ABHMS hosts first ‘Intercultural Institute for Emerging Leaders’

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 9/11/19)—Approximately 44 young people aged 21-39 from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds participated in the first American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) “Intercultural Institute for Emerging Leaders” at ABHMS’ Leadership and Mission Building Friday through Sunday.  

This innovative training program sought to provide participants with hands-on, in-depth experience to effectively engage across cultures, allowing them to add cultural competency to their skill set.

In addition, it sought to do the following:

  • cultivate culturally diverse leaders from across all ABHMS network areas;
  • facilitate the building of alliances across cultural boundaries for ministry and mission;
  • ensure the sustainability of ministries;
  • motivate young leaders to network beyond their own ethnic groups; and
  • promote change strategies necessary to impact Christian leadership across the United States and Puerto Rico.

By the beginning of the event’s second day, the Rev. Michael Strickland, pastor of First Baptist Church, Atchison, Kan., was already pleased with the experience. His only expectation in participating, he said, was to make new relationships and learn to engage better with those different from himself.

“Although we hadn’t yet gotten into the meat and potatoes of the program, we had already engaged in so much conversation last night,” he said. “That alone was worthwhile.”

Definitions were offered for a variety of words, including culture, race, ethnicity, equity, inclusion and implicit bias.

Justin Thang, founder of the Indianapolis-based nonprofit Hope for Tomorrow, which seeks to empower Burmese refugees in the United States, said that he appreciated learning more about the distinction between equality and equity.

“I always thought equality was the way to solve things in our country,” he said. “But, in a way, equity is more important.”

During the “Five Circles of Identity” exercise, attendees were asked to jot a description of themselves according to two of the primary dimensions of personality—age, gender, physical ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity and race—and two of the secondary dimensions: home/geographic location, social class, personal habits, religion, recreational habits, educational background, work experience, appearance, parental status and marital status. In groups of three, participants took turns sharing about one aspect’s effect on leadership ability.

The “Culture as Iceberg” model was used to illustrate that only 20 percent of culture is observable, or external: behavior, symbols, artifacts and traditions. Conversely, 80 percent of culture is hidden, or internal: beliefs, values, patterns and myths.

Virgen Rojas of Omaha, Neb., noted that she recognized areas of cultural competency that she needed to practice on her own so that the concepts could “be truth and light in my heart in order to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.”

Many of the learning points were emphasized in a heart-rending manner, as participants shared personal stories about their experiences as the “other” in the United States.

The training was facilitated by the Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri and the Rev. Dr. Amaury Tañón-Santos. Regional executive minister of American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin, Onwubuariri has been a cross-cultural competency trainer in faith-based, educational and professional settings for more than a decade. Networker for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.’s) Synod of the Northeast, Tañón-Santos has served as director of programs in multicultural ministry, faith and public life as well as Latinx leadership formation at Princeton (N.J.) Theological Seminary.

The event closed with a worship service, in which participants visited prayer stations to pray for  the world, churches, communities and self. Participants served Communion to each other.

The group will meet virtually for two additional sessions.

 American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.

 American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.