Reaching more diverse people is one key in the Oklahoma Conference Strategic Plan for vital churches.
By Holly McCray
Carlos Ramirez works with "silly ideas." He seriously applies the phrase to new strategies for Hispanic ministry that he is directing in the Oklahoma Conference.
Within Oklahoma’s new Office of Mission, Rev. Ramirez is a missionary for The National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry, General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM).
And early results of his work don’t appear foolish. Funding by the general church is secured. Hispanic and non-Hispanic congregations are partnering. Radio programming and legal clinics are in development.
And 30-plus adults signed up for the 10-month Lay Missionary Planting Network program. The first class was Sept. 8 at Oklahoma City University.
Ramirez states simply, "I’m a cultural bridge in many ways."
One way he connects people is by preaching in non-Hispanic churches. He speaks about social norms that divide us. He refers to Galatians 3:23-29: There is no longer Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female, for all of you are one in Christ.
"I can only imagine how many people laughed at Paul when they heard this," Ramirez says. "However, God was transforming that community with what sounded silly and laughable.
"The Hispanic ministry of the Oklahoma Annual Conference wants to continue having silly ideas. We want to have churches where there is no Hispanic/Caucasian, Spanish/English, immigrant/citizen, but all one in Jesus Christ. We believe God is transforming our communities as we engage in ministry together here and now."
In late 2011, National Plan officials met in Oklahoma with Hispanic pastors, the Cabinet and bishop, and other Conference leaders. Bishop Hayes told the group, "For too long we have set goals that made us feel we failed when we had setbacks. I’m anxious for us to begin a process that will make a difference. There’s room at the table for all of us."
The general-church officials offered resourcing through the National Plan. They stressed the need to form partnerships among the whole Church body in Oklahoma, not limiting the work to Hispanic pastors. The vision advanced when the Office of Mission launched this year.
On July 3, Oklahoma leaders convened to set up a structure for Hispanic ministry, define priorities, launch the Lay Missionary Planting Network, and explore potential justice ministry efforts.
Ramirez and Pastor Roger Parker of Laverne/Rosston were elected to lead the two-tiered ministry. The Hispanic Committee oversees budgeting. The Hispanic Ministries Society is open to all persons interested in the renewed initiative. Hispanic and non-Hispanic members comprise both groups.
The Conference has five primarily Spanish-speaking congregations—in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Heavener, Laverne, and Guymon.
The Vital Signs tool will help assess churches’ effectiveness weekly, not the effectiveness of the pastors, Ramirez explains. "A lot of Hispanics are still transient. We are trying to look into the broader story. We will be able to see parts where we can help strengthen this or that — evangelism, administration, teaching — so we are not guessing. In my position I can find people or other help for specific areas."
He is studying demographics and seeking support from non-Hispanic churches. "Partnership is an array of things," he notes.
He presents the "Pentecost Journey" study in those churches. Through the series of talks, he "breaks through layers, takes away fears. At times it’s messy, but it’s possible. They realize it’s people just like they are, trying to make another day."
Among new programming is a Spanish/English radio show, ready to air when financial support is available. Lawyers are being asked to donate pro bono work to help young immigrants access the federal government’s new deferred-action policy. Volunteer teachers can help marginalized students earn their GEDs.
"I’m hopeful," says Ramirez. "Hispanic ministry is a lot about relationships, visiting people. You sit with them and listen. That’s the culture. You can see it takes a bit longer. Many of them are isolated here. Our job as United Methodists is really to create an extended family."
He concludes in sermons, "We want to do ministry alongside all. We are not naïve; it is going to be a lot of work. But if we have our eyes fixed on God’s ‘silly idea’ that we can become one in Jesus Christ, everything can be accomplished."
Contact Ramirez at 405-530-2074, firstname.lastname@example.org.