While in New York City I had the privilege and opportunity to sit down with Mr. Robert Guerrero. Mr. Guerrero is of Dominican descent and is a Church Planting Catalyst for Redeemer City to City, as well as Pastor of Trinity Grace Church Washington Heights Parish. Mr. Guerrero was a joy to speak with and reminded me of that wise Latino Uncle that you don’t see very often, but when you do you walk away thinking, “I just had some wisdom laid on me.”
Who Are You?
My name is Robert Guerrero and I was born to Dominican parents in New York City. I spent much of my life in both the U.S. and Dominican Republic. In 1995, my wife and I moved into the Colonial City of Santo Domingo where we planted Iglesia Comunitaria Cristiana (ICC) with a focus on justice and compassion for the most under-resourced in the community.
I am also the co-founder of the Coordinating Community of Del Camino Network for Integral Mission in Latin America with networks in Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.
Currently I help catalyze, coach, and equip church planters with Redeemer City to City and am the Pastor of Trinity Grace Church Washington Heights Parish.
Walking through Washington Heights this afternoon it’s really obvious that this place has a story. What is the history of this neighborhood?
Yeah there’s a story here. Most people don’t know but Washington Heights was the cause of the crack epidemic in New York City during the 1980’s. It was historically African American, became Puerto Rican, and is currently a predominately Dominican neighborhood. Washington Heights has seen the largest big city turnaround in the nation having gone from a literal hell hole to an up and coming vibrant community.
How has Washington Heights been able to make such a drastic change for the good of the community?
To fully understand how Washington Heights has been able to make this change you have to first understand some history of minorities in America. You see African Americans and Puerto Ricans received more government aid than other minority groups. As a result they tend to be more dependent on that aid and less entrepreneurial.
“In New York gentrification tends to sweep through African American and Puerto Rican neighborhoods faster because residents don’t own businesses and are locked in at a standard of living.”
However, Mexicans and Dominicans have historically received less government aid than other minority groups. As a result they tend to be less dependent on aid and significantly more entrepreneurial.
“Gentrification tends to move through slowly and is controlled in Mexican and Dominican neighborhoods because residents own their businesses and property. They determine when and where the majority culture can come into their neighborhoods.”
Currently, the new immigrant in New York City are transplants from the South and Midwest. It’s hard for these people because urban life is fast and requires you to hustle because you have high bills to pay.The truth is a lot of transplants from the South and Midwest cannot survive the pace and cost of New York living.
“As a matter of fact, for churches in New York City to simply sustain themselves they must grow 25-30% yearly due to attrition.”
With such high attrition rates how do you grow a church that cares about multi-ethnic ministry and community development?
You must cast a city positive vision constantly. This is so transients can embrace the city vision and stay longer for mission.
1. Churches must create bridging spaces for people who are ethnically, socially, and economically different to gather and build relationships.
2. People must hear the vision from the pulpit ALL the time.
EX: Mr. Guerrero for the next year will preach for diversity in every one of his sermons.
What is the difference between multi-ethnic and multi-cultural?
Multi-ethnic: People who are ethnically different (Latino, Asian, Anglo, African American, etc.) but are culturally the same (hipster, young professional, suburban, urban, etc)
Multi-cultural: People who a re both ethnically different and culturally different. This is a whole different beast entirely!!! When engaging in multi-cultural ministry you must consider the cultural diversity of the leadership. Some people groups tend to be data based, others more intuitive, while others more methodical.
In pursuit of either multi-ethnic or multi-cultural it is imperative that the leadership of the church and the core of the church reflect the diversity you are striving for.
How do you lead your people into intentional reconciliation relationships?
“First you must understand to engage in reconciliation you are choosing to engage in the ugliness and mess of people. Reconciliation is something that must be taught and people must be discipled in.”
Leaders need to model reconciliation through engagement and in the church leadership.
Although this is very difficult I often say and hear other pastors attest to the fact that, “Once you’ve become multi-cultural you cannot go back!”
What is the greatest cause of division in New York or even America?
Most people assume our biggest divide is race. That’s not true. The biggest divide of the church in our cities is affluent and poor not doing life on life together.
Could you recommend 2-3 resources for people who are interested in Multi-Ethnic, Urban, or Reconciliation type of ministries?
“Building a Healthy Multi-Cultural Church,” Mark Deymaz
“Center Church” Tim Keller