Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. In February, Laura Cheifetz curated a series on leadership development. We have one more to add to the series! These blog posts are by people who have been developed as leaders and who, in turn, develop leaders. They are insightful and focused. They offer lessons. What does leadership development look like in your own context? What could it be? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!
by Omayra Gonzalez Mendez
I’m Puerto Rican, I’m a woman, and I have an accent. Does that describe who I am? Of course, the truth is I’m much more, but I must admit that representing those categories has opened many doors. Yes, there were times when I felt I checked all the boxes when different people were needed: woman, young, and Hispanic; I was a perfect package. Sometimes, I questioned if I really had the skills or was just invited to meet the quota. It may seem odd or illogical, but with the desire of the church to have different faces in leadership spaces, it was a blessing.
However, when I was about 18 years old, I met great women of color leaders while serving in Racial Ethnic Young Women Together (REYWT). One of these women, Marnie del Carmen, reminded me that wherever I went I had to make a difference. She preached to me, “Do not erase your accent, do not erase who you are. Share with others about your childhood. Your voice will make a difference. Other people will somehow identify with you and your story.”
I remember the first time I led an energizer at a Montreat youth conference, perhaps in 2006, and a young Dominican girl approached me. She was excited because my accent reminded her of her mother’s family. I felt that even in the middle of North Carolina with all these people, it was wonderful that there was someone like her, someone to identify with, someone who understood what it is like to have an accent.
I’m more than my ethnicity. I realized that I am also the sister of a woman with disabilities. So, I’m Puerto Rican, I’m a woman, I have an accent, and I grew up in a family with a kid with disability.
Having a relative with a disability gives you another perspective on life. You learn not to complain about everything. You learn the power to believe in yourself. And you especially learn that the world is not made for people who are different or have special needs. Sometimes, not even the church.
For years I have worked in several capacities within the church, but my most prominent roles are in recreation. And as I wrote a few years ago for another publication: “Recreation is more than ‘time to play.’ It is about creating community. I try to lead games that invite people to work together, help people understand the need to be part of the greater body of Christ. Everyone has a purpose. Sometimes people don’t stop to think of the theological part of what they are doing — and that’s okay — but I know that God works in every single moment of the day. Energizers may not be the traditional way of doing worship or teaching the Bible, but is a way and sometimes that’s all that we need — a way to start doing things.”
This summer, while directing recreation in Montreat, my co-leader (Betsy Apple Eldridge) and I set out to plan the events with people who have mobility problems or motor skill challenges in mind.
At the end of the first week, we received a letter from the mother of a young man in a wheelchair thanking us for thinking about him, and finding ways to make him part of the body of Christ through recreation. We do not do things to be recognized, but that letter filled our hearts.
It was a confirmation that in everything we do, small or great act, is a reflection of our God.
The church has much to offer. The church can be that space that creates leaders who are aware of who they are, how they have grown up, and the blessings they can be for other people. We are the face of the church, in all our difference, and it is a gift!
Omayra L. Gonzalez Mendez is a news producer, movie lover, and super passionate about the church. From media reports, pictures and videos, she takes every free minute to work in different organizations of the Presbyterian Church, both locally and internationally. As an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Hato Rey, she works with the youth society and finance ministries. She understand that all parts of the church are equally important, so she can take a summer to sit and follow the committees of the General Assembly of the PCUSA, and fly the next day to lead recreation in a youth event. All matters of the church, processes and creation, fascinate her.