Laity Session: In Pursuit of Holy Things
When Geovanna Chavez Huffman (daughter-in-law of District Superintendent Chuck Huffman) left the security of home in Ecuador at the young age of 16, she found the welcoming arms of Southwest United Methodist Church and the call to ministry shortly thereafter. As the laity session speaker, she shares her faith journey and references Paul’s example of finding commonality to influence audiences within your reach.
“I came to Houston from Ecuador in 1996, fresh out of high school, knowing I couldn’t stay in Ecuador because God had called me to be a pastor, and women were not allowed be pastors in my home country,” Reverend Geovanna Huffman shared with the laity attending the opening session of Annual Conference on Monday. “God works in mysterious ways, and I ended up visiting Southwest United Methodist Church and saw the first woman pastor I had ever seen in the pulpit, speaking with courage and conviction. I was so excited to call my Ecuadorian friends to tell them all about it.”
She adds, “In many ways the folks of SWUMC became some of my best friends and extended family. They embraced me as a daughter, sponsored me in college, even planned my wedding to a very handsome Texan (Chuck Huffman’s son Eric) and supported me when it came time to answer my call to ministry. Here I am 18 years later after getting ordained, planting two campus ministries, two Anglo churches and three multicultural churches – so thank you, Texas Annual Conference, for investing in me.”
Geovanna has since been engaged in dynamic pastoral and church planting activities and church plant coaching in several conferences, and even chosen by Sojourners Magazine in 2009 as one of the leaders under 30 who are making a difference through religion and missions.
Passionate about immigrant rights, she shared thoughts from her experience leading Hispanic ministries in her home conference. “You stand at a crossroads in your mission field because over half of the young adults in many of your communities are Hispanic. The Wesleyan spirit we embrace gives us a real advantage to share with all ages and race. We need to be passionate about the message we proclaim. Leaving the safety and security of my home, led me to cling to the love of God with everything I had. The apostle Paul embodied this kind of passion as well, especially to win those who were not like him. He became all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel, to share it’s blessing. Is this kind of passion at our core?”
As she shares examples of this passion playing out in congregations, she used stories of her first urban church appointment. The church desperately wanted to reach their community, so she invited them to go door to door to survey how the church could minister to its neighbors. “What began as a feedback project quickly turned into English classes, a community food pantry, an ice cream social that soon turned into a youth group, which then turned into small groups, that turned into a Spanish language worship service and an after school program…all because the congregation was passionate about sharing the gospel.”
Adds Geovanna, “Christ has made us one. After examining the growing numbers of Hispanics in all of our neighborhoods, it becomes clear that the task to reaching the Hispanic members of the community cannot really be left to just a few churches. This is where sacrifice becomes essential. There are real and effective ways to reach them. It won’t happen by accident. Congregations will have to go the extra mile to make strategic changes, and make it clear to your community that all are welcome in your church.”
Ways that churches could be welcoming to all cultures:
· Offer fellowship hall as free facility for cultural events
· “Bienvenidos” (Welcome in Spanish) on church signage
· changing banners
· offering Spanish services
· helping members through immigration struggles
In Corinthians, Paul reminds readers that any sacrifice is worth the glory in knowing that one more person would know the love of God. “I challenge you laity of the Texas Annual Conference, to get out into the community to help your congregation spark the passion of the Gospel. Tell your pastors you are ready to make sacrifices so that others know they are welcome.”