An Interview with Tito Rivera: Multi-Ethnic & Cultural Conversations

As we continue the conversation about multi-ethnic and multi-cultural youth ministry, our NYI Connect staff sat down to talk with Tito Rivera. He is a youth pastor at Iglesia del Nazareno – Casa Peniel in Newark, New Jersey and is the NYI District President for the Metro New York District. Keep reading to learn more!

NYI Connect: How do multi-ethnic churches resemble the kingdom of God? Why would we need each another? 

Tito: If we are going to resemble the kingdom of God, remember we are all going to be there! All languages, cultures, sounds, smells, and diversity stem from one place. This [diversity] comes from the creativity of our God. Cultures aren’t born totally separate from God or Christianity. All these threads come from the source–our creator, our God. It is nothing that we created on our own. This topic leads me to think about the passage that states, “If you love one another, then the world will know you are my disciples.” Scripture also says that we are “no longer Jew, nor Greek, nor Gentile.” We all belong to Christ! As you get to know me, you get to know my Christ!

NYI Connect: How do you make space for people of different cultural backgrounds to be able to worship together? 

Tito: Proximity and preparation are important. You have to prepare well. For example, we are bilingual in English and Spanish. Everything we do is bilingual because we serve families who speak both Spanish and English. In order to bring both of those parties together, from the worship experience, we have to express worship in a way that they both can connect to. As leaders, ask yourself how you can prepare to get people in proximity to one another and to God. All of these take preparation–you have to know your people. 

NYI Connect: How do you find out what multi-ethnic looks like in your context? 

Tito: Sometimes, what happens is that people wait to see who walks in the doors of the church on Sunday mornings. I think the church has to go out and seek. Many high schools are multi-ethnic; not all of them but most of them! Plug into your youth as missionaries and ask them about the different languages spoken at their schools. Ask them! Then help them and resource them to get out there and invite those students to church. Remember to prepare first! Go and seek out the people around you. There are some neighborhoods heavy with different cultures. In my case, I can go to Queens or Bronx areas to see pockets of different cultures. It is important to get yourself close to cultures. Go to a restaurant that is different from where you usually eat and start assimilating yourself into a culture. Take a step beyond to meet the people! 

NYI Connect: If you want to be a more multi-ethnic youth ministry, how do you start? 

Tito: Use your students as ambassadors. Every generation is one more step open to multi-ethnic proximity. Statistics remind us that every couple of years, our population becomes more and more diverse. So if our students are already in this multi-ethnic world, use them as ambassadors. Use them as missionaries. Don’t just send them overseas or internationally, which may be part of your strategy, but give them the resources and the encouragement to focus on reaching their multi-ethnic friends. Ask your students about their friends. You may also ask them if any of their friends speak Spanish. You can also ask them if they have ever been to a friend’s house. Ask them if they have ever been to their friend’s house who might speak Chinese or Korean–if not, encourage them to make themselves available to go. Follow up with your students and ask them what they learned from the experience. 

NYI Connect: What kind of work could youth pastors do to prepare themselves to cross cultures?  

Tito: Find the pockets of diversity in your town. This may not be true in every town, but if you want to take a trip to the East or West coast, you can find pockets of diversity. Spend time there without a bias and without expectations. Pray to the Lord and ask God to show you His people. Ask God to show you something bigger than the world you see. One thing you can do is simply expose yourself to different cultures. If you have a family or two in your church that are different from you, get in proximity to them and get to know them. Be hospitable–don’t just be the youth pastor that shows up on a ministry day. How is it that you are living alongside one another?