Name: Dan Roels
Participant’s name who visited: Henry Cruz
Dates of visit: 19 March – 2 April, 2012
What aspect of your ministry did you enjoy teaching the most? Why?
To the extent that I was able to describe multiethnic ministry, even as someone facilitating it, from the outside, in a new church plant that my congregation is “nesting,” it got me excited talking about power dynamics, learning more about God through other languages and cultures, and the demographic future of the United States. Such ministry is my dream, and that dream waits to flourish. As part of that dream, we had opportunities to meet with Moses Chung, director of home missions, and attend the CRC office of race relations retreat at Trinity Christian College.
What aspect of your ministry was difficult to teach? Why?
It was most delicate to explain the ministry choices I have made and how I have adjusted my role and expectations relative to my church’s situation and the various gaps we have in what I consider a healthy congregation. I consider my current church to be exemplary of many of the reasons for decline in many Reformed and mainline churches in the United States, but teaching about that has to proceed by exposing the absence of what should be, rather than by bringing someone into what exists.
What did you learn about yourself and your own culture through this experience of hosting?
Most striking for me was the day that I thought I had lost Henry. Henry liked to go for walks every day and wander the neighborhood or go down to the Mexican grocery, which I was quite comfortable with once I understood he simply liked to amble freely. But one day, as I prepared to head home for lunch and assumed he would be waiting just outside the doors of the church as on other days, I found I could not find him. So I walked home, hoping he had preceded me. No Henry. Then I began to get worried about what had happened to my guest. Was he wandering the neighborhood? Maybe he had gone down to La Provi (the Mexican grocery)? I hopped in the car to go pick him up, hoping that he was there. No Henry. And the store owners said they hadn’t seen a short guy with glasses. But, I wondered, what Mexican grocery store owner is going to tell an official-looking white guy where a Hispanic is? I could be an I.C.E. agent or something. And then I had a terrifying thought: what if Henry got picked up by the police or by immigration? I know it happens in Holland. He wouldn’t have identifying papers on him. He didn’t speak English. This could be Bad. I drove with increasing speed back to church. Henry. And I exhaled. Never before had fears about immigration agents been so real to me, and it brought me into personal touch with the creeping feeling that pervades communities around West Michigan and the country. Worse, this is not an irrational fear. Nevertheless, it was good to sense myself on the fearing side of the cultural equation rather than the “to-be-feared” side.
Describe any moments when you felt proud of your culture.
Perhaps the favorite group that I work with is the high school youth group. Though most do not attend a church, and some have absorbed the skepticism of religion, they are a lively bunch, full of good questions, and responsive when I ask them to think their way through a lesson. When Henry was here, I was teaching parables, though using the “Socratic method,” in which the group would experience something, read the corresponding Bible story, and wrestle with my questions about meaning. This kind of teaching model, however, works well in low power-distance cultures, in which youth feel free to volunteer their answers and even their best guesses as part of group discussion. American culture lends itself well to a participatory and experiential youth group.
Describe any moments when you felt insecure or embarrassed about your culture or your context.
Moment one, which was during all the Henry’s two weeks: As I believe I am pastor of a dying church into which attempts to integrate any potential new believers, let alone those of another race or culture, may do harm to nascent faith, there are many aspects of outreach and evangelism which I feel embarrassed about not doing. My church is comfortable with the status quo to the point that I no longer try to start new things, which makes me very uncomfortable. I have become a manager of the decline, trying to steer things to graceful endings, but I spend too much time in the office reflecting the decline in the vitality of the American pastoral role, when I would rather be able to bring visitors into fruitful evangelistic and discipleship relationships and contexts.
Moment two: I was part of a discussion group about race, and requested that Henry be able to attend as my guest. The facilitators sympathized, but chose to keep meetings closed since confidentiality and privacy, with the goal of creating safe discussion space, were part of the group agreement from the beginning. I understood, but I think that decision erred on the side of privacy, which American culture values so (too) highly.
How was the experience of hosting for your family? For your church?
The most enjoyable aspect of hosting for us was seeing our eight-month-old daughter Rachel interact with Henry, whose presence startled her the first morning, but fascinated her the rest of the way. Another enjoyable yet challenging part of hosting is trying to figure out what is personality and what is culture when sharing life with an individual for two weeks. For my church, whose fellowship is rather thin as it is, it may be neat that other pastors are visiting me as part of the GDN, but that most people do not reach out to interact across the language barrier, and the connection to the church is professional rather than personal. The one family that has been most welcoming is a Mexican-American family.
What aspect of discipleship do you hope to improve on for your next hosting experience?
I would like more intentionally to bring my colleague through my sermon-forming process. I spend ten or so hours per week on my sermon, beginning with the original language, going through commentaries and online articles, and shaping the outline in a creative back-and-forth with my powerpoint visuals. Such care for the text is a big and rich part of the Reformed heritage, and it is not easy to share since much of the process happens in my head, but it could be rewarding for both my guest and me to walk through it together.