How Are You Equipping Your Staff to Minister to People of Color?

Our Direct Ministry Team—which encompasses our Women’s, Men’s, and Parents and Family Ministries—delights to receive questions about the how, why, and what of our discipleship. Over many years, we have met with women and men from all over the United States and many countries. It has been our joy to share the hope of Christ with people from all backgrounds and many ethnicities, which brings me to a question that was sent to us recently.

“How are you equipping your staff to help people of color (non-whites) who struggle with sexual issues?”

Let me say that I love that someone asked us this! Harvest USA is committed to remaining firmly planted in a biblical view of a) people, b) sexual struggles, and c) the gospel’s hope for real transformation, which is extravagantly and indiscriminately available for all people. Let me answer our reader with two foundational commitments that our staff team lives out and to which we hold each other accountable.

We listen to our ministry recipients and seek to understand their stories

Our team anchors our discipleship ministry in asking questions and engaged listening. We equip ourselves through learning from the men and women who come to us for help. We sit at their feet, if you will, even as they have reached out due to personal pain and addictions. We ask many questions to understand their stories, backgrounds, cultural messages to which they have ascribed, and how the specifics of unbiblical values became accepted as they grew up.

Our ministry team of staff and interns represents a variety of ethnicities, but we are mostly white. The individuals who come to us, however, truly span the beautiful array of God’s image bearers. As I shared earlier, my discipleship to women has included those who are African-American, Latina, Asian, S. Asian, and white sisters who come from so many backgrounds. The same is true for the staff in our Men’s and Parents and Family Ministries. I’ve had my cultural blind spots exposed by asking questions, inviting feedback, asking more clarifying questions, and—can I mention it one more time?—listening.

If Christ came to heal the brokenhearted and to set the captives free (Isaiah 61:1–3 and Luke 4:18–20), then it’s crucial for our staff team to know how people have been uniquely bruised, broken, and wounded because of their histories. Cultural and racial influences can shape our thinking to be anti-biblical at worst and confusing at best.

Below are a few of the stories that trained me, opening my understanding to how culturally-specific experiences of pain can shape a person. The insights I’ve gained from women’s stories have helped me grow in knowing how to apply the gospel in specific ways for women of color.

  • One woman grew up in a community where it was just expected and understood that married men have mistresses. What this hurting woman needed was the same message that most of the wives who reach out need, but understanding the cultural message from her upbringing guided me in delving into her beliefs about marriage and sex, which included a lot of distortion.
  • A dear sister shared that, in her church, homosexuality was named publicly as “the most disgusting” sin, yet other expressions of sexual sin, which were definitely happening in that church, were not condemned. Tragically, many majority-white churches operate in the same way, but, in this woman’s cultural world, it was completely unacceptable to wrestle with same-sex temptations. She came to our women’s ministry carrying the burden of so much shame due to her attractions towards women. She needed grace, mercy, and truth to soothe and reorient her heart back to Jesus—just like all of us do. Knowing her cultural lens and how she had been shaped by growing up in her particular religious environment helped me know how to understand the shame and fear that burdened her.
  • Finally, a young single woman fearfully confided in me about her secret struggle with pornography and masturbation. She could barely lift her eyes as she slowly let these words come out of her heart and mouth for the first time. She was a non-English speaker, so another Christian woman needed to translate this conversation…can you imagine what this was like for her?! I had previously learned, thankfully, how shame shackled many sexual strugglers in this culture, keeping them in isolation and fear. So, I didn’t go deep with questions about her sexual struggle in that first conversation. I listened, sought to pour hope and mercy over her, and sorrowed with her as she shared about a painful, lonely life. That first conversation opened the door for her to engage with other Christians about her sin.

Our staff team stands on Scripture not only to understand the stories we hear from people of color but also to show us how we ought to love, disciple, and come alongside them, as well as white people. Believe me: I’ve been trained by my mistakes and cultural blunders too many times to count, but, by God’s kindness, I am growing! As 2 Corinthians 5:14–15 says, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

We anchor our understanding of people and sexuality in the Bible

Over the fourteen years that I’ve served with Harvest USA, a highlight has been five international trips to Asia and South America. As a former missionary, something in my ministry DNA comes alive in cross-cultural situations. My international teaching travels, as well as discipleship calls from all over the globe, have given me many opportunities to have honest, real conversations with sexual strugglers from many parts of the world.

My interactions in Asia, South America, and Latin America, along with women from the U.S. who are Latina, African American, and Asian-American, have proven to me what the Bible says: We are all more alike than different! People were created in the image of God, yet we all experience the brokenness of sin and the need of forgiveness, healing, and transformation. We each have unique experiences regarding cultural values, family histories, peer and religious influences, and more that have exerted powerful shaping influence on our hearts. However, the Bible is clear on several points.

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come”
(2 Corinthians 5:17).

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16–17).

These three biblical touchpoints teach us that all people need the radical intervention of God through new life in Christ and the power of the Spirit. We all need the Spirit’s help to turn away from sinful thoughts, actions, and desires, including pornography, sexual fantasy, adultery, promiscuity, and any sexual struggle. The Bible does not discriminate in its bold and clear proclamation that we all need our Lord Jesus’ salvation, grace, and mercy to live faithfully in regards to our sexuality.

I could share many more details, but these two commitments lay the foundation upon which we seek to love and care for the men and women of color who reach out for help. Our staff listens to learn about each person’s unique story and beliefs, and we read, study, and meditate on the Bible’s teaching about people and sexual struggles, which keeps us anchored to a biblical worldview.

Jesus sent his people out to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18–20), a commission which Harvest USA takes to heart! Please continue to send any questions you have about the how, why, what, and when of our commitment to live this out.

About The Author
Ellen oversees Harvest USA’s Women’s Ministry from our Philadelphia office. She focuses on discipling women who struggle with sexual and relational sins in their own lives, as well as women who are impacted by the sexual sins of their spouses or others. Ellen is available to teach, equip, and encourage churches and organizations to become more effective in ministering the gospel of Christ in all aspects of sexual brokenness.

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