Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

Secret Sauce conference offers a recipe for partnerships with immigrant communities and a ‘cookbook’ to download

1001’s test kitchen serves up an irresistible secret sauce with four global ingredients

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

Secret Sauce conference organizers and speakers, from left, the Rev. Gad Mpoyo, the Rev. Sungwoo Sam Kim, the Rev. Nikki Collins, the Rev. Dr. Lindsay Armstrong and the Rev. Rafael Viana. (Photos by Beth Waltemath)

ATLANTA — “We all have accents, and really, an accent is nothing to be ashamed of but to be proud of because accents are beautiful,” the Rev. Rafael Viana said during his plenary presentation for the “What’s the Secret Sauce?” conference in Atlanta last week.

The conference focused on the wisdom and experiences of new immigrant worshiping communities and those who partner with them. The four plenary sessions were dubbed “main courses” while the various workshops were considered “side dishes.” The four plenaries focused on a philosophical concept not easily expressed in English that resonates in particular cultures and enriches the communal life and the Christian theological understanding of the larger church in the same way an accent conveys a sense of communal belonging and a connection to a particular community of formation.

“An accent provides emphasis where and how it is employed. Thus, we believe that an accent is a beautiful expression of the Christian mission of bringing the gospel everywhere and in all languages,” said the Rev. Sungwoo Sam Kim, the leader of Atlanta Oikos Church and the translational ministry coordinator for Columbia Theological Seminary.

According to the Pew Research center, 68% of the 44.5 million immigrants to the United States identify as Christian, according to data presented by the conference organizers. Immigration to the United States has been on the rise since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Immigration Act and the Voting Rights Act.

The motivations behind migration are complex, ranging from negative causes such as fleeing persecution or escaping the dual effects of climate change and the unjust economic development in their home countries, sometimes in collusion with North American corporations, to positive hopes like seeking opportunity, education, and freedom of religion or identity.

Over three days, leaders from new immigrant churches and worshiping communities and their partners in established churches, mid councils, the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly explored the realities of immigrant pastors, their members and their congregations and asked important structural questions about the United States immigration system, the biases and governance of established host congregations and presbyteries, the obstacles in mid council and national polity and translation services, and the financial thresholds for chartering churches and long-term participation in the Board of Pensions that can inhibit new immigrant leaders and their communities from full inclusion in the PC(USA).

The four plenary presentations focused on four words in Zulu, Korean, Spanish and Bantu to accentuate the experiences of immigrant communities in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The

Rev. Dr. Lindsay Armstrong, chief executive officer of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta’s New Church Development Commission, opened the first plenary with discussion of the need for individuals and the institution to fully see immigrant communities and the realities they face. Armstrong also discussed “sawubona,” a Zulu word meaning “we see, we respect and we value you” that speaks of the power of individuals to take responsibility for the sight and the recognition of their culture and their institutions when they seek to understand others in the fullness of their own realities.

Armstrong said she learned the word from the Rev. Dr. George Marchinkowski, the moderator of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, when he came to shadow her for a month as she practiced one-to-one meetings with new immigrant leaders and leaders in potential host churches. “After a month of following me around as I did my job, he remarked over dinner one night that I practice sawubona. He said, ‘You understand it perfectly. You just don’t know the word. It is not something that translates fully into the English language or U.S. culture, but I have watched you do it every week I have been here.’”

The Rev. Sungwoo Sam Kim

Kim began the second plenary by introducing the concept of “dure.”

Translated in English as “helping one another,” “dure” describes a more reliable structural system of resource sharing in South Korea where farmers alleviate the labor burdens by working together on each other’s farms — sharing tools, tasks and even parenting to ensure everyone’s harvest comes to fruition. Kim shared examples of how he sees “dure everywhere in different ways of life all over the world.” One example in Atlanta of dure is a prison ministry shared among several Korean churches in the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.

In the third plenary, the Rev. Rafael Viana warned partners against having a landlord-tenant relationship. Viana, who is trilingual and originally from Brazil, currently leads a Spanish-speaking congregation with 12 different nationalities represented called On the Way and has started a second new worshiping community called Casa Brasil for Portuguese speakers.

The Rev. Rafael Viana

Viana encouraged partnering congregations to consider the theological limitations of legal contracts and to embrace the idea of “mi casa es su casa.” The Spanish expression means “welcome” in English by saying “my house is your house.” Viana explained that “it expresses the philosophy of hospitality in which the person who enters your home really feels part of the family.” Since Christianity understands churches as the house of God and Christians as children of God in one family, Viana told stories about problems that arise when host churches value their spaces more than relationships and stories about community bonds formed when congregations shared workdays, music projects, talent nights, egg hunts and food across cultures. “Finding low-key and low-stakes opportunities to be present with one another can promote understanding and trust for when differences inevitably lead to disagreements and tension,” said Viana, who emphasized the need to navigate these “from a foundation of mutuality” built on hospitality and community, not merely contracts.

Mutuality can extend deeper than hospitality, according to the Rev. Gad Mpoyo, who facilitated the last plenary session and offered a fourth ingredient of the secret sauce. (There is no final ingredient, for the recipe between established churches and new immigrant communities is only a base for which the spices of other cultures and partnerships can be added.) Mpoyo led the group in a discussion of ubuntu, an African word most known through contemporary Zulu expressions but originating in the Bantu language family, which shares the concept in Shona, Xhosa, Lingala and Chewa. “Translated as ‘I am because we are, therefore I am,’ this concept speaks to the fact that our lives are inextricably connected as human beings who are responsible for each other,” said Mpoyo. Through his work as a founding pastor of Shalom International Ministry in Clarkston, Georgia, and his national work as the Southeastern associate for the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative, Mpoyo has seen firsthand how “when an immigrant new worshiping community suffers, the local charter congregation and mid council will also suffer. When a new worshiping community thrives, they will also thrive.”

The Secret Sauce conference featured these Communion elements.

Kim, Viana and Mpoyo have published a 39-page resource “cookbook” sharing the concepts of dure, mi casa es su casa and ubuntu as well as other wisdom and stories from new immigrant church leaders called Accents, which is available for download through the Presbyterian Mission Agency website and the New Church, New Way online resource site.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.