In 2001, in the very early days of Interfaith America, the leaders of the organization (including this author) lived together in a rented house on the northwest side of Chicago.
We had enough space to share, and one of the people we shared with was a refugee from Cameroon named Valentine Mbinglo. Valentine is a brilliant, exuberant man with a booming voice and a passion for life. While waiting on his immigration paperwork to go through, he would spend his days navigating a new city and culture, and his evenings in vigorous conversation about religion and interfaith with the rest of us. Valentine remembers those days fondly:
“I felt extremely welcome coming to the United States as a political refugee. Things got difficult for me where I was, and you reached out to me. You introduced America to me in a positive way, with people living their faith, offering to welcome the stranger.”
I had a chance to reconnect with Valentine recently, and the last 20 years have seen him continuing his own journey of interfaith leadership. He’s now married with three kids, living in the Chicago suburbs, and works as a nurse leader at a healthcare center in the Chicago suburbs. Valentine told me about his own religious re-awakening, as well as the interfaith spirit he brings to his work as a Catholic in a largely Jewish facility, working every day through the COVID pandemic.
Growing up, Valentine was born and raised a Catholic, and went to Catholic primary and secondary schools. For university, he went to a public school and studied economics, doing research on microfinance. He says, “I was Christian, but not fully vested in my faith at the time. I met Jesus every Sunday, and then went back to the world. The rest of the week, I was a Christian in name only.” In 2004 his mother died, and that pushed him away from Christianity for a decade. Then he started to hear a voice he could only describe as divine that led him to a Bible in his house and told him, “You will help others understand it.” From then on, he began to teach the Bible. During the pandemic, he started The Divine Mercy Ministries, an online ministry with daily prayer services on FreeConferenceCall.com and WhatsApp attended by Christians of many denominations. He has posted a daily video on YouTube for the last two years, preaching on a different Bible chapter each day.
While Valentine is very passionate about his own faith, he holds a deep respect for the faith of others. Through his work in a health care setting for the elderly, he is able to relate to people very different from him, referencing their common human heritage. “I have been able to connect with folks who might share a lot of differences in terms of our faith, but we have a common family in the human race. Hindu, Jewish, Christian. We cannot be broken down in organized religions.” At the healthcare facility, he’s even been known to substitute as facilitator of the Jewish study group when the Rabbi is away.
He describes his own faith as calling him to serve, citing Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole heart, as to the Lord and not to men.” In his work, he asks the questions “What would Christ do? How does my management reflect Christ in me?”
At the same time, he sees the call to service of all humanity regardless of people’s faith. “By virtue of faith, you become a bridge to the various faith constructs that we have. There is more that binds us than divides us. You see the common humanity that we share as a people.”
Twenty years on, Valentine continues to inspire me as an interfaith hero, living his life with others in a spirit of love that is both Christian-inspired and deeply inclusive to people of other faiths.
For the past two decades, Jeff Pinzino has helped to make visionary social change projects real. Whether developing a mobile market to bring fresh produce to food deserts or co-founding a housing co-op for activists, he has brought creativity, expertise, and resourcefulness to bear in creating social change. Jeff has professional experience in community organizing, social entrepreneurship, philanthropy, fundraising, management and training. He has a passion for projects committed to economic justice and racial equity, especially those that engage human creativity and connectedness to transform communities. Some of his previous titles include Sr. Director of Development, External Relations of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Development Director of New Orleans Works Center for Racial Justice, and Chief Operating Officer of Resilience Force.