By Maria Liu Wong
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. —Micah 6:8 (NIV)
I just returned from a nine-day journey to Latin American cities with my 11-year old son Joshua, my colleague Mark, and his 12-year old son Daniel. Part research on practices of ministry in the city, and part exposure trip for our second generation, this pilgrimage to Medellin (Colombia), Guatemala City (Guatemala), and Mexico City (Mexico) has become a turnkey moment for me as I reflect, pray and live out who I am as a woman, a mother, an educator, and a witness of what God is doing in cities in this part of the world.
In Medellin, I met Elizabeth Sendek, one of very few female seminary presidents in Latin America (and elsewhere!), whose experience as a leader resonated with what I heard in my dissertation research. I also reconnected with Yarumal missionaries there, whom I had gotten to know 14 years ago in western Ethiopia, while I was a volunteer instructor in a teacher training college. I returned to Guatemala City where a visit to the city garbage dump when I was 15 years old first challenged me to see my role in God’s kingdom proclamation and justice-seeking in a bigger way. That original garbage dump had since migrated, replaced by informal communities living on top of the layers of garbage and dirt, served by more than 20 non-profit organizations and ministries.
Then, I visited Mexico City for the first time, impressed by the immensity and scope of the city. I was encouraged by conversations with young women – local and foreign – working towards justice for and sharing the Good News with marginalized street kids and indigenous families. Dialogue around ministry in the city, sustainability, mentoring, listening, servanthood and leadership development stirred in me compassion as well as renewed hope in the power of the Gospel to change lives.
When I think of my roles as a leader in a seminary community that seeks to understand and live out God’s peace in New York City, and as a mother of three young children, I wonder how my son sees the world. At age 11, what does he see and take away from an encounter with a family working and living in a garbage dump? Or with a holistic homeless ministry including a shelter, drug rehabilitation program, church and bakery for job training? Or with a female president of a seminary challenging the status quo? What does he consider normative, and what will draw him to join in the work of sharing God’s peace – spiritual, social and physical – with others?
Each person mentioned in my travels shaped and continues to shape how I see God at work in the city, and indeed the world. These new and old friendships challenge me to ask, pray and reflect more on the vision of the future God has given us. And it humbles me to have this precious gift of motherhood, stewardship as my husband and I raise our children to love God, love the city, and love a world that needs more people to seek His justice and goodness.
Maria Liu Wong serves as Dean of City Seminary of New York in Harlem, NYC. She also leads a women’s fellowship group and volunteers in the children’s ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church Downtown. She graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University this spring, and her dissertation focused on women and leadership in global Christian theological education. She lives in the Lower East Side with her husband and three energetic little New Yorkers, volunteers on the School Leadership Team at her younger son’s school, and enjoys creating ways to make time and space for students, faculty (and herself!) to learn from and with each other.