NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A recent exchange between a Mennonite youth pastor from San Antonio, Texas, and a Bethel College administrator and Texas-based staff person is helping the college and its constituency to the south get better acquainted.
Hugo Saucedo spent April 7-9 on the Bethel campus as pastor-in-residence, giving up tickets to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament final being played April 7 in his hometown. While at Bethel, he was able to share his perspective on the profound implications that the changing face of Mennonite Church USA, from predominantly German-Anglo to vibrantly multi-cultural, has for the MC USA colleges.
As the Texas-based conference youth minister for Western District Conference, the division of MC USA in which Bethel is geographically located, Saucedo works with many Hispanic pastors and the youth from their congregations. Half the 10 established WDC congregations in Texas are Spanish-speaking, including three of the four Dallas churches (a six- to seven-hour drive from the Bethel campus). Seven of the eight recent WDC church plants are Spanish-speaking or bilingual, all but one in Texas as well.
“We need to partner with leaders like Hugo to ensure that we are responding to the needs of Hispanic Mennonite churches,” says Bethel President Barry C. Bartel.
Two weeks after Saucedo visited Bethel, Bartel and admissions counselor Cory Ferralez, based in Livingston, Texas, joined – at Saucedo’s invitation – a group of mid-Texas Mennonite pastors at an April 26 gathering in San Antonio.
As the Mennonite colleges consider how to best serve students from the constituent denomination, Saucedo says, they need to ask not only “How do we attract Mennonite students?” but also “What kind of Mennonite students?” The answer isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago.
Hispanic Mennonite youth, especially those in mid-Texas, are far more likely than the average Anglo Mennonite young person to be the first generation of their family to go to college. Close family ties can also make it hard for young people to go away from home for school, Saucedo says. “Latin Americans are very family-oriented and parents like to have children stay close by.
“You’re going to have to look at new models of [communicating],” he notes. “Sending one person out to talk to a group of kids works well in an Anglo congregation, not so much in a Hispanic one.”
Another challenge will be dealing with the “sticker shock” of the initial cost of a private college education, Saucedo says. He earned his degree from the University of Texas and UT-San Antonio and says he sees now that with financial aid, the cost of going to Bethel – which tried to recruit him – would have been little more.
Saucedo was impressed by much of what he found at Bethel, he says. Perhaps what struck him most, he says, was how welcoming faculty and staff were of him and how much obvious care there is for students. “My experience with Bethel faculty and staff was wonderful. I see a real culture of cooperation and caring for the students.”
Challenges he pointed out were lack of ethnic diversity in Bethel’s faculty and staff and the need to “reach out more to the many Latino families already in Newton and surrounding areas to be part of the [already existing] host family program.”
He stressed that his assessment was “not based on solid research or experimentation, but observation and experience.”
Saucedo was at Bethel thanks to a grant from the Fund for Peoplehood Education that Dale Schrag, director of church relations, wrote last year. The fund, which Mennonite Education Agency manages, supports initiatives that promote distinctive features of church-sponsored education and encourage strong ties between MC USA and its schools.
Schrag is looking for additional money to bring some Texas pastors for a campus visit and to send several Bethel College faculty and administrators to Texas Mennonite churches and communities. Sandra Martinez and Janinna Quintanilla, two pastors from the Dallas area, are already committed to visiting Bethel at a date to be determined.
“The conversation was a means of letting Hugo learn more about Bethel College, just as we learned more about him and Latin American Mennonites in Texas,” Schrag says.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the highest ranked Kansas college in the national liberal arts category of U.S. News & World Report’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.