Gilbert Romero and friends made wonderful, foot-tapping-good music as diners arrived at the Intercultural Luncheon July 9 in St. Louis. Lots of energy and welcoming hugs were passed among friends, new and old.
Nadine Monn, a member of the Intercultural Advisory Committee, welcomed the group in five different Church of the Brethren languages, as well as her hometown dialect of Philadelphia, saying, “Yo, how’s it goin’?!”
Jonathan Shively, staff representative to the committee and executive for Congregational Life Ministries, prayed a blessing over the meal, expressing thanks for the vast diversity represented in the room.
While enjoying their salads, attendees were encouraged by inspiring stories from Leah Hileman about the Cuppa Life coffee ministry and A Life in Christ Church of the Brethren in Florida, as well as from Daniel D’Oleo about the Renacer Hispanic Ministries network in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Then keynote speaker Wendy McFadden, publisher of Brethren Press, told about her immersion experience on a Sankofa Journey. Sankofa means “looking backward to move forward,” which is exactly what she and a bus full of multi-racial persons did as they traveled to Birmingham, Ala. “What I found most meaningful was the power of entering another person’s story,” she said. “There is damage done when a people’s story is not heard, and there is healing when the story is treated as important.” The full story of Wendy’s Sankofa bus trip was published in the May issue of “Messenger” magazine, and can be purchased by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 800-323-8039 ext. 327.
During the question and answer time that followed her presentation, some attendees showed interest in taking the Sankofa journey themselves, and others wanted to know what practical steps they could take to make their congregations more culturally diverse. Attendees were encouraged to read the 2007 Annual Conference paper and resources at www.brethren.org/ac as well as resources from Brethren Press.
When asked what insights from the Sankofa journey continue to stand out to her, Wendy shared her discovery that between different cultures “there is kinship, even if there hasn’t been acquaintance yet.”
The event closed with small group conversation and sharing, and a prayer led by Thomas Dowdy. “This is our bus,” he said in his benediction. “We are on this journey and we need to enjoy the ride. But where are we going? God has made us the tour guides. Let us invite others to take this ride along with us.”
— Mancy Garcia is staff for donor communications for the Church of the Brethren