A Note from Kelly King: My use of the Spanish language may be limited, but my heart for us to disciple and reach Hispanic women should not be different than my heart for all women. We must continue to build bridges with all ethnic groups and develop relationships that encompass the entire body of Christ. I’m grateful for Michelle Reyes and her insight on discipling Latina women. I hope you learn something new today and begin praying about ways to develop a culturally-sensitive ministry.
The odds of having a Latina in your church are statistically high. The “Catholic share” of the Latino population is declining, while Protestant churches are seeing rising numbers of Latinos (24%) with the major core of this represented demographic comprised of Latinas.
These women are a powerful force, both within their homes and the church at large. Traditionally, they serve as spiritual leaders of the family (as mothers, aunts, and grandmothers). They teach their children to pray and to worship God among other things. They are both nurturing and strong. They have an amazing ability to learn, teach, and faithfully lead others to Christ and, as such, they have the potential to shape and form the next generation of ministry leaders in our churches.
The questions we need to be asking ourselves are these: Are we leaning into Latinas? Are we caring for them? And, most importantly, are we discipling and training these women to be a part of the next generation of ministry leaders?
Plain and simple, we should be discipling Latinas, and this discipleship requires new approaches that consider and incorporate cultural difference. The following are three very important ways to approach a culturally-sensitive discipleship:
Build A Relationship First
The importance of relationships for Latinas cannot be overstressed. There cannot be discipleship without a relationship first. I was recently chatting with one of the ministry interns at our church, a college-aged Latina named Jazmin Coronado, who told me, “It is very important that you spend time with the person you are discipling in order to build trust. It’s hard to have discipleship and not continue to develop the relationship outside the spaces of discipleship. It is also important to be real and to be transparent in order to build trust.”
In short, relations of equality lead to relations of trust. This is particularly important for Anglo Christians to grasp. There is already a mountain of disparities between Anglos and Latinos in our society at large—from socioeconomic to educational disparities. The last thing that Anglo Christians should convey to Latinas is that they are some form of “White Savior” who has come to solve all their problems. Christ has made us all equal (Eph. 2:11-22). Our discipleship within and across cultures needs to reflect that.
This means, among other things, spending a lot of time together, eating together, and living life together. You should be open and honest about your own life and struggles. In short, be her friend, treat her like family, and show her that your engagement with her is more than just a relationship of convenience or something on your check-list.
Recognize Her Struggles
There are a lot of experiences that Anglo and Latina women share, from love, family, and marriage to the joys and struggles of motherhood and questions related to work. But, at the same time, Latinas and Anglo women also experience these life events very differently, and we should recognize these differences as we preach Christ.
For example, most of the Latinas I know are working mothers. They work out of necessity. They work to put food on the table and to pay for rent, not because their job is a hobby or because they prefer work over their kids. The fact that most Latinas work will force us to be more flexible regarding the when and where of discipleship. If you are discipling a Latina, and especially a single momma, you should make yourself available to go to her home and to be comfortable chatting with her while her children are present and playing. That’s her life. If you want to show her love, then embrace her reality and let the Word of God wash over all those who are present.
This also means that our relationships with Latinas should incorporate holistic care. If you’re not aware of the other areas of her life—her familial struggles, the pains of her past (e.g., broken relationships, abandonment, and even assault) and her personal battles (e.g., body image, self-worth, and woman’s identity)—your efforts in discipleship will fall flat.
Value Her Culture
Finally, we will never be able to disciple, train, and empower Latinas unless we understand their cultural heritage. This means everything from the special role that the family plays in their lives to the Latino community’s Catholic heritage and the importance of prayer. The best encouragement I can give you is this: do your homework. First, ask Latinas to tell you about their culture, traditions, and values. Second, read books like Latino Protestants in America: Growing and Diverse by Mark T. Mulder (2017) and Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective by Justo L. González (1990). Third, once you begin to understand these cultural norms, don’t dismiss them or delegitimize them. Rather, show Latinas that you appreciate and value her culture because God does (Gen. 1:26-28 and Rev. 7:9-11), and recognize how her culture impacts her theology.
I do want to specifically mention the handling of hardships within Latina culture. The same Latina intern, Jazmin, also mentioned to me how these women (like many other ethnic women) are forced to keep their struggles hidden and private “where they belong.” Latinas are raised to not talk about their problems, and this mentality is passed from generation to generation. There is no space for what is considered “complaining” and as such many Latinas carry deep-seated pains that are never spoken or resolved. One of the ways we can encourage Latinas to start opening up is to build the relationship first, spend time together, and show persistent, gentle love.
There is so much more that could be said on this subject, but we have to start by getting these three things right. We must build the relationship first, recognize their struggles, and know and value their culture if we want to have effective cross-cultural ministry, show these women that we care and value them, and grow them as ministry leaders in our churches. Let us start here, and let us do these three things well.
Michelle Reyes, Ph.D., is pastor’s wife, German professor, and mom to a toddler. Michelle is passionate about faith, family and diversity, and has published articles with Christianity Today, Flourish, Austin Moms Blog and more. Michelle also helped plant Church of the Violet Crown in Austin, Texas in 2014—an urban, multicultural church where her husband, Aaron Reyes serves as lead pastor. You can read more from Michelle on her blog, The Art of Taleh, or follow her on Twitter @dr_reyes2.