New Global Ministries missionary helps bridge cultural divide in Oklahoma Conference
By Sandra Brands
November 19, 2012 —The Rev. Carlos Ramirez understands the population he serves.
Not only is he Hispanic, he is an immigrant to the United States. The native of Mexico was recently commissioned a Global Ministries missionary and will serve on staff in the Oklahoma Annual Conference as the coordinator for Hispanic/Latino ministries.
“I see myself as a cultural bridge between the conference and Hispanics,” he said. “I clarify expectations. In the past, at least in Oklahoma, the expectations of the Hispanic leadership and the expectations of the conference leadership were far apart.”
Ramirez was well aware of that separation when he became a missionary. As a pastor serving Hispanic United Methodist congregations in the state, he was the chair of the conference’s Hispanic ministries committee.
“The conference expected to see new church starts, growing leadership and congregations and self-sufficient churches,” he said.
But the Hispanic community in Oklahoma is not ready to be financially self-sufficient, he said. “We’re serving a lot of new immigrants and second- and third-generation Hispanic Americans and they are not financially solvent. Those misunderstandings created a chasm between both sides; the Hispanic ministries got angry and resentful and the conference leadership felt they kept giving resources without results.”
As a bridge builder, Ramirez said, he can explain the cultural and circumstantial differences between the Anglo and Hispanic communities.
He explained that one of the areas where conflict sometimes arose was establishing Hispanic congregations in existing non-Hispanic churches without first building relationships between the two communities. “There were resentments between the church and the Hispanic congregation,” he said.
Now, he is facilitating conversations between Hispanic congregations and the pastor and leaders of non-Hispanic churches to “invite them to play with us,” he explained. “We will have conversations for more organic growth of relationships between the non-Hispanic and Hispanic congregations, and we will explore the needs of the community and the resources available and come up with a plan.”
Ramirez said conversations are already being held in the south part of Oklahoma City, and he is looking for possible sites in the eastern part of the city.
“We looking for resources like tutors to help second-generation youth finish high school or even college,” he said. “Resources doesn’t just mean funding. It can mean space and people. We have to have good partners with us in this, and strong partnerships are being built.”
“The Oklahoma Conference has come a long way in the brief time I’ve been here,” Ramirez continued. “Suddenly, a conference that seemed primarily Caucasian is opening to others, so I am grateful to be in this position at this time. I’m excited about the possibilities opening before us. It’s exciting that we’re taking a chance on this and making it really broad; it’s not just about Hispanics, but about all minorities.
“I think that finally both sides can work together and those resentments and frustrations are starting to fade away.”
Ramirez’s assignment is part of the United Methodist National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries. He is charged with developing leadership and new churches in the Hispanic and other minority communities.
“Right now our pool of leaders is limited or nonexistent,” he said. “What we want to do is locate, raise and train leadership that will make our current fellowships stronger. Also, we want to locate and recruit possible church planters.”
Ramirez will also be a resource for conference Volunteers-in-Mission who travel to Mexico and Central and South America.
“Our conference has a very strong partnership with the Methodist Church in Bolivia. We want to do what we did in Bolivia in Columbia,” he said. “We want to be present with their church and be in community and mission together.”
Learn more about the work of Global Ministries, Ramirez and the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries.