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Journey to Mosaic Trip Aims to Improve Seminary-Society Connections

Seminary faculty and staff photographed with migrant workers

CHICAGO, IL (March 20, 2008) – Faculty and staff from North Park Theological Seminary say their recent Journey to Mosaic trip through California will help the school better serve local churches and improve the training of ministers as the denomination becomes increasingly multi-ethnic.

Journey to Mosaic focuses on bringing to light present-day injustices related to the Asian-American, Latino-American, and African-American communities. Twelve people participated in the bus trip from September 13-16, 2007.

Sites visited included:

- Bay Area Christian Connection Covenant Church in Oakland, as well as the Black Panther Community renewal sites in the city.

- Central Valley tour of agriculture, in which participants met with migrant workers and visited Iglesia Del Pacto Evangelico in Porterville, Calif.

- Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, with stops at the Japanese-American Museum and Fred Jordan Mission on skid row.

- Fountain of Life Covenant Church in Long Beach.

"It was eye-opening to see how much the Covenant has changed as a denomination over the last 10 to 15 years, to see the faces of what is now the Covenant church, including the migrant workers," says Soong-Chan Rah, assistant professor of church growth and evangelism.

"It is important for the Seminary to be aware of the stories of people," Rah says. Only then can the faculty serve congregations, he adds, stressing that "the local church is the backbone of any denomination."

As the Evangelical Covenant Church expands, the people must be open to hearing the stories if they are to overcome issues that have torn apart the country at the national and local levels, says Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, assistant professor of theology and ethics. "The trip will help us in training pastors to deal directly with racism and division."

"If we don't give our pastors insight and tools to address the realities of race it is like sending them out to war with a pocket knife," says Greg Yee, associate superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference. "The gospel has the power to break down the walls of race, gender, and class. Pastors need to intimately know about this demolition plan. If they don't, they will be left giving testimony to a powerless gospel that more often reflects comfort, convenience, and flash, rather than the hard and unglamorous work this really entails."

The trip also includes opportunities for the participants to share their own stories and ask questions of one another. Velda Love, assistant director of the Center for Justice Ministries, says this often can be a difficult process and confesses her doubts she held prior to the journey.

"At the beginning of the trip, I was concerned that people weren't going to be able to hear each other," Love says. "At the end of the trip—because there was genuine dialogue among the group—it was a great trip."

Concluding the journey by worshiping at Fountain of Life was inspiring, according to participants. "Witnessing the inequities, indignities, and impoverishment of various groups due to intentional and 'unintentional' white racism was disturbing and grievous," says Paul Bramer, professor of Christian formation. "Witnessing the multi-ethnic worship and testimony gave hope and a glimpse of the way things can be in the kingdom of God."

Rah emphasizes that the one-year-old church did not gloss over important issues, which makes reconciliation possible. "You knew the history was still there, but to see an elderly Japanese woman with young African-Americans and Latinos was very hopeful," Rah says.

The trip was funded through the Making Connection Initiative, a Lilly-Endowment grant that stresses strengthening the ties between the seminary, North Park University, and the denomination. "Our seminary has invested well in giving the staff this opportunity to expand their imagination and deepen their conviction of what it means to lead at the intersection of Scripture and our society," Yee says. "Our future as a denomination and as the church depend on it."

Participants from the seminary were Deb Auger, Paul Bramer, Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, Paul DeNeui, Tim "Yak" Johnson, Velda Love, Mary Miller, Ginny Olson, Deborah Penny, Norma Sutton, Soong-Chan Rah and Wayne Weld.

(SF)