Culturally Relevant Mission to Hispanics in the USA
Homero Garcia is a member of the Diversity Task force and the Senior pastor of Comunidad Cristiana La Viña
Consumers have changed their buying habits. Nowadays, people use the internet to buy almost everything. When was the last time you used the yellow pages or the newspaper to buy something? The new way to buy is through the internet. That is why everybody is spending thousands of dollars on internet advertising. But there are those who continue to advertise their business in the yellow pages or the newspapers while at the same time filing for bankruptcy. Why? Because they are not adjusting to the new ways of our culture.
There is an important lesson for the Vineyard to learn from this. If we want to continue not only to survive but thrive, we need to be a movement that is relevant to our fast-pace changing culture. I strongly believe that one of the areas where we need to be relevant is in our diversity. Our society is multicultural. Granted, it is more in some parts like the inner city and less in other parts like the suburbs. But still we are a multicultural nation when compared with other countries.
How can the Vineyard be culturally relevant to our ethnically diverse society? Let me give you an example. Mundelein is a suburb located about thirty-five miles northwest of Chicago. It is predominately white middle class with a very strong Catholic presence, the town was named after Archbishop George Mundelein and the city is known for St. Mary's of the Lake seminary, probably the largest Catholic seminary in the Midwest. Mundelein is 76% white and 24% Hispanic. In spite of these demographics, the Lord moved my wife and me to plant a Spanish-speaking Vineyard church in Mundelein about fourteen years ago.
It turns out that our church is multicultural. It is formed mainly of first generation Hispanics from twelve nationalities including Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and the USA.
We have tried to be culturally relevant to those we are trying to reach in various ways. For instance, since our church is multicultural our worship time is trilingual. We sing mainly in Spanish but also in English and Portuguese. Every time we sing Come Now Is the Time to Worship in these three languages it is like heaven, people from various tongues worshipping God.
We have tried to be culturally relevant in our preaching. I preach in Spanish and my sermon is frequently translated into English. Often we invite guest speakers who teach in Portuguese or English and we translate their message to Spanish. We do this so that everyone in the church can listen to the Word in their native language.
We have also been culturally relevant by acknowledging and embracing one important aspect of the Latino culture, we are not time or task oriented but relational oriented. For that reason we have scheduled church activities every single day of the week, from prayer meetings, to musical instrument classes, to bible studies, to soccer practice, to women's group and many others. We have small groups where sitting at the table to have dinner together is a requirement. We love to be together. There are other activities where all the church is invited. I am talking about baby showers, weddings, picnics, family camp outs, parties and other events that promote fellowshipping. Our auditorium gets packed every Sunday but we do not like the rule that says that if you have reached 80% of the seating capacity then it is time to find a bigger facility. We like to be crowded. We enjoy being close to each other. It makes us feel and realize that we are part of a big family. You see, family is a high value in the Latino culture. The more people we put together in one room the more attractive it is and draws even more people to the church.
There are a number of particular issues with which we have to deal. And even in those issues we try to be culturally relevant. For example, most of our church members are poor so we try to help them as much as we can by providing food, paying their rent when they just cannot do it; we even provide loans without charging interest. To deal with the problem of job instability, because many are seasonal workers, we frequently advertise job opportunities from the pulpit, the church bulletin and the bulletin board. To address the immigration problem, many are undocumented immigrants; we have had immigration lawyers come to our church to do workshops on immigration. Since many come from dysfunctional families, were addicted to drugs or alcohol, or were involved in witchcraft, we do a lot of inner healing and deliverance ministry almost on a day-to-day basis.
Can a predominantly white, middle class, English speaking movement called the Vineyard be culturally relevant to a predominantly brown, lower income, Spanish speaking group of people living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago? You bet. I am living proof of that. And I am not the only one. The DNA of the Vineyard has been translated not only language wise but culturally and applied to our context and we have seen phenomenal results. The lives of hundreds, and possibly thousands, have been drastically transformed by the power of God expressed through a Hispanic Vineyard church in America.
I would like to conclude by sharing four key actions that can help us be a more culturally relevant mission. First, learn the culture. Study it and know it well. Secondly, embrace the culture you want to reach. Do not try to change it or impose your own culture or someone else's. Thirdly, use the language and the forms of the culture to express the values of the Vineyard. And fourthly, redeem areas of the culture that need to be aligned to the culture of the Kingdom of God.