National Lutheran News

Lutheran Center in Mexico City offers cross-cultural immersion

Twin Cities Lutherans who visit there bring back a new perspective on “doing church.”

For many, summer trips with church groups to places like Argentina, Lithuania or Mexico mean a week or more of building houses, feeding the hungry or distributing Bibles. Those who travel to the Lutheran Center in Mexico City, an outreach of the ELCA, have a remarkably different experience.

“We wanted something different,” said Pastor Jim Carlson of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Brooklyn Park. Carlson led a group of 10 on a six-day trip to the Lutheran Center in July. “I would describe it more as an educational trip than a mission trip,” he said.
Prince of Peace member and fellow sojourner Sandra Noard agreed, calling the visit to Mexico City a “cultural immersion trip.”

The ELCA refers to the Lutheran Center as its “immersion program,” one which strives to “challenge and empower” its participants by experiencing firsthand the way poverty and political strife affect the country and its peoples.
Originally sparked by visits following the massive earthquake that hit Mexico City in 1985 and killed 10,000 people, the Lutheran Center continues to be a witness to the struggles of the people of Mexico City, hosting about 12 groups and 160 participants each year.

Pastor Kim Erno, program director for the Lutheran Center in Mexico City, said a focus and attraction on immigration issues brings many groups to the Lutheran Center.
According to the 2000 Census, persons of Hispanic origin constitute the second largest minority group in Minnesota. As this population rises, an understanding of the contemporary Mexi-can experience has become more important for the relevance of the Lutheran church in the state.
“We encourage people to come here to be open,” said Erno, who has been with the Lutheran Center for four years.
Unlike many church-sponsored excursions, a stay with the Lutheran Center in Mexico City allows participants to experience a program that gets to the more profound reasons for poverty and injustice, said Erno.

Recognizing that Mexico is a predominantly Christian country, the Lutheran Center doesn’t labor to preach the Gospel to nonbelievers, but to build relationships be-tween Christians from vastly different backgrounds. A focus on need is replaced by a focus on people. The trip is aimed at helping Americans, “enter into a relationship of mutuality with our Mexican brothers and sisters,” according to Erno.
According to Carlson, Mexican Christians “need us to understand from their perspective.”

Much of the visit is spent simply meeting the people who call Mexico home. “The people who go on this trip are interested in building relationships,” Carlson ex-plained. One of the most important experiences for the members of Prince of Peace was hearing a Mexican speaker on the topic of empowering women.

The staff at the Luther-an Center includes two ordained ELCA pastors and three Mexican program team members, who travel with the groups introducing them to locals and interpreting. Carlson and Noard agreed that communication and cooperation with the Lutheran Center staff is imperative to a successful visit.

“Everything was done very well, very organized,” Noard said of the involvement of the Lutheran Center staff. “To do it all from here would have been impossible.”
The staff prepares with the group to determine the itinerary of the trip, and takes care of details such as meals and accommodations during the stay.

Following visits to the Lutheran Center, many groups become involved directly in issues of injustice regarding Latino populations. Some have begun working in advocacy in Washington, D.C., and others like the Prince of Peace travelers, who created a store in their church specializing in fair trade merchandise, work to fight injustice from a local platform.

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For more information on the Lutheran Center in Mexico City, visit www.elca.org/mexi co, or call 011-52-55-5616-5881.