“Who am I?” It is the question of identity that we all must face, at least once. It the crisis of identity that often hits during teenage years, and especially in college, as youth go off to mature into young adults, and face the questions of career and calling. The question of who am I is perhaps particularly compounded for those living in the United States who feel they do not quite fit one category or another: for immigrants, the children of immigrants, or those of mixed heritage.
Kimmy Mota, a staff member with the campus ministry RUF (Reformed University Fellowship, a campus ministry of the PCA denomination) at the University of Houston, in Texas, also found herself wrestling with this question in late high school and during her college years. Now, her passion is to help the diversity of students on the campus where she serves find hope where she herself has found it: an identity in Jesus Christ. As He does so frequently and beautifully, God has used Kimmy’s story to shape her heart in caring for others.
Growing up and attending school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Kimmy found herself often wanting to fit into a category, to be able to answer the question of “who are you?” Coming from a broken home, as the daughter of a Mexican father and Anglo mother, Kimmy spent the first six years of her life living with her mother, relatively unchurched, and with few opportunities to learn about the Latino side of her heritage. The subsequent twelve years of her childhood were spent with a nominally Catholic father and step-mother, hearing Spanish but not able to pick it up fully; being told she wasn’t white, based on her skin, but that she couldn’t be Latina without speaking Spanish. While some diversity existed in Tulsa, Kimmy spent a lot of time noticing how few people looked similar to herself.
A NEW IDENTITY, A NEW PURPOSE
En Su buen plan (in His good plan) and mercy (and as Kimmy says, not for any other logical reason she can possibly think of), the Lord brought Kimmy to the diverse city of Houston – the University of Houston – to begin her college career. In the heart of a bustling city filled with immigrants from every part of the globe, as well as their children and grandchildren, Kimmy suddenly began to feel a greater sense of belonging, of not being so “other.” But most importantly, she found the ministry of RUF, and within RUF, the voice of Jesus, calling her to identify first and foremost as a citizen of the Heavenly Kingdom (cf. Romans 8:16-17). It wasn’t that RUF itself reflected such great diversity – it didn’t. In fact, Kimmy remembers perhaps three other non-white students attending RUF’s weekly large-group worship when she first arrived her freshman year. But the message of the Gospel – particularly the Gospel message played out through the intentional, loving and pastoral care of her campus minister – was transformational.
As a history major and Spanish minor, Kimmy had plans of either pursuing law school, or a PhD after college. Yet as the Lord worked in her life (and closed many doors in the process), Kimmy felt herself being drawn in a different direction: to a life of ministry and serving on the very campus where she knew many students like herself needed to find their identity in Christ. After graduation, Kimmy became an intern with RUF at the University of Houston, and after two years of the internship, she transitioned into service as a campus staff member.
Over the last years of participating in RUF as a student, and now as a ministry worker, the Lord has used the efforts of Kimmy, her campus minister, students, and others to do the difficult but rewarding work of reaching the wider diversity of the University of Houston’s demographic. This has meant sitting down, thinking outside of the box, talking with and listening to students of all backgrounds, and transforming the methodology of the ministry, while remaining centered on the message of the Gospel.
SERVING THE CAMPUS
One particularly challenging but fruitful way of engaging diversity has looked like getting involved in interfaith dialogues on campus. Kimmy, her campus minister, and their students, have become intentional with organizing and attending events with Muslim, Hindu, and other religious student populations. Such events have allowed them the opportunity to meet students of different faiths, build relationships, and ask thought-provoking questions: “What does prayer look like for you?” “What does sin mean for you?” “What do you think is the relationship between sin and salvation?” and similar-such questions. Incredibly, many students are willing to engage in this dialogue. Kimmy shares one story of a Muslim-professing student with whom she had the opportunity to develop an open relationship over the course of the student’s time in college. Towards the end of the student’s time on campus, their frequent meetings had turned into deep conversations, in which Kimmy was able to truly challenge and present the student with the truth of Jesus.
