Rev. Dr. Giovanni Arroyo engages AC2023 in a conversation about intercultural discipleship
On June 3, at the 2023 Annual Conference for United Methodists of Upper New York, held at Onondaga Community College‘s SRC Arena in Syracuse, the Rev. Dr. Giovanni Arroyo, the General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), led a thought-provoking and engaging learning session on intercultural discipleship.
Upper New York Area Resident Bishop, Héctor A. Burgos Núñez, explained the role of GCORR to the audience. He said, “GCORR is an agency with a mandate to help the church grow in its awareness and practice of racial justice and healing, diversity, cultural competence, and diversity.” The bishop further explained that Rev. Dr. Arroyo has had over 25 years of passionately engaging in this work.
Rev. Dr. Arroyo began his session by showing a slide of a painting of a Woman of Color, pressing her face against a fence. The impressive story behind the painting adds more beauty to it. The painting in fact was created by a group of graffiti artists in Los Angeles. A pastor of a local church wanted to have a conversation about refugees and invited these graffiti artists to participate in the conversation. From what they heard; the graffiti artists created a series called “Fearless.”
Rev. Arroyo recited a description the graffiti artists provided, “The refugees who are coming over are mostly families lost and traumatized. They need our help, not our fear.”
Rev. Dr. Arroyo expressed how the engaging session was going to focus on how attendees can help as opposed to operating in a fear-driven way—how they can become Intercultural Disciple Leaders.
He expressed the importance of communication. Throughout his time, Rev. Dr. Arroyo would have the audience turn to their neighbor and converse about a question he presented, such as “How does your church portray people from different lived experiences, different cultures, different social economic class, etc.?”
For these conversations among attendees, Rev. Dr. Arroyo introduced the concept of "FAMILIA," an acronym representing the principles that would guide their interactions. Each letter of FAMILIA embodied a core value: Fellowship, Acceptance, Motivation, Identity, Loyalty, Inclusivity, and Affirmation. These principles served as a framework for building a community that respects, listens, and celebrates the diversity of its members.
The notion of intercultural discipleship was highlighted as a way to bridge the gap between different cultures and lived experiences. Rev. Dr. Arroyo challenged attendees to examine their own biases and assumptions, urging them to actively seek understanding and empathy. By recognizing the limitations of their own perspectives, they could embrace the full mosaic of God's Imago Dei present within their congregation.
The presentation also emphasized the need for a shift in mindset from a difference-avoiding approach to a difference-seeking one. Attendees were encouraged to engage in self-reflection and develop self-awareness of their own cultural identities and biases. By acknowledging their social conditioning and upbringing, they could better understand how these factors influenced their interactions with others.
“Intercultural leaders, “Rev. Dr. Arroyo explained, “possess the ability to shift their cultural perspectives and bridge the gap between cultural commonalities and differences. They recognize that their own culture is not the sole reality and value the diversity of experiences and perspectives within their community. These leaders actively cultivate relationships across differences, promoting curiosity, respect, and critical analysis.”
To foster intercultural discipleship, Rev. Dr. Arroyo emphasized the importance of a three-pronged approach: mindset, skill set, and heart set. A difference-seeking mindset involves embracing diversity, acknowledging power differentials, and understanding intersecting oppressions. Attendees were encouraged to cultivate self-awareness, challenge their beliefs, and explore the values they inherited to foster a deeper understanding of their own cultural identities.
Rev. Dr. Arroyo's presentation concluded with a call to action for attendees to engage in mutual invitation and active listening. By creating spaces for authentic dialogue and sharing, they could promote a relational approach to disciple-making. The ultimate goal was to build bridges across cultural differences and embody the gospel message of inclusivity and love for all.
As the session ended, attendees were left with a renewed sense of purpose and a commitment to embracing intercultural discipleship. Rev. Dr. Arroyo's message reminded them that their mission as United Methodists was to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This transformative work could only be achieved by developing intercultural competence and practicing cultural humility, allowing them to build relationships across diverse perspectives and experiences.
In a world where divisions and prejudices often prevail, Rev. Dr. Arroyo's presentation served as a powerful reminder of the importance of embracing and celebrating diversity within the faith community. By actively engaging in intercultural discipleship, attendees were challenged to live out their mission statement of The United Methodist Church and create a church that truly reflected the mosaic of God's creation. With a commitment to fostering understanding, empathy, and unity, they could work together to dismantle systems of oppression and bring about a more inclusive and loving world.