February has long been recognized as Black History Month, but at Sycamore United Methodist Church, that celebration takes a larger scope.
For the third year in a row, Harlene Harden, associate pastor at the church, is spearheading a Multi-Cultural Celebration Month that will feature prominent Methodist pastors coming to Sycamore to share their stories and cultures.
The month has been a hit with the congregation and community, Harden said, and she expects this year to be the best yet.
“Exposure to other cultures and people in today’s 21st century is just crucial,” Harden said. “We begin to realize the world is not as big as perhaps we once thought. We see that while we all come from different places, we’re all pretty much the same in many ways.”
The celebration will start this Saturday with a 5 p.m. service at the church featuring local Korean pastors the Rev. Kyeong-Ah Woo and her husband the Rev. Jin Yang Kim. Woo, who came from Korea in 1993, is pastor at the First United Methodist Church of Kirkland while her husband preaches in Steward.
Woo and Kim will wear traditional Korean clothing and present a service with some Korean elements such as songs that will have English translations on projection screens, Harden said. Harden, who spent time at Ewha Women’s University in South Korea, said Woo will be able to talk about some of the inequalities she experienced growing up in her home country.
“There are still so many injustices in Korea the same way there are here in the states,” Harden said. “They are very, very intelligent, bright young people that will share their story.”
On Feb. 16, the church will welcome Dwight Stewart, a pastor at numerous Chicago-area churches during his career. Christopher Druce Jones, pastor at Brooke Road United Methodist Church in Rockford and military veteran, will share his message on Feb. 17.
Harden said she is especially excited for the Rev. Zaki Zaki, superintendent of the Chicago Northwestern District for the Methodist Church, to visit on Feb. 24. Zaki was born in Sudan to Egyptian missionary parents.
Before coming to the U.S. in 1989, he spent much of his early leadership life organizing grassroots Christian student movements and working with refugees from Ethiopia to the Middle East.
“He is absolutely phenomenal and has a great energy,” Harden said. “It’s great to listen to the story of his journey.”
Harden said she hopes the month-long celebration also will open residents’ eyes to the world of culture in their backyard. She said international Northern Illinois University students and professors took part in the cultural celebrations last year and have been invited again.
“It’s the [international] extremists who get the news. The everyday people who come from humble beginnings; they don’t get the play,” Harden said. “We have great people from all over the world right here.”