Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with Gladys Ochoa
Healing all wounds – multicultural congregations create encounters with Jesus.
October 2, 2019
This week TMF is honored to have Gladys Ochoa share her multicultural heritage story with us. As a facilitator of the L3 Incubators for the Northwest Texas Conference, Gladys accompanies her husband, Rev. Dr. Jorge Ochoa, in the training of pastors and church leaders in his role as director of the Hispanic / Latino Movement and Church Development. She also leads children’s ministry at Vida Abundante United Methodist Church in Lubbock, Texas, where she is part of the leadership team. Born in Córdoba, Argentina, to a family of five brothers and sisters, Ms. Ochoa grew up in the Evangelical Methodist Church of Córdoba, Argentina. She graduated from college as an elementary school teacher and taught in Argentina and Peru. She and her husband moved to the United States in 1997, and they began leading a multicultural church in 2005. She and Dr. Ochoa have two children, Christian and Daniel.
Can you tell us a story that illustrates how your Hispanic heritage prepared you to answer your call to lead and serve your congregation and community?
I am Argentinian, great-granddaughter of Swiss and German immigrants, who came to Argentina to start a new life. Argentina geographically is in South America – that means that by my roots, I consider myself Latina – but when I arrived in this country, they told me that I was Hispanic, a name that I did not understand or identify with. This confused me so much that every time I had to fill out a form and the options were White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, Other ... I would mark White until I understood the meaning and connotation of being Hispanic.
I got married in Argentina to an immigrant from Peru, a country where I had the privilege of living for five years, and where our oldest son was born. This was my first experience of cultural shock. I went from an orderly city of two million people to a city of 8 million, where disorder, noise, smells, and different but delicious foods, clashed with my five senses. Although we spoke quite similar Spanish, they considered me a “gringa,” but the warmth of the people, their struggle, and their daily faith surprised me. They embraced me and allowed me to integrate, and I accepted their welcome.
When the news that we would go to the United States came true, we arrived in the United States without knowing English, but unlike millions of immigrants, we were accompanied by a friend (American) and his family with whom we had been doing missionary work in Peru for quite some time. They went out of their way to teach us and guide us in this new society, and we joined a United Methodist Church in the city of Tuscola, Texas.
A year later, they invited my husband to be an associate pastor in an Anglo Methodist church, and that began a new cultural experience. My English was still basic, which challenged me more. I had to learn in order to integrate into this community, to know what was happening with my children in school, interact with people, and develop a ministry.
I think it would have been very difficult if I did not have my faith and support from my family, and people that God specifically placed in my path to face a different culture (family values, language, form of worship, children's education, meals, other). Seeing how the Hispanic immigrant was denigrated for being "different" has often broken my heart, and I could perceive an internal problem that did not allow the Hispanic / Latino community to advance or progress. Perhaps much is due to the fact that we have lived for many years under the concept that we are “La Raza.” This discriminated much more the Hispanic who arrived and lost their identity, their values, leading them to a spiritual poverty, a mentality of misery in all areas of their life. Then we switched to a multicultural experience, because the church where my husband was assigned to had been primarily Anglo, and then became multicultural over the years.
I can say that with the experience of having been inserted into cultures such as Argentinian, Peruvian, American, and Hispanic / Latino’s of first, second and third generations, I believed I had the necessary knowledge to support the ministry. How wrong was I! We began to receive families from Central America, South America, Asia, and the United States (Anglo and African-American). I had to begin to learn and understand the story of each person and family, of what they needed both physically and spiritually, in addition to responding to the needs of a multicultural community hungry for the gospel. I can say that this church became a House of Prayer for all nations and generations.
And why have I told my story this way?
So that together we can discover that each person has a story that can enrich us all, that the label we carry does not always describe us, and that focusing only on one target moves us away from God's divine purpose.
How do these prepare me to lead and serve?
Well, it taught me to have compassion, to train and accompany those who are going through what I went through, wanting to discover. To learn and enrich myself with my neighbor, knowing that the Hispanic people, like everyone else, have much to offer and contribute. To build bridges that help integrate and embrace, being willing to be surprised, but above all let God's grace, mercy, and unfailing love come into action.
How would you describe the contributions (past and present) of your congregation and ministries to your community?
I believe that the presence of a Hispanic person who has gone through the congregations in which I have been has been an inspiration to act immediately in the face of both physical needs (accompany to medical visits, school, forms to fill out, immigration, job search, requirement of things for home, transportation, translations, etc.) and spiritual need (personal and family counseling, group accompaniment, etc.) as well.
Agreements with schools that were close to the church allowed us to help the children in their studies and show them and their parents the benefits of building a family life with Christ at the center. Studies of ESL, GED, finance, single women, etc. have been the bridges with the community to solve immediate needs such as language, work, development in this society, loneliness, and an encounter with Jesus.
But I think something to emphasize has been that Hispanics have found in the church a place where they can leave their tears, their wounded souls, their pain of having gone through circumstances on their way to the United States that marked them forever, but when they hear the transforming word of God and see the testimony of a congregation and pastor, a balm that alleviates and heals all kinds of wounds comes to their lives, they can say that their Father, who is in heaven, loves them and has called them His children.
What is your congregation doing to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month, and why?
Every year various events are prepared with the congregation and the community. This year we will begin with a family retreat and there will be an event named Fiesta Hispana / Latina. Currently, 16 countries meet at a large cultural festival where we share typical dishes, regional music, and highlight characteristics of each country concluding with a reflection given by the pastor. We also advertise through our media (Facebook, Instagram) the celebration of Hispanic Heritage month.