; charset=UTF-8" /> 2013 Annual Gathering Report from the Associate Conference Minister for Border and Latino Ministries : Connecting Voices
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2013 Annual Gathering Report from the Associate Conference Minister for Border and Latino Ministries

By Dr. Carlos J. Correa Bernier, Associate Conference Minister for Border and Latino Ministries

Carlos CorreaIntroduction
Centro Romero facilitates educational‐transformational immersion seminars along the border focusing on issues of globalization, economic policies, immigration, and community empowerment. Participants have the opportunity to meet with people of different perspectives on a variety of social, political, economical, faith, and environmental issues. Centro Romero strives to coordinate visits and conversations between people who live on both sides of the border and are directly affected by the challenges of U.S. – Mexico relations. One‐day immersion experiences consist of visits to sites in the cities of San Diego and Tijuana, and activities include talks with activists (both youth and adult), community organizers, and church leaders working to bring about social change. We also offer three, five and ten days educational immersion experience which include, besides experiential activities, periods of theological reflections and conversations.

Centro Romero’s Educational Model
Our philosophy of education is modeled on experiential learning: direct experiences that transform individuals and inspires action for positive social change.  We design our educational programs around Freire’s model: “acción-reflexión-acción” or action-reflection-action. It is not enough for people to come together in dialogue in order to gain knowledge of their social reality. They must act together upon their environment in order to critically reflect on their reality and so transform it through further action and critical reflection.

Our immersion educational model includes:

• Dialogue
At Centro Romero we encourage our groups to enter in dialogue, which presupposes equality amongst all participants on both sides of the border. Each participant must trust the other; there must be mutual respect and love (care and commitment). Each one must question what he or she knows and realize that through dialogue existing thoughts will change and new knowledge will be created.
• Conscientization
Conscientization is an important piece of all programs offered at Centro Romero. We understand conscientization as the process through which participants can develop a critical awareness of their social reality through reflection and action. We understand that action is fundamental because it is the process of changing our reality. We all acquire social myths, which have a dominant tendency, and so learning is a critical process, which depends upon uncovering real problems and actual needs.
• Codification
Codification is a way of gathering information in order to build up a picture (codify) around real situations and real people. Decodification is a process whereby the members of our immersion groups begin to identify with aspects of the situation they are considering until they feel themselves to be in the situation as so able to reflect critically upon its various aspects, thus gathering understanding.

Immersion Programs
Centro Romero provide immersion experiences along the southwestern United States-Mexico border region, into the city of Tijuana. Centro Romero’s immersion experiences range in length from 1 day to 10 days. Our programs are designed for self-organized groups from churches, community based agencies, schools, colleges, universities and theological seminaries.

During their immersion time groups learn about the situations shaping the immigration tendencies of the Americas and about the extreme difficulties and dangers immigrants face as they embark in their journey. Immersion groups visit with activists, migrants, academicians, and community members that work in advocacy and/or to meet the needs of their communities. All immersion programs include a time for theological reflection to assist participants in processing their experience.

Tijuana is the host city for all of our southwestern regional immersion experiences. In Tijuana groups meet with community organizations; executives, community leaders, migrants, maquiladora workers, their families and executives. Groups spend time with many leaders currently engaged in community organizing, education, environmental justice and economic development. We also visit agencies that provide assistance to recently deported migrants who now are in their way to many cities all over Mexico.

Besides traveling to Mexico, groups participating in the five days immersion program also explore, more deeply, the local context. Activities in the U.S. side may include visits to the Chicano Park in Barrio Logan (San Diego); Southwestern Missions (Oceanside) as well as agencies working on issues of sex trafficking and the environment. Our visits also may include U.S. governmental agencies such as the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies, detention centers, and federal public defenders offices.

Past immersion-experience participants say…

“Coming to Centro Romero has been personally and spiritually transformative. This experience opened my eyes to the role of U.S. economic policies that perpetuate severe poverty in the United States and Mexico as well as the empowerment of ordinary women whose faith and connection to the earth have sustained them to over 10 years of extraordinary commitment in the struggle for environmental justice.”
~Rev. Deborah Tate Breault

“First let me say… there are no words that can fully describe the experience Centro Romero provided. My life has been greatly enriched. I was honored to be part of such powerful and transformative experience.”
~Dr. Willie Mae Hawkins, North Carolina

“Centro Romero’s role in transforming our understanding of marginalization, border issues and the parallel of our oppressions and our common vision for social justice cannot be overstated. We need an intentional space and place to identify, sort out, indeed to do the tug and push that must be done to carry a clear message to the Church and beyond.”
~Dr. Brenda Joyner, Cleveland, OH

“The experience that Centro Romero provided us will helped me immensely to gain a new understanding of justice issues that need to be a priority for congregations all over. I was touched and challenged by the extraordinary experience at Centro Romero and my life is now forever different.”
~Rev. Justin Grimm, Lake Ann, NJ

“At Centro Romero and through Dr. Correa Bernier I learned that we need both, justice and mercy. The experience showed us how some actions and/or groups focus on one or the other, and also, in the case of the hospice, how some programs/ministries focus on both. The Romero Center’s immersion experience helped me see that the organized church often leans toward mercy. That is not wrong, but I am going back to my place of ministry convinced that we, the body of Christ that is the church, are call to do both: justice and mercy. Thank you Centro Romero for helping me change my vision toward ministry.”
~Jacqueline Berlien, Berkeley, CA.

Travel Study Program
Centro Romero’s Travel Study Program is designed to encourage participants to engage in critical thinking, experience first-hand the value systems and diverse lifestyles of other cultures, and participate in meaningful theological reflection as well as service learning projects. Our Travel Study Program enhances participant global and cultural awareness through constant engagement and reflection.

