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RPCVs Pat and Gerald Hanberry: Couple's mission is to help
RPCVs Pat and Gerald Hanberry: Couple's mission is to help
Learning to serve: Couple's mission is to help
By Katherine Heerbrandt
Staff photo by Marny Malin
Pat and the Rev. Gerald Hanberry discuss their trip to Central America and working with mental health professionals there.
The Rev. Gerald Hanberry and his wife, Pat, share a passion for third world countries. They say their separate stints in the Peace Corps several years ago fueled that passion, which has evolved into a mission to "learn globally and act locally."
That mission earned the Rev. Hanberry a generous grant from the Lilly Foundation to travel to Central America on a quest for answers. Those answers generated more complex questions and a recommitment to be a catalyst for change in Frederick County. The trip, said the Hanberrys, changed their lives.
Pastor of the United Church of Christ in Walkersville, the Rev. Hanberry is as much a man of action as words, devoting time to the community through such agencies as the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs and Advocates for Non-English Speaking Residents.
Through the Catoctin Association for Honduras Partnership, he has led church groups to rebuild a village devastated by Hurricane Mitch in the fall of 1998. In the early 1990s, he served as president of Sister Parish, a nonprofit organization that aims to foster understanding and peace between North and Latin America.
Mrs. Hanberry, CEO of the Frederick County Mental Health Association, accompanied him on some of the Honduran trips, but it wasn't until the Lilly Foundation grant that she saw an opportunity to help local clients through international research.
A formidable team, the Hanberrys are focusing their efforts on understanding and assisting the burgeoning community of Latinos who now call Frederick County home. Since 1990, the Latino population has grown 172 percent and now makes up 2.4 percent of the total county population.
The Rev. Hanberry was one of 129 clergy in the country to earn a grant from the Lilly Foundation in 2001 under the national clergy renewal program. The program is intended to strengthen the congregation by allowing its leader to take a break to renew and reflect, and to regain enthusiasm for the ministry.
If it sounds like a vacation, it wasn't. The three-month sabbatical took him to five countries in Central America last winter, each with its own challenges and character. He visited various churches and interviewed clergy, seminar and university faculty, and local residents.
"The idea," he said, "was about a global project that had local implications."
He was particularly interested in the explosion of the Pentecostal Church movement in Central America and why so many Latinos were emigrating to this country. The information he gleaned would assist churches to make connections with Latinos at home, to bridge the gap between Latinos and the religious community, especially those more isolated in the rural areas of the county.
Mrs. Hanberry made a pitch to her board of directors to join her husband for six weeks to explore the character of the people her organization was trying to help, and to meet with other mental health professionals.
"I knew as MHA director that we had to do more to reach out to the Latino community to get a better understanding of where they come from. I thought it was important to learn about the different cultures because we don't often make the distinction when they arrive here, but group them all in one category," she said.
The character, history and politics are different in each country, resulting in different experiences and problems. "You can't lump them together," said the Rev. Hanberry.
The Hanberrys possessed a functional knowledge of Spanish, but immersed themselves in a language program in Guatemala for the first part of the journey, and continue their studies today.
They also visited El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Costa Rica, unlike the other countries, was not crippled by the trauma of guerilla war and is blessed with a more stable government and economy. No major natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes rocked the country. The Hanberrys noted that because of this, Costa Rica is considered the elite of Central America.
When Costa Ricans come to the United States, they suffer from being grouped with other Latinos, said Mrs. Hanberry. "They are not used to being categorized with other Latinos and it is not good for their self-esteem."
Those who were most traumatized by war and disaster are more prone to violence, post-traumatic stress syndrome and alcoholism. These are issues that mental health workers need to be aware of, according to Mrs. Hanberry.
The question of why they come here in such large numbers brought a simple, unanticipated answer for the Rev. Hanberry. "When I asked, 'Why come to the United States, why risk your life and your savings to make that trip?' they looked at me like I was crazy," he said. "And the answer is money and jobs."
The answer may have been different in the 1980s when scores of Latinos bolted for political reasons, but not today.
As for the popularity of the Pentecostal Church, the answers were not so simple. The Rev. Hanberry sees the decline of the Catholic Church and the move to Pentecostal as a need for emotional and spiritual satisfaction.
"The Pentecostal movement is spirit-filled, it provides a powerful experience with more interaction that appeals to an emotional hunger and longing rather than the intellect."
They are looking for hope, he said. A faith that allows them to believe their condition will change.
In light of what he discovered, he said, the mission of his church and other Protestant churches is still an open question. "We want to develop long-range ministries and programs here and assist in helping people from other cultures assimilate more easily without losing their cultural identity in the process."
That challenge is also taken up by his wife in her role at the MHA.
"We don't want them to be isolated. The challenge to Frederick is to help them get integrated and not lose their culture," she said.
She feels it is essential to have Spanish-speaking social service workers, but to ultimately assist Latinos to learn to speak English.
The two have delivered presentations to area churches and organizations. In his role at ANSR, the Rev. Hanberry is helping to develop cultural diversity training programs and a community resource guide in Spanish.
"I got answers to the questions I was seeking," said Mrs. Hanberry. "We have more credibility in the Latino community now. Speaking the language is one way, but actually visiting their homelands says to them that we cared enough to make that trip."