A group of young adult new immigrants in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ― nominated by new immigrant pastoral leaders ― gathered in the Dallas/Fort Worth area to be inspired and encouraged to pursue leadership roles in the church.
Held from Oct. 25-28, the first Young Adult New Immigrant Leadership Institute was presented by Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. The objective of the leadership institute was to identify, inspire, equip and connect new immigrant young adults leaders, who might serve in the future in even greater leadership roles in PC(USA) worshiping communities.
The institute's leadership team was composed of members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the Office of the General Assembly, and new immigrant teaching and ruling elders and executives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, to help the twenty-three young adult new immigrant leaders explore their “call,” strengthen interviewing and financial management skills, learn about their strengths and challenges as leaders, hear about balancing life and health, and be trained on the basics of Presbyterian polity.
Leaders between the ages of 23 to 35 years old from diverse cultures and geographic locations found that they nevertheless shared common spiritual practices, church experiences, and a unity in Christ Jesus.
"From my experience here, I have learned a lot and gained great friends," said Peter Cuong-Duong, a young adult, who serves as a leader of the youth group at Vietnamese Presbyterian Church of Garden Grove, Calif.
“We have had great discoveries and learnings, which we will use when we go back to our churches,” said Noel Abrokwa, a Ghanaian young adult leader at Ramseyer Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio.
Nomination forms were sent to new immigrant pastoral leaders earlier this year, and young adult new immigrants who serve in leadership roles in Presbyterian worshiping communities were selected to attend the leadership institute. Some of the young adults who participated in the institute serve as ruling elders, Bible study leaders, children and youth ministries leaders, leaders in church music programs, or in other forms of leadership in the church. An equal number of women and men participated, from different worshiping communities.
Participants, like Haroon Akhtar, a Pakistani young adult leader from South Asian Presbyterian Church in Des Plaines, Ill., who came to the leadership institute open to the leading of the Holy Spirit in exploring his vocation and call, heard that opportunities exist for new immigrant leaders and that the church is giving permission for fresh expressions of new worshiping communities and transformational leaders.
Cindy Kimotho, a Kenyan young adult serving as a youth leader at All Nations Ministry at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, said, “Most of the youth need to be asked to come to church. And, most people learn by example, so what we do as leaders in the church is important. We follow up and check up on our youth every week, and we pray for them.”
As the church becomes even more diverse, it is important to assure greater diversity in church leadership. And, because there are more new immigrant ministries in the church now than ever, Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries is seeking to be proactive in resourcing potential future leaders in new immigrant worshiping communities.
Young adult leader Aline Theodoro Assis assists with the young adult ministry at the Brazilian Presbyterian Church of Houston. She is a deacon, Sunday school teacher, a core member of Racial Ethnic Young Women Together (REYWT), a member of the Presbyterian Cross Cultural Young Adult Network (PCCYAN), and a graduate of Texas A&M University. She led a session on spirituality at the institute. “Name some of the persons in the Bible who had spiritual experiences?” Theodoro Assis asked. “What is one thing that they have in common in their spiritual calls? They prayed. I encourage you to pray, fast, and share with each other.”
Ruth Román-Meza, a ruling elder and Vice Moderator of National Hispanic Latin Presbyterian Women and a member of Iglesia Presbyteriana Emmanuel in Dallas, said “Some of the challenges of being an immigrant leader are resources, legal concerns – such as immigration status, location (building), multiple jobs that are required just to make ends meet, and language issues. And, because of these real challenges in the immigrant church, we tend to loose our focus and our vision. Why do we exist as a church? Why are we here?”
Antonio Oliveira, a ruling elder and pulpit supply pastor for the Brazilian New Church Development in Plano, Texas, said, “You still have a mission and ministry to do. Immigrants live with a lot of pressure. You have to serve the church because God called you to do this. Even if you don’t have legal status or location, you have to continue to do what God called you to do. It’s not easy.”
In addition to Román-Meza and Oliveira, an evening conversation with leaders of new immigrant worshiping communities was facilitated by Vince Patton, Racial Ethnic Leadership Development manager, and featured Leo Perez, commissioned ruling elder at Iglesia Presbiteriana Emmanuel in Dallas, and Cyprian Kimathi Guchienda, associate pastor at All Nations Ministry at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas.
Other presenters included the Rev. Rick Young, president and CEO of the Texas Presbyterian Foundation; the Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter, Director of Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries/PW; Loyda Aja, associate stated clerk for eclesial ministries in the Office of the General Assembly; Joanna Kim, director of cross cultural ministry and mission for Grace Presbytery; Hellen Kimathi, registered nurse and member of All Nations Ministry at Highland Park Presbyterian Church; Rev. Dr. SanDawna Ashley, coordinator of leadership development and Church Leadership Connection; Valerie Small, assistant stated clerk and coordinator for the General Assembly Nominating Committee; the Rev. Oliver Jamshaid, pastor of the South Asian Presbyterian Church of Garland, Texas; the Rev. Angel Suárez-Valera, associate for new immigrants and emerging ministries; the Rev. Sam Atiemo, associate for African emerging ministries; and Alex Zareth Canales Gonzales, field staff for REYWT.
The institute may lead some of its participants to consider seminary, to take the steps to serve as commissioned ruling elders or to discern how God might be calling them to some other form of church service now and in the future.