Seminary supports growth in intercultural competence through free workshop for local leaders

Published: October 18, 2019

By Annette Brill Bergstresser

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) took its commitment to communicating, collaborating and relating across cultural differences a step further in late August.

The seminary, which has been working intentionally at intercultural initiatives since 2012, hosted trainings in intercultural competence and undoing systemic discrimination not only for its employees, but also for business and community leaders in Elkhart County.

Held Aug. 27–28 on the seminary’s Elkhart, Indiana, campus, the trainings were designed and led by Roxanne Felix-Mah, M.Sc., and Ian Mathieson, M.A. — facilitators from the Colbourne Institute for Inclusive Leadership at NorQuest College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada — in collaboration with AMBS’s Intercultural Competence and Undoing Racism (ICUR) team. The Colbourne Institute specializes in customized training solutions and applied research in diversity, inclusion and intercultural education.

The idea to organize a daylong training for local leaders came about when the ICUR team was making plans to bring the Colbourne consultants to campus for the employee trainings, said Nekeisha Alayna Alexis, M.A., ICUR coordinator and grantwriter for the workshops.

“Since we were bringing people from so far and seeking grant funding to support our in-house workshops, it made sense to consciously extend what we were receiving to local leaders and business people seeking to do the same kinds of diversity, inclusion and justice work,” she said.

The Aug. 28 Intercultural Competence: Beyond the Basics workshop drew more than 40 representatives of local organizations involved in mental and public health, education, city government, policing, restorative justice, community grants, business, technology and immigration advocacy, among others. The training, which was offered free of charge, was subsidized by grants from the Community Foundation of Elkhart County and the In Trust Center for Theological Schools in Wilmington, Delaware.

“It was invigorating to see the strong interest in the workshop for local leaders and the cross section of people who were present,” said Alexis. “We thought we’d have to search for participants, but we had a waiting list two weeks before the registration deadline.”

The workshop was distinctive in that it was customized for participants based on their responses to a survey several weeks prior, Alexis said. She added that the number of participants was capped at 45 to allow for an optimal interactive learning experience.

“The way the facilitators designed the workshop for local leaders created opportunities for conversations between people across sectors that need to be relating to each other,” she said. “It makes it possible to strengthen our networks and to hold one another accountable for what we’ve learned."

Alexis also affirmed the design of the employee trainings, which she said supported the seminary’s strategic priority of building intercultural competence and undoing racism within the institution as well as its vision to make theological education “accessible to, and welcoming of, Christians of increasingly diverse traditions, ethnicities and racial identities.” Of this year’s 88-member graduate student body, 58 students are from the U.S., eight are from Canada, and 22 are from nine countries outside of the U.S. and Canada.

On Aug. 27, all seminary employees and select board members took part in a daylong workshop on gaining tools and skills to analyze intercultural interactions; to understand how cultural values and assumptions can influence behavior and affect relationships; and to create space for open, authentic and empathetic discussions. On Aug. 28, teaching faculty members participated in a half-day workshop to discuss best practices for their roles, such as engaging a multicultural classroom and identifying assessment strategies. Administrative faculty members spent half a day focusing on how intercultural competence applies to their work. Funding for the employee trainings came from both the In Trust Center and AMBS.

“It was great to get strong positive feedback about the employee workshops and to see how excited people were to get new tools to increase their understanding and practice,” Alexis reflected. “One of the things I appreciate about doing this work here is that we take on these hard topics and engage each other thoughtfully, enthusiastically and with good spirits. I’m blessed to be a part of that.”

At AMBS, all incoming students participate in an Identity, Power and Privilege orientation; take the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI); and create intercultural competence goals for their time of study. The ICUR team — which consists of faculty, staff and student representatives and a student assistant — works in educational, structural and relational areas to strengthen the seminary’s effectiveness in educating Christians from diverse social locations for leadership and ministry.

Alexis is available as a consultant through AMBS’s Church Leadership Center to support inclusion and anti-oppression efforts of faith-based, nonprofit and grassroots organizations; businesses; and individuals. This work involves a blend of strategic planning; long- and short-term coaching; lectures and workshops; and use of the IDI. To learn more, call 800-964-2627 or email [email protected].

Want to receive AMBS news and updates via email? Subscribe here

Want to receive AMBS news and updates via email?