I recently came across an essay written by Juan Martinez back in 1994 for Direction Journal regarding the topic of “Ethnicity and Assimilation: The Shape of the Problem.” As I read the essay, I reflected upon our current context as Hispanic congregations in the USMB family of churches.
According to Martinez, the ministry by Mennonite Brethren began among Latinos in South Texas in 1937 and in Central California in 1956. The number of churches established in South Texas and Central California were less than 10 in each of the geographic locations until 1984. Over the last 35 years there has been steady growth, and there are now approximately 35 Mennonite Brethren churches that are part of the Hispanic Council in the Pacific District Conference.
I have been part of the Mennonite Brethren family of churches in the Pacific District Conference for approximately 15 years. During this time, the Hispanic Council churches have transitioned from operating merely at the local conference level to now being invited to be present at the USMB Leadership Board meetings to participate in conversations.
The invitation to be present at future USMB Leadership Board meetings is definitely a needed step in the right direction. This is progress. Several years ago, Hispanic Council representatives discussed that Latino churches had no direct bridge of communication to the USMB Conference. At the most recent USMB Leadership Board meeting I was asked questions regarding steps that can be taken to strengthen the relationship between the USMB Conference and the Hispanic churches. Leadership Board members asked questions and expressed an interest in being more intentional with building positive relationships with Hispanic churches.
It is exciting that a new bridge of communication has been established on the USMB Leadership Board. It was also good to see USMB national director Don Morris at our Hispanic Council annual convention this past May 2019 in Pacoima, California. The intentional steps towards cultivating positive relationships between the USMB Conference and Hispanic churches is extremely essential to the health of the denomination.
As we continue the journey, here are some considerations that I would like to pose as we consider Latinos as Mennonite Brethren and what I think needs to be discussed as we look toward the future. To rephrase a statement posed by Dr. Martinez in his 1994 essay: “How Latino Mennonite Brethren will fit into a denomination largely administered by the [dominant culture] is a question that is yet to be clearly answered.” There is still a lot of work that needs to be done.
There needs to be ongoing conversations regarding power dynamics and structures within USMB and local conferences. How do we process beyond just being invited to sit at the table to participate in discussions with no voting power? How do we progress to include more than just one Latino sitting on the different leadership boards to create a more equitable representation of the entire MB family? How can we walk together to embody the true meaning of being one body in Christ with equitable practices in decision making processes?
Xavier Piña is chair of the Pacific District Conference Hispanic Council and the pastor of Iglesia La Gran Comision in Hanford, California.