Monday, May 5, 2014

My Conversation with Rev. Tanner Smith

Rev. Tanner Smith is a Reformed pastor who currently serves as senior pastor for a congregation in Sioux Center, Iowa.  I learned of Rev. Smith when I was assigned to read a paper he wrote during his studies in a Doctor of Ministry program.  Although the subject of the paper revolved around advocacy for the local immigrant community, he mentioned within the paper that his congregation participated in international ministries.  I became curious as to how the congregation carried out these ministries and asked Rev. Smith if I could speak with him about these ministries.  Rev. Smith granted my request, and we spoke on April 24, 2014.

Rev. Smith’s congregation carries out relationships with communities in Mexico, Haiti, and Guatemala.  The congregation is restarting the relationship with the community in Mexico after a forced hiatus because of safety concerns due to local drug trafficking activity.  As the congregation builds relationships with these communities, the congregation also offers parenting and leadership training within the local community.  Each year, different groups within the congregation make multiple trips to each community.  Rev. Smith says that the congregation has a great deal of ownership over the relationships rather than depending on him as pastor to carry out the relationships.

When I asked Rev. Smith to describe the ideal relationship between the congregation and these three communities, he quickly pointed to two things which he would change about the relationship.  First, he would arrange for members of these communities to travel to Iowa and train the congregation in certain areas.  This mutuality of sharing knowledge and strategies is “probably one of the things we lack the most.”  He also stated a desire to share these relationships with other congregations in Sioux Center, Iowa.  Another congregation participated in a recent trip and hosted the commissioning service prior to the trip.  Rev. Smith would love to bring other congregations into the relationship and involve the entire Sioux Center community in these relationships with communities in Mexico, Haiti, and Guatemala.  When I commented that his description of ideal relationships with international communities sounded like the accompaniment model described by Rev. Limbong and Rev. Duckworth, Rev. Smith affirmed the model and described the model as “the idea of human flourishing.”

Rev. Smith also credited the congregation’s relationships with these international communities with opening their eyes to local immigrants and influencing the congregation’s growing work with its local Latino community.  Several members are working with local Guatemalan immigrants to teach the English language and share cooking recipes with each other.  The congregation also works with the two food banks in the local area.  Rev. Smith commented that the congregation is working through a culture change from prioritizing the accomplishment of tasks to prioritizing the building of relationships.  “What is the difference between bringing dinner to an immigrant’s house and inviting the immigrant family to dinner?” is a question that Rev. Smith offers as a way to distinguish between the two priorities.

How would you answer this question?  Does this summary give you any ideas for things your congregation can do to engage either local or international communities?

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