On November 7 and November 14, 2020, American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ Intercultural Ministries team sponsored Intercultural Leadership Institute training via Zoom.   More than 20 participants joined each session; additionally, six ABHMS staff (outside the Intercultural Ministries team) participated in the second session.  

Prior to the training, participants were encouraged to read Chapter 1-3 and 12 in the digital resource “Spirit Outside The Gate – Decolonial Pneumatologies of the American Global South,” written by the Rev. Dr. Oscar García-Johnson. Dr. García-Johnson facilitated the session focused on “The Landless Leader: Leading In-between.”  Participants were intrigued by the visual images and information embedded in the slides of his PowerPoint presentation.


Related to the group’s discussion of leadership, he said, “Leadership is a shadow of our humanity, and we cannot simply let it go. As long as we have the light of God, that shadow will be with us.”


Leadership can encompass powerlessness, displacement, otherness, losing preferences and entitlement, along with being without title or standing, he said, reminding the group of Luke 10: “Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals… .” (NRSV)

To guide consideration of leadership, he asked and participants to answer two questions with the choice of one of these: “stressed out;” “fearful;” or “challenged.” The questions were:

  1. “How do you feel about the idea of leading from a place of no or little power—without position, financial resources and without followers?” and
  2. “How do you feel about the idea of leading from a place of otherness—without the command of language, perceived as a foreigner and at the mercy of others?”

“For the first question, I feel more challenged when it comes to leading without position, resources or followers,” said the Rev. Michael Strickland, First Baptist Church, Atchison, Kan.

As part of a Native American church on an Apache reservation, Monique Prigmore noted that her group was already considered foreign when it began going out to the community to serve food on Fridays. “It’s a challenge, but it’s more fear because we don’t know if we’re going to be accepted,” she said. “Our cultural nuances are different than the outside community. We haven’t always been well-perceived. We don’t always understand the rules.”

In summary, all participants engaged deeply with the training, and they wished there had been more time to engage with the informative and intriguing slides. All participants received Dr. García-Johnson’s presentation and were instructed to continue connecting with ABHMS’ Intercultural Team.  

The Rev. Dr. Oscar García-Johnson is academic dean of the Center for the Study of the Hispanic Church and Community and associate professor of Theology and Latino/a Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif. 

The second session, “Skills and Tools for Delving into Diversity and Difference,” was facilitated by the Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski. This session’s goals were:

  1. To deepen understanding of the current moment and how it impacts the ability to deal with diversity and difference;
  2. To increase understanding and empathy; and
  3. To explore skills and tools for increasing the ability to delve into difference and diversity.

Participants were guided by reading and listening to a poem three times, each time sharing phrases that stood out for them. Responses to this exercise included: “If I want someone to deeply listen to me, then I need to deeply listen to them”; “I focused on the connection between balancing and listening, and balancing and being listened to”; and “We may be from different places, but when we’re able to listen, we’re able to be in the same place.”

The Rev. Polaski introduced “The Diversity Welcome”—saying “Welcome” at the end of introductions in a meeting as a gesture of recognizing diverse individuals’ feelings and differences. For example, “If you’re Black, white, Latinx, Native American, Asian, welcome. If you’re gay, lesbian, bi, straight, cisgender, welcome. If you’re excited about being here today or if you’re annoyed about being here today, welcome. If you’re frustrated, bored or engaged, your being here enriches this space, welcome.”

The Rev. Polaski ended the session by discussing trauma. She explained that executive functioning in the brain is bypassed during trauma, and an individual reacts from the primitive brainstem with fight, flight, freeze or fawn. “Fawning,” she said, refers to attaching oneself to someone or something that makes one feel safe.


Photo by Niek Doup on Unsplash

She introduced methods for combating traumatic reactions. Box breathing, an example of one method, entails inhaling for four counts, holding for four counts, exhaling for four counts, and holding for four counts. The process is repeated as many times as necessary to bring calm.

In summary, all participants found the information in both sessions practical and useful in their ministries. There are numerous resources related to diversity skills; this training provided participants more tools. They also received additional resources prior to the training sessions.

The Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski is executive director of MeckMIN Mecklenburg Interfaith Network in Charlotte, N.C.  She is former executive director of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America-Bautistas por la Paz.