2003-11-14 The Lakeshore Press Stories of Hope

Stories of Hope
Lakeshore Press

While city promoters contemplate multilingual “Welcome” signs to Holland, residents who speak those languages prepare to tell their stories of just how welcome they have felt since calling Holland their home.

Sponsored by the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance (LEDA), an open town hall-style meeting will be held at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The forum will help attendees take a fresh look at the extent of, and progress made, in addressing racism in the city.

The Rev. Andres Fierro, pastor of Crossroad Chapel in Holland, will moderate the evening called “A Town Meeting on Racism in Holland: Stories, Struggles, and Support.”

A panel will open the evening’s session, sharing their own stories of how racism has impacted their lives and what progress they see has been made since the first Summit on Racism was held.Panelists include Hoa Huynh, Lorna Hernandez Jarvis, Kristina Kyles, Sister Pat Lamb and Danney Sphabamixay.

Fierro said this is the second such meeting following one two years ago that helped lay the framework for the first Summit on Racism in Holland. “This is an opportunity for people to tell their stories, to be heard and also to give measurement to what has changed,” Fierro said, adding that an even small but positive stories makes a difference in healing racism.

The choice of St. Francis de Sales Church as the setting for the meeting is no coincidence, Fierro explained. “St. Francis is the most multi-cultural congregation in Holland,” he noted, adding it is also a neutral setting that would encourage people to share their stories of healing or hurt.

Gail Harrison, executive director of LEDA, said the church venue also reflects the supportive role city congregation’s from various denominations have given leading up to Tuesday’s meeting. Encouraged by the churches’ involvement, Harrison said, “Churches should be at the talks. It needs to be the faith community which sees this (racism issue) as more than a moral imperative. It is a matter of doctrine.”

Harrison added that churches also are stepping forward to partner in planning the next Summit on Racism, slated for next April. LEDA and other organizations, the upcoming one-day summit is open to any community body.

Fierro said more churches have stepped up their presence at events such as the Summit on Racism, and the area’s Institutes on healing Racism sessions. More area clergy are among institute attendees. While these are laudable steps, Fierro said more intentional measures need to be taken by churches toward developing “an inclusive community.”

Fierro described some of the steps Crossroad Chapel, a multi-cultural church, has taken to build inclusiveness. In addition to holding Spanish-English services, the congregation also has committed to bilingual Sunday school classes, opened its doors for neighborhood uses and designed worship that helps everyone feel welcome.

“It’s really become a way of life for us now,” Fierro said. “It all seems normal. We think in terms of community, as a congregation, not programs. “When issues rise out of the (neighborhood) community, we don’t shy from them. We don’t shy either from questioning ourselves to make sure we are being reconciling, inclusive and respectful. If we sense we are failing, the plan is changed.”

Becoming an “inclusive community” is something other churches have sought to do, Fierro said, adding that often congregations will ask guidance of Crossroad Chapel members, and saying, “Tell us what you do.”

“We don’t have a package on how (community) is delivered,” Fierro said. “It seems the thinking by many churches is that progress is defined by the more you do, the more programs you have. But it’s not the more you do. It’s the more you are.