Although the work may often feel slow, Kimmy is encouraged to see how God is using her ministry and the ministry of RUF at the University of Houston to draw people of all backgrounds to Himself. Whereas diversity within the ministry was minimal when Kimmy arrived in Houston eight years ago, the majority of RUF at UofH’s students today are made up of minorities, and this diversity is also reflected within the student leadership. And through the small-group and one-on-one ministries of RUF, these students are growing in their ability to find their identity in Christ, and to share that hope with others. Recent small-groups that Kimmy has led have included walking with students through books like The Heart of Evangelism (Jerram Barrs), and Heal Us, Emmanuel (a book compiled by several minority church leaders on racial reconciliation within the church).
Photos (scroll left to right): Kimmy with students at RUF's national Summer Conference in Panama City Beach; Interfaith Dialogue; RUF Large Group Worship; Some of the staff at RUF UofH; Kimmy & some of her students at RUF events;
Perhaps one of Kimmy’s favorite parts of ministry is, as she calls it, “counseling with a little ‘c’:” the opportunity to sit down with women, one-on-one, and hear their stories, their joys, their struggles, the deepest cries of their souls, and be able to encourage them through biblical wisdom and prayer. As someone who knows what it means to feel like an outsider, Kimmy loves looking for those who might feel different and unincluded, drawing them in, and getting to share with them the same Truth and joy that has transformed her heart and life. Building relationships, playing the long game, praying for openings for the Gospel, takes trust. It takes trusting the Lord in the connections He provides. It means trusting God that He will provide the wisdom and the energy to plunge herself continually into the often-messy lives of people needing Jesus’ love. It especially takes trust to know that, while it is Kimmy’s responsibility to be faithful to the work to which the Lord has called her, it is God’s work to save souls, in His time.
In exciting ways, the Lord is opening further opportunities for Kimmy to grow in trust and faithfulness in pursuing ministry. This fall, on top of RUF Staff responsibilities, Kimmy will begin pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree through Covenant Seminary’s online program. While her tendency is to plan ahead, Kimmy desires to keep an open mind about how the Lord will use her studies. She trusts that none of what she learns will be wasted for her own sanctification, and for sharing what she is learning with her students.
While Kimmy is incredibly thankful for all the support (prayer, financial, counseling, and encouragement) she has received as a ministry worker with RUF, she does also speak to unique challenges of pursuing ministry – and now seminary – as both a woman, and a Latina at that. She admits that even fundraising (which is a crucial part of keeping her on campus to serve her students) has felt more difficult than perhaps it does for others, since her background does not offer large pools of people who are either financially equipped to provide support, or who have a mindset for the importance of Christian ministry. Additionally, finding others in ministry who understand the complexities of both serving as a minority as well as serving minority populations, is not always easy. Kimmy has been thankful for the openness of RUF to engage diversity, particularly through their Cross Cultural Advancement initiative.
Moreover, Kimmy has also expressed her gratitude for opportunities through HLI to connect with other Hispanic ministry leaders in and outside of her area, especially through HLI’s annual retreats. Her desire is that, as she pioneers ministry as a Latina woman within her denomination, she would not only be able to connect with more people doing the same, but would be able to encourage new rising minority leadership as well. Truly, Kimmy’s story and faithful submission to the Lord’s calling in her life serves as an encouragement to all of us to continue praying for and investing in those whom the Lord places in our circles of influence.
¡A Dios sea la gloria!
PRAY FOR KIMMY AND THE MINISTRY OF RUF AT UofH
Pray that the Lord would continue to provide the funding necessary for Kimmy to work and serve at the University of Houston, particularly as her budget grows this fall to cover a few expenses for seminary not already covered in her scholarship.
Similarly, pray for God to expand the pool of those who are committed to supporting Kimmy and the ministry of RUF at the University of Houston – that more people would be able to share in the incredible work that God is doing at UofH.
Pray for Kimmy as she begins seminary classes this fall. Pray for her to find her confidence and full identity in the Lord as she will be one of the few women and Latina women in her classes.
Pray also for the ministry of RUF at UofH, as Kimmy and her campus minister prepare to welcome back students for the fall semester. Pray for the Lord to bless all of the planning involved, but also that in the midst of planning, they would be energized and ready to care for students, both new and old, who so desperately need to find their identity in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Please consider giving to HLI so that we can continue supporting the ministries and continuing education of ministry workers like Kimmy Mota, and the raising of new Hispanic ministry leaders, like the students she is encouraging.