Latino ministry includes challenges and hope

June 4, 2018 | ,

Latino ministry includes challenges and hope

The 2018 NC Synod Assembly with the theme, “We are church for the sake of the world,” featured three keynote conversations which provided illuminating glimpses into the ways God is working through the NC Synod, ELCA, to demonstrate, “We are church together. And together, we are church for the sake of the world.”

The first keynote conversation presented at assembly focused on walking alongside our Latino sisters and brothers and the opportunities and challenges involved. The Rev. Alfredo M. Oviedo, is one of the pastors at Grace, Hendersonville, which is one of our NC Synod congregations with a Latino ministry. Tammy Jones West, deacon and new assistant to the bishop, interviews Pastor Oviedo.

Tammy: Tell us where you’re from and one thing about you.
Alfredo: I was born, baptized, and educated in Mexico before I came about 30 years ago to the United States. I would like people to know that ministering to people who live under constant threat, are maliciously labeled, dehumanized, and in constant fear is the greatest challenge in our society. But I’m blessed to serve a local congregation that is intentionally becoming multicultural and multi-ethnic and welcomes everybody.

Tammy: What are the current challenges in your ministry?
Alfredo: It is how to create a sense of safety for people who live in constant fear. As much as I know, most NC Synod congregations are welcoming to people who walk in the door and have come for different reasons, but the present economic-political situation of our society has made it more difficult for Latinos to feel they can do so … it’s personal.

Tammy: Share one story of hope from your ministry.
Alfredo: There’s a member of our congregation of Hispanic heritage who’d been considering a vocational call to the church. She entered the candidacy process but encountered systemic issues that made her invisible and caused her to become unqualified. But she’s still committed to trust God, the church and candidacy … and to try one more time or as many times as she needs to. (applause)

Tammy: What do you hope we hear and learn from your community?
Alfredo: Just that we (Latinos) are children of God, just like you are. In the kingdom of God there is no ‘we’ and ‘they.’ We are just one family of God, one body of Christ. Also we have positive cultural values to enrich our church, such as deep devotion to God and a sense of commitment and loyalty to healthy church institutions. And we love people … most of the time. (laughter) And we have people. But many of you have been in America for many generations and we just came! But soon—in one or two generations—we’ll have the kind of resources that (many Americans) have now to give and entrust to our church.

Tammy: How can we be advocates and best walk alongside our Latino sisters and brothers?
Alfredo: Please don’t listen to the insane rhetoric that goes on demonizing and dehumanizing (Latinos) and our children. Please come to us, come to our neighborhoods. Meet us, know who we are from your own experience. Respect us in the same way we respect and love you. When you see us, remember the Golden Rule before you close your hearts and the door of your church buildings to anybody.

Tammy: What is one step you wish we’d all take as we pay attention to our communities?
Alfredo: It’s never too late to be a little more like Jesus, to follow His example … to live an honest, decent human life. We all know what the greatest challenge every generation—since the beginning of our country—has faced; many have offered their lives to change systemic racism. Justice and equality are not just a right for some but for all; it’s the call of God for us, His people, to pray for and work for. Please start as soon as possible having this difficult conversation about race and culture with your children, with your churches, with people you love. I’ve learned that America didn’t invent racism … it goes back centuries across the world. But churches are not different from other institutions … they are a mirror of society. I am a Lutheran … and I’m grateful you’ve adopted me. But our challenge as a church—a commitment churchwide—is to be serious about diversity, inclusiveness, and justice for all. (The assembly stood up and applauded.)

The NC Synod also has two new mission starts with our Latino neighbors: Arbol de Vida in North Durham, and Christ’s Beloved Community in South Winston-Salem.

Story: Cindi L. Clemmer of Clemmer Communications is also the wife of the Rev. Palmer D. Clemmer, Hickory.
Photos: Pastor Thomas Nelson is a retired pastor living in Raleigh

Watch this full interview on our YouTube channel.


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