Latinos have an important place in God’s great plan of shalom! God wants—and even needs—to use you and your story in his global mission. Here are some of the gifts Latinos bring to God’s mission:
1. We Are Created in the Image of God
This is true for every person, whatever their culture. All people have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and all cultures will be represented in heaven (Revelation 7:9). In fact, the full image of God (the Imago Dei) is so beautifully complex, it truly takes the full array of cultures to reflect it.
Latino ethnic identity is not universal or static, but there is something about Latinos which reflects the heart of God in a way no other people can. Some of what we bring is represented in the rest of the gifts in this list. But at the center of all the gifts we bring is the simple and profound truth that we—no less and no more than any other culture—are created in the image of God. Let us rejoice in that, and be confident in our place in God’s mission. ¡Andale mi gente, si se puede!
2. We reflect the communities we serve
God dwells among us in Spirit—even today—through the gathering and fellowship of those who follow the Way, i.e. Christians. And we Christians come in all shapes and sizes. The church falters in mission when we assume that the gospel looks like a flat, two-dimensional, monocultural gathering. The reality is that God became incarnate and dwelled among us, to be With Us.
In other words, God works through our very cultures to connect with those he loves. As a whole, we bear the image of God. But we are also unique and specific witnesses of his transformative story of salvation. Perhaps the fact that I speak Spanish can be used by God to share my faith journey with those whose primary language is Spanish. Maybe the fact that I was an immigrant can be used by God to share the pain of my immigrant neighbors.
Followers of Jesus on the margins of society (such as Latinos in the United States) are positioned to minister to others on the margins in a way that the dominant culture simply cannot. As Reverend Alexia Salvatierra notes,
In many places in scripture, we read that God chooses those who are discriminated against, those who have less social power, to be his agents and messengers. Those of us who come from communities similar to the communities served by Urban and Global Projects have special potential to carry the love of Christ back into those communities in a mighty way. When we are part of the Project, the people we serve can imagine themselves serving too—a powerful witness and call.
3. Latinos are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve
Latinos have inherited a strong sense of the Spiritual realm from our Indigenous ancestors. Latino Christians across denominations bring this awareness of the Holy Spirit’s power to heal and transform.
I grew up in a Spanish-speaking Assemblies of God church where the Holy Spirit was la Santa presencia de Dios, the Holy Presence of God, which filled us and sent us out for life and work. In some Latino communities (where limited funding networks often mean pastors hold a full-time job in addition to their full-time responsibilities as pastors), Latino pastors are deemed suited for ministry through their wise stewardship of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and attending a Bible College rather than by attaining an out of reach Master’s of Divinity (M.Div.).
Latinos who grow up in these kinds of charismatic churches bring their strong sense of call to the mission. We stay faithful to the mission because our calling is rooted in the one who sent us: El Espiritu de Dios. When serving in a different context and culture shock starts to settle in, Latino students turn to the Spirit for perseverance: Espiritu de Dios, llena mi vida, llena mi alma, llena mi ser (Spirit of God, fill my life, fill my soul, fill my being). This is one of the most popular Spanish worship songs I know!
Similarly, if we have experience using the gifts of the Holy Spirit and stewarding them well for the edification of believers, we can bring this to the mission by interceding for people through prayer, laying on of hands for healing, or sharing the good news through an evangelistic message empowered by the Holy Spirit.
4. Our strong sense of comunidad
I am the oldest of five children. I didn’t have my own room until I was 23 years old. Growing up, I was expected to be at all major fiestas and to not leave such parties until I had said adios with a hug and a kiss. Even as a person who values my independence alone time, I continue to be impacted by this value for community.
Engrained in most of us with Latin American families is the tremendously beautiful and rich value for comunidad. This is community that is “real” with one another, authentic enough to withstand disagreements and call out the disappointments, and loving enough to desire that all feel part of la familia. We say, “Mi casa es su casa,” and we actually live it out.
This perspective is tremendously helpful when establishing team identity early on in the mission experience. On Projects, my Latino students are the first to share vulnerably about their family, their background, and their situation. Once trust and familiarity are established, we are all about ensuring that our team—our new familia on the mission—is working well together. We are not perfect community builders, but our experience in being a part of various communities comes in handy when a sense of team and mission partnership needs to be built.
5. Our ability to cross cultures and build bridges
Latino values can be the inverse of those of the majority culture, such as when it comes to punctuality and relationships. Latinos typically value relationships over timeliness. For us, it’s more important to support relationships than to start a meeting on time. However, the majority culture in the United States values timeliness over relationships; relationships can even suffer when punctuality is not prioritized.
When Latinos confront clashes in values such as these, we are forced to make a decision: either capitulate our value systems to match the majority culture, or learn to adjust depending on our context. Linguists call this “code-switching.” Those of us who have learned to navigate between multiple contexts have developed cross-cultural sensitivity. That is, we have learned how to live in the tension between worlds. We can think quickly about how to translate the various values across these communities and as a result we often serve as bridges between different peoples.
Those of us who have learned to navigate between multiple contexts have developed cross-cultural sensitivity. That is, we have learned how to live in the tension between worlds. We can think quickly about how to translate the various values across these communities and as a result we often serve as bridges between different peoples.
Because of our heightened sensitivity to value differences, we know when miscommunication and dissonance are happening between two encountering cultures, and we understand that this dissonance is occurring because of a difference in values. When a student on an Urban Project I once directed exclaimed out of frustration, “I don’t understand why our host organization keeps starting our staff meetings later than they say they will,” one of the Latino students responded, “Remember they have different values,” and pointed out the value that the organization was trying to instill. Our experience of living in two (or more) cultures lends itself to fruitful bridge-building in missions.
6. We work creatively to get funded, and so do our families
Once Latinos feel the sense of call from the Spirit—or realize how God can use our stories for his mission—we work hard to get funded. Yes, we do not have the funding networks that others have, and our churches may not be able to give large amounts, and maybe even our own families have a hard time understanding why we would spend a summer or spring break away from familia. However, none of these reasons (alone or collectively) can hinder the Latino who is called by the Holy Spirit to serve.
Instead of wallowing in our limitations, Latinos learn to be creative with our resources and trust that God will provide all that we need. And he does. Every year I see him do this. Our LaFe students have raised funds by organizing Salsa y Salsa events, or yard sales, or by selling tamales and tacos for the mission. Tania Gonzalez, student at Fresno City, once sold $2,000 worth of Pupusas to help her get to the Bosnia Global Program.
Latinos also go above and beyond the norm to invite our familias into the fundraising process: our moms cook for us, our churches give love offerings, our siblings tithe a percentage of their next paycheck. In essence, Latinos are sent en comunidad by their familias because they know that missions will transform not just those communities they go to serve, but also the community to which they will return, the community they call home.
What story will you tell?
I hope you have encountered God’s loving call to serve abroad; the diverse communities around the world are in need of diverse voices to share Imago Dei. If you are not Latino, I hope you are encouraged to think through your own culture’s unique contribution to the mission field. Perhaps you even identify with some of the gifts listed here. Great! The truth is, we were all created in the beautifully complex Image of God. What is your unique voice and gift that God wants to use for his purposes?