By Sara Crocker
Rev. Dr. Daynette Snead Perez began doing cultural integration work as a six year-old first grader when her parents enrolled their African-American daughter in an all-white elementary school. Of course, she didn’t carry the titles of Reverend or Doctor then, but she was already doing important and holy work that would serve as the foundation and launching pad for what would become her life’s work.
Snead Perez followed that early call to unite God’s diverse people, earning both master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees, working as the pastor of a Burmese congregation and as a disaster relief consultant—and even for a short stint as a farmer!
Prior to entering ministry, Snead Perez was a successful entrepreneur who founded a six-figure real estate business. In this business venture, she worked with people from all cultures and backgrounds. She now incorporates the lessons learned and skills gained navigating the business world into her ministry. An internship in her M.Div. program led her to a small church in Scotland where she was the only person of color on an island of 500 people. That experience was fertile ground for her calling to communal inclusion.
Today that calling has taken the shape of her very own consulting company, DIASPRA LLC. The first course offering launched is called the Stranger to Neighbor Ministry Experience. This ministry course was created to respond to what Snead Perez recognized as the failing of the body of Christ to invest in building intercultural relationships. She works primarily with church staff and lay leaders to bring awareness to what it takes to create and nourish genuine intercultural relationships through teaching them specific skills and methodologies.
Snead Perez knows firsthand how much single ethnic group congregations need this training. Prior to entering the ministry, she bought a farm in Virginia and sought out a church home, choosing the Baptist church closest to her farm. Years after she became a member, the pastor there was called to a church in Maryland. Before he left, he had a conversation with Snead Perez that helped shape her ministry. He told her when she had first visited, one of the deacons had approached him to ask what should be done in the event that the African-American Snead Perez sought membership in the church. The pastor told the deacon that if the church forbade her membership, he would resign.
“This pastor used his authority and privilege to stand up for the body of Christ. Until we can learn to build intercultural relationships we will always be in the same place. The more we can bring in different people to share the Gospel, the more it teaches us all. We all see through a different lens and we are all different parts of the singular body of Christ,” says Snead Perez.
Snead Perez emphasizes transformational relationships over transactional relationships between the parties. It is important to note that race and ethnicity are not the only demographics that Snead Perez seeks to address in her integration work. Any factor that serves to separate and place God’s people into silos, separated from each other is fair game for her work.
She created an acronym for this called EGGS: ethnicity, gender, generation and social class. The egg image in the acronym extends to the DIASPRA logo. Snead Perez explains it this way: “Churches can crack and break under pressure from the outside world; but if a church is proactive and the pressure (or will) to adapt comes from the inside, new life and new birth are the result.”
Snead Perez’s work is grounded in the teachings and examples she sees in Scripture, particularly in the teachings of Christ. She describes her ministry as “Gospel-centered” and her mission as the Great Commission: “My mission is God’s mission—to make disciples for Christ and to not let our own human constructed boundaries be obstacles and stumbling blocks.”
She points out that Jesus often appeared as a stranger. Jesus was a stranger to the woman at the well. Mary mistook him for the gardener at the tomb. When he appeared on the shores of the Sea of Galilee after the resurrection, his own disciples did not recognize him as he stood before them.
In addition to his appearance as a stranger, Snead Perez also points out Jesus’ methodology. When he called his disciples to be “fishers of men,” he didn’t tell them to change their approach or their fishing hook; he told them to continue doing what they were doing, but do it over there” (Luke 5:4). “We know how to do ministry. We know how to preach, sing and teach. What we don’t know how to do is fish off the other side of the boat,” says Snead Perez.
Rev. Dr. Ka’thy Gore Chappell, the executive drector of Baptist Women in Ministry N.C., offers this testimony of her experience with the Stranger to Neighbor course:
“For months—even years—I have yearned to learn more about deepening relationships into more meaningful interactions—especially with people of different races and cultures. Frankly, I am good at building relationships with those I know and I am friendly with those I do not know. The “Stranger to Neighbor Ministries” course offered by the Rev. Dr. Daynette Snead Perez and DIASPRA Ministries offered me the opportunity to face fears, hone skills and design action steps for lowering barriers in relationships, moving from simply cordial to in-depth.”
Like all things, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the Stranger to Neighbor Ministry Experience and limited it to online-only formats for now. Snead Perez is hopeful that 2022 will allow for the hosting of Stranger to Neighbor Ministry Experience conferences. She has also written a book, CHURCH: What to Do When Everyone Is Like You, which will be available this spring. For more information about Rev. Dr. Snead Perez and the DIASPRA course offerings, visit DIASPRA.com.