KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On a cool Sunday morning, Rev. Tino Herrera greeted his Trinity United Methodist Church members as they prepared to worship.
While reaching for his Bible, Herrera greeted one member with, “Buenos dias,” before delivering a message on forgiveness.
“I love this community. This community has taught me so much,” Herrera said. “My goal is to cultivate significant, meaningful relationships. To impact our community, to invest in it.”
Herrera grew up in Oklahoma with his sister and single mother, who often worked multiple jobs.
This made finding a way to church a difficult task. Herrera said he was not an active member from the age of 7 until he was 23.
Throughout his time as a child, he noticed a lack of Hispanic heritage among the leaders in his life — teachers, pastors, etc.
During a conversation after Sunday’s services, he pointed to one moment as a child that disconnected him from his Mexican-American heritage.
“She (grade-school teacher) asked me if I speak Spanish, and I said, 'I don’t,'” Herrera recalled. “Then, one of the students said, 'He’s a Mexi-can’t.' That really kind of froze me up as a kid.”
After years of battling with his identity, Herrera found his way back to church. He then attended seminary school and began preaching.
In his role as a leader in the community, he's been a positive light to families who understand his struggle.
“She (member) goes, 'You have no idea what it’s like for my kids to see someone that looks like them,'” Herrera said.
Herrera said he carries that moment with him frequently. Moving forward, he hopes to use his heritage to be an example to other Latino children in Kansas City.
“They matter ... they have worth,” he said. “They are significant, and their gifts are far and beyond and can impact anything and everyone. That is something I wish I was hearing when I was young.”
Herrera shared he believes all organizations, including churches, should have “hard conversations” about race and representation.