seeing What he or she is but That he or she is. This paraphrase from Thomas Reynolds book "Vulnerable Communion" is directed towards those who feel disabled in a church that should be redeeming and renewing. It is our differences that should enhance neighborly connection, not divide. These differences further display our understanding of the Creator and they should be celebrated.
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Luis Velasquez

2015-02-05 05:11:20
Hi Alma , Thank you for your great publication, it is very true that we all must see each other as equal partners in God's field. I definitely agree with your comment about how the UMC Church at large sometimes tend to view Latino Congregations as a mission that will receive more than contribute back to society. We can see it here in our North Georgia Conference in how many Latino Congregations are basement congregations or sometimes services are held in totally different buildings which at times these spaces are not suitable for worship and fellowship. I also believe that too often clergy are between a rock and a hard place because for one, they have been granted an opportunity to serve their community; however, what they have been granted is not a good reflection of the prophetic rhetoric the UMC declares to pursue. As I prepare to go to seminary this upcoming August at Emory, these are some of preoccupations. Yet, I know that in a mutual relationship it takes two to make communication more efficient I also believe that as a Latino Congregation, there are many steps we can take to also participate fully and proudly with all of our UMC brothers and sisters.
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Niquita Hohm

2015-02-05 00:11:32
One of my friends recently commented, "Let us always remember it is people we are called to love, not our own comfort." It seems fairly obvious, but it was convicting because far too often, I act to preserve my own comfort rather than taking risks which would demonstrate love and strengthen relationships with others. Growing up in a small town, I know well just how uncomfortable people can be with differences. As current and future leaders of the church we need to be inviting people into relationships across boundaries of difference. We're much less likely to feed the fears which lead to "othering" people when we have sought out those relationships.
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Federico Apecena

2015-02-04 21:34:01
I think that this post is very thoughtful, but incomplete, here is the original full piece that Rev. Alma Ruiz wrote: https://divinity.duke.edu/community-student-life/divinity-magazine/fall-2014/love-differences-and-valuing-others Loving the differences and valuing others, can not happen with risky conversations, that has to happen with hard and sometimes painful conversations. We need to put ourselves intentionally in places that would give us the chance to know those that are different and then loved them. We can not love what we do not know.