New places for new neighbors in Minnesota

March 27, 2013

By: Jerad Morey

Rev. Nohemi Ramirez of La Puerta Abierta (The Open Door) United Methodist Church (Saint Paul) holds Jeremiah 29:11 close to her heart these days: “'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'” She hopes that the people who come to La Puerta Abierta for the free breakfasts every Sunday, or to ease hunger through the food shelf the church runs in partnership with Rosemount United Methodist Church and Panera Bread, can also find hope in God's plan for them.

La Puerta Abierta is just one star in the constellation of Minnesota Annual Conference ministries to ethnic immigrant communities: Mankato Korean United Methodist Church, Grace Korean in Duluth, Wheelock United Methodist Church (formerly Hmong Community United Methodist Church) in Saint Paul and African United Methodist Church in Brooklyn Center, to name a few more. The abundance of ministries is something that Minnesota United Methodists should be proud of: Rev. Dan Johnson, director of congregational development, reports that Minnesota's model of developing ministries to ethnic immigrant groups is being studied by other conferences.

Developed initially by Rev. Dennis Alexander, Minnesota Conference’s intercultural ministries specialist, Minnesota's model for developing faith communities among non-English-speaking groups consists of three steps. The first is that a local congregation will house a language ministry—providing space, supporting Bible study and worship in the group's home language, and acting as a fiscal sponsor for the ministry. An example of this is the Vietnamese language ministry at Richfield United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.

The next step is that the group becomes a fellowship. The members begin taking financial responsibility for renting space from the parent church. They develop a board and may begin to receive funding from the conference. The Zimbabwean Fellowship at Brunswick United Methodist Church (Crystal) is a good example of this.

Some such groups will not progress beyond being language ministries. Some may stop at being fellowships. And some go on to become new church starts. A new church start is appointed a clergy leader and demonstrates signs of being able to sustain itself financially. African United Methodist Church (Brooklyn Center) is an example of this model, as is La Puerta Abierta.

A two-way blessing

La Puerta's Rev. Ramirez highlights the blessing of the United Methodist connectional system when she talks about how ministries like hers strengthen the body of Christ in Minnesota. “As our country's demographics change,” she says, “it is important for the United Methodist Church to embrace and work together with new immigrants.”

Once the church experiences a little more growth, she envisions how a congregation like hers also strengthens the ministry of other churches in the connection: “We can give information sessions on cultural differences and similarities” to churches going on mission trips. “We want to be a resource for United Methodist churches to share our culture, our language.”

If churches reach more people who have come from across the globe to live in Minnesota, then churches could be more effective in going from Minnesota to reach people who live across the globe. There are specific groups of immigrants that the conference has decided to more proactively develop relationships with in order to do just that.

There are more Vietnamese people living in the Twin Cities than in any other city in the Midwest—including Chicago. Johnson hopes to find ways to reach the disproportionate number of Vietnamese in the Twin Cities by supporting congregations with new language ministries. This people group is of particular concern for Bishop Bruce Ough of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area because he is also bishop of United Methodist missions in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.

Originating in Laos, not far from Vietnam, Minnesota's Hmong population increased 46 percent the last decade. Minnesota has the largest concentration of Hmong of any state. The growth has not been limited to the urban areas—suburban/exurban Washington County and Anoka County each saw an increase similar to Hennepin County. With a Hmong population four times larger than the Vietnamese, Johnson is hopeful that United Methodists can multiply our presence within the Hmong community.

A third ethnic group around whom real missional movement is taking place is Hispanics of Mexican origin. Dennis Alexander is convening a Hispanic Plan Task Force to develop a new ministry in the Twin Cities and/or Rochester. By developing a plan, the Minnesota Conference becomes eligible for additional support for Hispanic ministries from the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries (administered by the General Board of Global Ministries). Johnson anticipates using additional funds for a part-time appointment to reach new people of Hispanic origin.

This plan's success, like successful outreach to any of Minnesota's immigrant communities, could mean more churches like La Puerta Abierta: offering free meals and a food shelf to strengthen families and ease hunger in their communities. This is the sort of ministry that all of God's children can support.

Jerad Morey is a member of Mosaic in Brooklyn Park and a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @Jerad.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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