I will spend the next four Tuesday nights in Oakland with a group of immigrants from Guatemala who want to lead. Our task together is to think about leadership in light of Jesus.
Where do they lead? If by “leader” we mean someone who shows the way for others, or someone who redefines the future, then these immigrants are already leading in multiple contexts. Some might find it surprising to think that they lead on a global stage–and many consider them victims of globalization. But their leadership extends beyond the local. They lead their families who are scattered in multiple places; they are developing leadership roles in church communities that are connected in global networks. They create new futures for the churches that rent to them their property. They set new patterns for Oakland itself and for the inhabitants of Todos Santos Cuchumatán in Guatemala.
Where do they lead from? I am fascinated with the idea that Oakland is the location from which they have decided to think about how they lead. I have some questions for them: Are the possibilities for leading different in Todos Santos (where the majority of them lived 5 to 15 years ago)? Why does being in Oakland in 2016 motivate them to involve Jesus in their thoughts about leadership?
I don’t know how they feel or think when I compare Oakland and Todos Santos as a venue for global leadership (Though it is awkward for me to bring it up, I intend to find out). In some ways, when we draw contrasts between Todos Santos and Oakland we reflect how we imagine the world more than we reflect reality. We contribute to a “reality” in the making, one that relegates one place to isolation and quaintness and recognizes global connections in the other that grant it universal economic and cultural influence. This uneven imaginary probably affects both me and my Todosantero friends in a similar way. Is it easier for them to see the future from Oakland or from Todos Santos? Does Oakland present them with for more options for finding the way forward?
What can they help others see? This imaginary–that makes some communities influential and others irrelevant–does not align with the the story of the gospel, though. They have aligned themselves with the story of Jesus who was born in an out of the way place to a couple whose lives were being moved around because of the actions of the powers over them who had no concern for their future, but only for the perpetuation of their power. God is just as likely to initiate global change among people from Todos Santos as he is in Walnut Creek or San Francisco.
Who will they follow? Unlike me, they are not focused on the location from which they lead. They have made their interest quite clear. They are more concerned with following the right example. They asked me to help them think about leadership by starting from Jesus. And Jesus has something to do with leading.
Is there such thing as servant leadership? I don’t think leadership is about simply following some timeless principles–such as “servant leadership”. Leaders arise out of very concrete moments and places. Leaders arise out of communities as God helps them face particular challenges. In Jesus day, he taught his disciples how to step into a world in which many people are vying to be a “leader.”
And he did not tell them to compete with those so-called leaders. Instead he called them to be “workers” and “servants” in a world where people are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”. People who know who Jesus is, and where they fit in relation to him, can strive to give, to serve, and to care about the position occupied by others instead of worrying about what positions they occupy.
Migration is leadership. In the story of our country immigrants have shown the way for those whose families have been here for generations. Immigrants have redefined the future over and again. Jesus moved into the neighborhood, and people saw God. The story of Jesus might lead one to think that God moved people from Todos Santos to Oakland here because He has specific and concrete ideas about how to make the world a place where all people have access to the blessing He promised to all, through the seed of Abraham so long ago.