Initiative helps students understand lessons about diversity in created world
by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Satoe Soga was 11 and miserable.
She’d just moved from Taiwan to Japan with her parents, who were ordained Presbyterian ministers. Her father had been called to a Taiwanese congregation there.
Unable to speak Japanese, Soga began to withdraw at school, even refusing to play with her classmates. She hated school and didn’t want to go to church. She was the pastor’s kid and the congregation was treating her mom like the pastor’s wife.
She began to have fights at home, especially with her father.
Soga didn’t realize this until much later but as she cried out to God she was being prepared to use her pain for good.
“I began to realize that Jesus said, ‘love your enemies,’” she said. “Somehow, God gave me the courage, as a child, to talk to my classmates.”
She started to recognize that part of her classmates excluding her was her fault, because of all the unhappiness she’d been projecting.
Nine years later Soga moved again when her father was called to serve a Taiwanese congregation in Chicago. Initially, she didn’t want to come, because she didn’t want another painful “cultural transition” experience.
Eventually Soga, who has D.Min. and M.Div. degrees, moved to Dallas, where she became the manager of a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at Baylor Scott & White Health — home to Baylor University Medical Center.
Two years ago, she began to dream about adding a one of kind CPE internship with cultural immersion to Baylor’s program — one where seminarians and ministers could experience other cultures different than their own and build relationships with people different than them.
“Because of what I learned as a child and adult, I knew that cultural immersion speaks so much louder than book and head knowledge,” she said.
Baylor’s CPE program didn’t have the money to send students overseas, but they liked Soga’s idea. Knowing Dallas had a burgeoning and increasingly visible minority communities, they encouraged her to reach out to a diverse group of faith leaders for both their support and participation.
Soga’s place of worship, Preston Hollow Presbyterian agreed to support the program financially — and United African Presbyterian agreed to be a faith community participant in the cultural immersion course. One Latino Methodist, one Latino Baptist, and one Islamic community also agreed to participate in the pilot program, which started in August and ended in December 2017.
Part of what makes the course unique is that each student is assigned an ethnic faith community different than their own where they build relationships and engage in religious activities. They are also required to spend at least 20 hours with an assigned host family in that ethnic community.
“The most positive part of the 20-week pilot program was when students spoke of personal transformation and healing,” Soga said, “as a result of their cultural immersion with their faith community and host family.”
One of those students Nicholas Dano immersed himself in the Latino Methodist faith community. He didn’t speak Spanish and became aware that he only wanted to engage those in the congregation who looked like him.
“He was reaching out to those who were more ‘light-skinned’ and ‘Americanized’— and ignoring those who didn’t look like him,” Soga said. “He worked at changing his internal bias.”
By the end of his CPE, Dano was moving toward people who were different from him. He even fostered a meaningful conversation between a Spanish speaking patient at the hospital and his son.
“An additional benefit for many of the ethnic communities participating in the cultural immersion program,” said Soga, “is that they gain access to valuable, preventative health information.”
Baylor also placed former Muslim and convert to Christianity, David Zerafat in an Islamic faith community. Initially, he was passionate about converting others, which was part of the risk Satoe had discussed with the host family.
“Dr. Yosef Khan was a scholar, and willing to take on the risk,” she said. “He could’ve been seen as an apostate, but Khan, his family and the Muslim faith community welcomed him, in a way that they all became friends.”
Zerafat has such great appreciation for his Muslim friends now — which has led to a greater respect of the hospital’s policy on respecting people of all faiths.
“If we only stay in our one culture and faith community,” Soga said. “We miss out on knowing God and ourselves at a deeper level, and God is trying to help us understand about diversity in the created world.”
“Our minority communities have much to teach us, which is why want to train our future ministry in cultural sensitivity.”
The CPE cultural immersion program has received support from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and Dallas Theological Seminary.
Soga hopes to have a Jewish or Latino Roman Catholic faith community participating in the fall 2018 CPE cultural immersion internship.
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