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United Cultures of Bethel Celebrates 25 Years

United Cultures of Bethel Celebrates 25 Years

Students met with Trina White Maduro, UCB’s first student leader, during a lunch in the Cultural Connection Center. (Photo Credit: Kelsey Sagen ’16)

More than 80 people gathered on campus recently to celebrate 25 years of United Cultures of Bethel (UCB).  Anniversary celebrations in October included a Chapel presentation by Trina White Maduro ’93, UCB’s first student leader, who will also speak at Bethel’s commencement in May. A post-Chapel lunch featured Maduro and other speakers, and celebration events continued into the evening with an anniversary banquet, dessert, and live jazz music at the recently opened Cultural Connection Center.

During the celebrations, UCB announced that the “United Cultures of Bethel Pioneers Award” fund has been established in honor of Maduro and Terry Coffee, a former employee who was instrumental in getting UCB started. “This scholarship has been a dream for so many people and it is great to see this become a reality,” says Nathan Day ’17, current executive director of UCB. “It is yet another way to support students here at Bethel.”

During her visit, Maduro explained more to current Bethel students about the beginning of UCB and the support the group received from a few staff and faculty members on campus. “Hearing stories about UCB over the past 25 years was humbling,” says Day, who is studying business, economics, and finance. “To know of the courage and boldness it took of individuals like Trina to start UCB gave me such pride and joy that I am continuing in that journey they began.”

Maduro grew up with 14 siblings on the south side of Chicago and was raised by her single mother. “Even though we were voted least likely to succeed as a family, I knew that I was touched by the Lord at age eight,” she said. “I am very grateful for it, and have no regret for the life I’ve lived.”

Her family moved to Minneapolis in the 1980s and lived in a duplex across the street from Park Avenue Methodist Church. She remembers sneaking out to play basketball on their courts. One time, counselors from Urban Ventures, a local nonprofit that works to combat urban poverty, approached her as she played.  While she wasn’t very receptive to them at first, she eventually accompanied them on a 10-day backpacking and rafting trip to Colorado. It was on that trip that she accepted Jesus Christ. When it came time to go to college, Maduro said she had a choice: go to Tennessee and play basketball, or go to Bethel and deepen her relationship with Jesus. She chose Bethel.

“We must always remember that God’s ways are not like our ways and God’s thoughts are not like our thoughts,” Maduro said. “And usually when you don’t feel like getting up or coming, that is when the Holy Spirit shows up the most.”

Her journey at Bethel wasn’t easy. Her family did not approve of her decision to attend, and the predominately white students on campus were not always welcoming. At times the environment was downright hostile. “Sometimes we need to rewind and talk about the past—the painful past—to know how strong our God is,” Maduro said. “At Bethel, eventually all the voices that didn’t want me here had to fade away and all I heard was the voice of Jesus Christ.”

During Maduro’s time at Bethel, a few students of color began to meet together. In time, they decided to approach Bethel leadership and ask to form a club, and that group became United Cultures of Bethel. Today, UCB is a department of Bethel Student Government that seeks to support students in regard to their cultural identity as well as engage the entire Bethel community in a cultural understanding of one another. UCB includes five student sub-groups:

  • Asian Christian Fellowship
  • Moya—African/African-American Christian Fellowship
  • Peacemakers—White/European-American Christian Fellowship
  • Voz Latin@—Latina/o Christian Fellowship
  • First Nations—Native/Indigenous/Aboriginal Christian Fellowship

Theron Green ’93, who attended Bethel at the same time as Maduro and helped found UCB , also reflected about his experience on campus in the early 1990s. “It was very intimidating to walk into an institution like this. We might have been the first students of color that the other students knew or got to know,” he said to a group of about 35 students, staff, and faculty. “But what we see in this room is a testimony today of what we started 25 years ago.”

Finally, Maduro considered Bethel’s impact in her life. Although her family was not supportive of her college choice at first, by the time her graduation came around, 35 family members attended to see her receive her diploma. After graduation, she went on to earn a master’s degree in social work, and spent 27 years as an urban missionary, including with Park Avenue Methodist Church and Urban Ventures.

For the last 10 years, she has worked as an entrepreneur. She also sits on Bethel’s Board of Trustees, where she has seen firsthand the university leadership’s desire to increase campus diversity so that the Bethel community “looks more like heaven.”