There are times when a Foundation grant opens doors for the opportunity to make an even greater impact than originally envisioned. Through the Foundation’s multi-year Harry Denman Fellowship grant, we came to know Prof. Alma Tinoco Ruiz, now director of the Hispanic House of Studies and lecturer in homiletics and evangelism at Duke Divinity School.
Born and raised in Mexico, Ruiz moved with her husband to North Carolina where they eventually co-pastored a Spanish-speaking church with an undocumented immigrant community. This experience fueled her desire to help God’s people become the church Christ has called us to be—a place of unity, transformation, reconciliation, and holistic healing. She began her higher education in mathematics, but eventually answered the call to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church.
As the educational landscape and needs at Wesleyan-tradition seminaries and schools of theology change, the Foundation has sought ways to continue supporting and providing resources to Raise Up Gospel Leaders. This grant initiative has expanded in recent years, focusing on equipping leaders called to vocational Christian ministry, allowing the Foundation to equip the full spectrum of church leadership to be Wesleyan, evangelistic, and invitational in their spiritual leadership.
The Raising Up Gospel Leaders grants include a new approach for “Innovation Grants.” These provide opportunities to financially support experimentation and expanded approaches to evangelism. In 2021, the “door opened” for one such grant through The Foundation’s work with Prof. Ruiz. Bringing her experience as pastor and scholar to the table, she helps those engaged in ministry with Hispanic/Latinx communities to live out their faith as welcoming Christian leaders, fulfill the call to invite all people into relationship with Jesus and be part of a nurturing faith community. In 2021, when she was named director of the Hispanic House of Studies at Duke Divinity School (formed in 2007) the Foundation welcomed the opportunity to support this expanded approach to evangelistic ministry training.
This year, under Ruiz’s leadership, the Hispanic House of Studies and the Latinx faculty at Duke Divinity (including include Daniel Castelo and Peter Casarella) formed the first cohort of “Teaching Borderlands @ Duke.” In this group, they offer their experience and knowledge to assist Duke Divinity faculty in thinking ethically, courageously, and critically about the U.S. borderlands and the essential work surrounding them.
A faculty immersion trip to the US-Mexico border and an immersion experience in the Hispanic/Latinx community in The Research Triangle area in North Carolina are planned for 2023. To prepare, the participants are attending workshops led by members of the Hispanic Summer Program including Daisy Machado, Greg Cuéllar, Teresa Delgado, Eduardo Fernández, and Efraín Agosto.
One of the workshops held recently helped the group to rethink how the history and geography of a place are key issues to be considered in the teaching of any immersion course, especially of a racialized location like the U.S. borderlands. During the discussion after the presentation a participant asked if immigrants cross the border for the so-called ‘American Dream’ or because they have no other choice due to poverty, climate change, or other reasons.
Prof. Ruiz answered, “The main thing I hear from the community [crossing the border] is that they don’t want to come. They come because they need to come. They don’t want to leave their loved ones, their kids, their parents. It’s all trauma. Crossing the border is not easy and so many people die. Many people decide to leave because it’s the only option they have.”
Through the work of Prof. Ruiz and her associates, and the relationship with Duke Divinity Schools’ leadership, this Raising Up Gospel Leaders Innovation grant is not only training students destined for ministry with Hispanic/Latinx people in the local church, but is equipping other seminary faculty members to lead and teach with an evangelistic mindset of inviting all people into the Body of Christ.