The Bantu people of Cameroon have a proverb: Those who never visit think mother is the only cook.
“That implies that people who never leave their familiar culture have difficulty connecting with a culture other than their own,” Victor Aloyo Jr., director of multicultural relations at Princeton Theological Seminary, told about 80 people at the Presbyterian Intercultural Lunch on Monday.
Aloyo said Presbyterians would be wise to agree with Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf , who wrote, “I cannot be completely me unless I know the complete you.” That can take time and effort, he acknowledged, but Christians’ clear call is to walk with one another.
The luncheon, part of the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was co-sponsored by the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Intercultural Ministries and the Presbyterian Intercultural Network to celebrate intercultural ministries, renew commitments to racial justice, and join in a hopeful vision that inspires, equips and connects Presbyterians for the church’s changing landscape.
Aloyo said his ministry was built on the foundation of a joint walk. He said his first call was at a church in East Brooklyn, New York, that was riddled with BB pellets and used duct tape to hold its stained glass together.
“You could smell the years of bird droppings,” he recalled. “I could spiritualize this and say they were doves, but they were New York City-born and -bred pigeons, who would fly at you for no reason.”
After accepting an invitation from its pastor nominating committee, he said, he learned later that its 12 members were the entire congregation.
“They told me, ‘Victor, we don’t want you to come here with solutions. We want you to come and to walk with us,’” Aloyo said. “They allowed me to realize the nature of the call to ministry – to walk with those who find themselves without a voice, who had thought themselves oppressed but had later found a new understanding in Christ.”
He recalled one Sunday service when a mother with two children described their arduous, months-long trek from India through South America to New York. The three were anxiously waiting for word from their husband and father, who’d come by a different, even more difficult route.
“By the grace of God, during her testimony and through her tears, in walks the husband and father,” Aloyo said. The woman stopped talking. She and her husband ran to each other and embraced for about 10 minutes. The entire congregation “was broken with tears,” he said, adding, “This moment had a huge impact.”
“My friends, I don’t want to be part of that legacy where we ostracize people,” he said. “Once we realize the plethora of experiences in our midst, imagine the power of witness in the church!”
“I have a story to share,” he concluded. “Don’t you? It’s time to break the mold and rise up with a prophetic voice, because I know and I’m assured that as we go beyond mother’s kitchen, there is much more to experience.”