We Must Value Relationships Over Tools
Alejandro (Alex) Mandes has spent his career at the forefront of ministry to marginalized communities. Among other things he serves on the board of directors for the Immigration Alliance and the National Association of Evangelicals. I meant him some 15 years ago when Alex served as the director of Hispanic ministries and Gateway (now Gateway Theological Institute), as part of the Evangelical Free Church of America. Along the way, he also founded Immigrant Hope.
Alex’s new book, Embracing the New Samaria (NavPress) carries forward themes, understanding and experiential knowledge he has brought to the American church for decades. Arriving on my desk this week, it reminded me too of what he has written in the past concerning the challenge of building a healthy multiethnic church and the value that must be placed on developing and enjoying cross-cultural relationships of mutual respect, shared responsibility and trust.
Here’s what Alex wrote in 2010.
“Many people are now looking to the year 2042, a tipping point at which time Latinos/Hispanics (L/H) will be the largest minority of the new ‘majority-minority’ in the United States, and they are wondering how to make an impact upon this people group today.2 But all too often they wrongly conclude there is little use in trying, because of the language barrier, the Catholic lock on L/H, the complexities of undocumented immigration, or the socioeconomic divide. While there is some truth to each of these obstacles, there are certainly ways to overcome them. Yet I want to speak to a more global issue.
“Sometimes we put ministry tools above relationships.
“When I first left my Hispanic cocoon in Laredo, Texas, I knew there were Anglos out there, because I saw them on T.V. But I was shocked upon arriving at the University of Texas in Austin, where I saw them everywhere. I had chosen to go there to continue my discipleship training within a distinguished campus ministry. Yet soon I felt like a little goldfish that had jumped out of a safe tank and was drowning in another environment. Everybody was so busy. Appointments lasted 59 minutes and 59 seconds or 29 minutes and 59 seconds exactly; decisions were made according to strategic goals; my value was decided by what I had done lately for Jesus. And worse still, it seemed that the tools of ministry were more important than the very relationships we were supposed to form for the sake of the ministry. Believe me, it was a painful time. I watched as many of my other L/H friends involved in the campus ministry did not stick around in the otherwise white-led ministry. In fact, such a trend remains all too common today.
“The problem of inclusive ministry (then and now) has little to do with language, economic challenges or any of the other generalized factors I might list. It has to do with the value (or lack thereof) we place on developing and enjoying cross-cultural relationships of mutual respect, shared responsibility and trust. Here are a few of the principles I have tried to instill in others to promote the value of multiethnic relationships:
1. Who I do something with (or for) is just as important as what I seek to do.
2. Love is a universal language; it is more than just a word. Our love for Christ and others is observed in deeds, smiles and touches. Don’t worry if you can’t speak Spanish or know very little of the language—speak the language of love.
3. Love does in fact cover a multitude of sins. Offenses are unavoidable. Work proactively and intentionally to fill the love bank before they arise.
4. Anyone can be familia. As I learned growing up, family is not always about blood.
“Goals, schedules, strategies and planning are all tools in my bag, but they do not define who I am or what I believe is most important in ministry. Indeed, every culture has something wonderful to contribute to advancing the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. And we must all learn to listen to and love one another across cultural divides, in a spirit of mutual respect and humility. When we take the time to truly care, we will be amazed at how much we can endure together because of loyal love. All should be welcomed and celebrated as familia in the body of Christ!”
1. Excerpt from Leading a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church. Mark DeYmaz & Harry Li (Zondervan, 2010) pp. 104–106.
2. See Conor Dougherty, “Whites to Lose Majority Status in U.S. by 2042,” Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2008, A3, (accessed September 23, 2009).