Centro Romero Travel Study Program utilizes the unique characteristics of an international location to extend learning to the world beyond our Center more typical immersion experiences guided by Centro Romero staff. The Travel Study experiences are designed by Centro Romero staff, which accompanies the group of participants abroad.

Partnerships
As a result of our April trip to Cuba, Centro Romero have received a formal invitation to enter in a partnership with the Institute of Philosophy, Culture and the Environment of the University of Havana. The university of Havana is the most important educational institution of the Island nation, and one of the most important institutions of higher education of Latin America. We have also received a similar invitations from Corporación Toma mi Mano from Bogotá, Colombia as well as other institutions and organization from Mexico and abroad.

Thanks to Jane Quandt, a former SCNC board member, Centro Romero is moving forward into a series of conversations with PICO, a Faith Based Community organizing organization. The goal of a potential partnership with PICO is to provide community-organizing training and opportunities to members and leaders of our immediate community in San Ysidro. We have also initiated what we feel is a strong partnership with CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice).

Another partnership we would like to celebrate is Centro Romero partnership with San Ysidro Neighbors Association. Centro Romero is the only community organization member, by invitation, of the San Ysidro Neighbors Association. Such invitation came to us as a compliment and as a testimony to the labor of love and leadership from our staff and volunteers to our immediate community of San Ysidro.

Church Visits:
During 2012 we visited several churches in our Conference and beyond. The following is a short list of some of the churches we have the opportunity to visit with during 2012:  First Congregational Riverside, Community Congregational Church of Pacific Beach, Montebello Plymouth Congregational Church; Fiesta Cristiana Moreno Valley; Immanuel; Centro Familiar Cristiano, North Hollywood; Neighborhood Congregational Church.

Latino Ministries:
The United States is now the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, with more Spanish speakers than Spain, and exceeded only by Mexico. Early data from the 2010 Census shows that the Hispanic population of the United States grew by more than 40 percent over the past decade, to about 50 million people.

As with so many other communities, the Hispanic population in the United States is experiencing a rapid loss of confidence in the so-called “American dream” while facing stressors, which are the cause of an equally rapid fragmentation of their families and quality of life. The church has now, more than ever, the opportunity of regaining its credibility through helping families recover their sense of wellbeing and by providing an avenue toward a comprehensive integration of the self. I believe that is exactly what our Latino congregations are doing.

The Latino ministries of Southern California Nevada Conference have made significant progress in consolidating efforts and projects by reforming the way congregations used to plan their yearly calendars by adopting a centralized calendar of activities, which now include congregational gatherings; continuing education events as well as a yearly family Hispanic camp at Pilgrim Pines. Our Latinos ministers are also developing a vision in which a fresh approach to denominational life has been included as an important element toward strengthening the “institutional foundation” of each congregation.

It is important to have a clear vision of the Latinos population as part of the United Church of Christ’s strategy for growth. Nearly half (45%) of the nation’s Hispanic population lives in just 10 metropolitan areas, according to tabulations of the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. The Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif., metropolitan area has the nation’s largest Hispanic population-5.7 million-and alone accounts for more than one-in-ten (11%) Hispanics nationally. Six of the 10 largest Hispanic metropolitan populations are in just two states. California has three-Los Angeles (#1), Riverside-San Bernardino (#4) and San Francisco-Oakland-Vallejo (#10). The more we look at the growth of the U.S. Hispanic population the harder it is for the conclusion to escape us, a conclusion that states that a larger and stronger Hispanic population already requires a stronger and a more intentional church to serve them. I truly believe that we, as SCNC, have the potential to be that church.

Conclusion:
As many other border region ministries, we have faced many challenges since our insertion into the kind of ministry we do at Centro Romero. The border region between the United States and Mexico is an always-emerging place for mission and theological reflection. The region keeps experiencing extraordinary expansions in population growth as well as in social justice challenges. The fears of a too crowded mission field with too many ministries and organizations serving it are no longer a “threat” to our development. Many of our “competitors” have closed their doors and/or drastically diminished their programs and/or offers. Centro Romero is well positioned, geographically as well as programmatically to face the challenges and fill the ever increasing vacuum that has been created through the closing of so many other programs and ministries in our region.

In order to reach our goal of becoming a highly visible and reputable educational-transformational border ministry with an extensive, well-thought and organized sets of programmatic offers we must keep moving forward toward strengthening our position at the same time as we reduce the risks of high costs and reduction of groups participation. As I have urged in previous reports, we must consider the lunching of a professionally implemented effort of our marketing plan, an effort that accurately reflects the value of the programs we currently offer at Centro Romero. We must find ways of letting a larger audience know about our existence and about the quality of our work.

We have become a highly community based ministry for our immediate community in Tijuana and San Ysidro. We have expanded our partnership base which now includes three local universities: CETYS, Xochicalco University, Universidad Iberoamericana and Tijuana Institute of Technology. We also have a very strong partnership with Radio Cultural of Tijuana and with many other community based agencies as Memorias (HIV-AIDS Shelter); Pasitos (Educational Center for children with autism); Casa Protección (A shelter for victims of sex trafficking) and full access to Synergy, within the maquiladora sector.

I’m confident that we are well positioned to become the most prominent border region ministry in southern California.

 

Other Reports to the 2013 Annual Gathering:

Report from the Conference Board Chair
Report from the Executive Associate Conference Minister
Report from the Associate Conference Minister for Church Relations
Report from the Youth Minister
Report from the Acting Young Adults Ministry Coordinator

 

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