Dream of Destiny sat down to interview Amielah and Jeff Hilmo, a biracial married couple who attend Shepherd Church to get their thoughts on family culture, racism, George Floyd, Shepherd, and why Life Groups is a key to fostering more unity and diversity in the body of Christ.
Amielah is Filipino and was raised in the Philippines, while Jeff, who is white, grew up in Los Angeles. When Amielah turned 18, she came to Los Angeles to go to college. During that time, she met Jeff through her cousin, who was Jeff’s best friend. Before long, they started dating, two people from opposite sides of the world who fell in love and eventually married. Because of their love for Jesus and their desire to take the next step in their faith, they decided to join a Life Group. Later, they felt God’s calling on their lives to become Life Group leaders. This is their story.
Amielah, what was it like coming to America to live and go to school?
Amielah: To be honest, I experienced a bit of culture shock when I went to college here in Los Angeles. I went to Pierce College for three years and graduated from CSUN. During this time, I noticed that students were very opinionated. They had a lot to say and were quick to voice their opinions in class, which was quite different from my upbringing. In the Philippines, we have very traditional ways. For example, I did not know how to think for myself, and I did what my parents told me. So this was a real eye-opener for me. Looking back, I wish I had that type of boldness.
As a biracial couple, has race ever been an issue in your relationship?
Jeff: No. My parents raised me. I grew up in the church, so I knew that we were all created equal and I didn’t think differently. When Amielah and I got together, I went to events with her family, and everyone there was Filipino except me. They didn’t treat me differently as a white person. In the Filipino culture, they take you in, feed you, and show you nothing but love, so I was blessed that race wasn’t a problem.
Amielah: Race was never an issue because Jeff is more Filipino than I am. [She smiles] We haven’t had that type of bump in our marriage because our family cultures are very similar.
What aspect of your race and ethnicity makes you the proudest?
Amielah: As a Filipino, the family is huge in our culture. We believe in the importance of taking care of each other. We also believe in the value of working hard too. Many of us understand what it’s like to have to struggle in life, so we support one another.
Jeff: To be honest, I don’t look at it this way. My parents taught me to respect everyone and not judge anyone because we are all the same, so that’s what I knew. Church taught me that God comes first in everything I do, which has guided my life path. Now we are blessed to have a family where we can raise them the same way, and hopefully, we are doing an excellent job with our children.
How did George Floyd’s tragic death affect you personally as Christ’s followers?
Amielah: For me, it was sad that this is still happening in today’s society. Living in Los Angeles and going to Shepherd, we experience so much diversity. When I saw this unfold on the news, I was shocked that this happened. It felt like we as a country should be farther along than this. I had a light bulb moment, though, and I said to my children, “Always do right by God. If you are doing right by God, you can be confident that He will protect you.”
Jeff: This showed me that these types of incidents happens when we take God out of our society. The more we push him out, the more we will see things like this unfold. As Christians, we need to love people, continue to be disciples, and show others God’s love.
Did this make you more empathetic to the black community?
Jeff: Yes, not only the black community but anyone who would go through this. It doesn’t matter how you were raised or what deck of cards you were dealt; no one should experience what George Floyd went through. We had a brother in Christ whose life was taken. We are all equal, and so when someone hurts, we should all hurt. If we knew how to show love like Jesus, it would be a much different world.
Tell us about your Life Group, and did you discuss the George Floyd tragedy?
Jeff: We have a very diverse group. Some people come from different backgrounds, races, and age groups. When George Floyd’s death happened, we were able to talk about it in a very safe environment, and no one felt judged. Our group includes older and younger people in our church, so we heard different perspectives that caused everyone to think a lot deeper. We could empathize with each other and talk through other people’s viewpoints because everyone had a different reaction and mindset about what happened.
Did you learn something new from these conversations?
Jeff: We all agreed that George Floyd was a child of God who lost his life unmercifully. We learned that some people in our Life Groups were pulled over by the police and singled out for no other reason than their skin color. We didn’t know this about them, so it opened our eyes. Our Life Group is a close-knit family, and so hearing their story first hand made it real to all of us. Personally, it caused me to think differently, instead of just listening to the news and immediately coming to the conclusion that this happened because of something that George Floyd did. It also made me realize that if there is going to be a solution to the race problem, it has to start with us as Christians because we are the hands and feet of Jesus. If we are not out there in the world spreading Christ’s love, this will continue to happen. That’s why we need to pray for our world.
Why are Life Group’s so vital in fostering cultural and ethnic diversity?
Amielah/Jeff: When we joined a Life Group, we went in knowing that we would be sharing life with others from different races and backgrounds. Life Groups is a safe zone, allowing us to be open with each other when having crucial discussions. We understand the differences in our upbringing and how that’s impacted our lives today. Life Groups create a space where we can break bread together, grow in Christ, and support one another. Later, we decided to become Life Group leaders and open our home to others. There’s a particular vulnerability when you do so, but it’s life-changing when you make yourself available.
Amielah: It’s different when you hear the actual story from someone in a Life Group who experienced racism first hand. You get to hear the nitty and gritty of what happened, and it makes you better understand what they are going through, so you can empathize and hurt with them. This is a problem that we cannot ignore, and now it’s upon all of us to see how we can be part of the solution. In regards to George Floyd, at the end of his life, he was crying out for his mom. He just wanted to be loved like the rest of us. That resonated with me.
Why should someone consider becoming a Life Group Leader?
Amielah/Jeff: First, we want to say that we hope Shepherd keeps encouraging people to join Life Groups because this is where real conversations and relationships will take place. We didn’t feel prepared to be Life Group leaders, but we took a leap of faith and realized that with God’s help, we got this, and the Holy Spirit will guide us. So we encourage people to become Life Group leaders and give any doubts you have to Him and take the first step. He will show you the way and orchestrate your steps. Our goal is to encourage our group members to open up their homes to extend their outreach and influence.
How has Life Groups here at Shepherd Church changed your life?
Jeff: Life Groups transformed and restored our marriage. We were on the verge of splitting while we were in a Life Group. Yet, because of our previous Life Group leader’s boldness and love, God transformed and rebuilt our marriage. That’s why we wanted to open our homes to others because of what God did for us. Through our little ministry, there have been so many transformations that have taken place through sharing our personal testimony with others. When we allowed ourselves to be open and vulnerable about our struggle, we could help others. Life Groups is our family, too. We will not stop doing this because this is God’s work and plan.
How often do you interact with people of a different race outside your inner circle? What is the nature of these relationships and interactions?
Jeff: Other than work and church, we are a pretty boring couple. However, at work, I am a manager of 16 very diverse people. It’s crazy to hear their personal stories. I learned that there were some people that I worked with that grew up a few blocks away from where George Floyd’s incident took place. In my conversations with them, this helped me to empathize and show God’s love at the same time. The best thing we can do as Christians is to listen to others.
There is this one person on my job that is not a Christian. He opened up to me and shared his experiences and struggles as a black man. One day, I forgot all political correctness and asked if I could pray for him, and he said, “yes.” He told me that he could get through this crisis because of the love that I have shown him. I told him it’s not anything I’ve done, but God working through me. I don’t see him as a black man, but as a child of God — someone I can mentor. As a white man, our relationship has helped me understand what black men have experienced in our country.
Amielah: I’m a stay-at-home mom, so I have witnessed some of Jeff’s conversations with this person on the phone. One of the things that I heard was that as a father with one son, he is afraid to leave his house because he doesn’t feel safe for both of them. They shouldn’t have to feel that way. Just hearing this has made me more sensitive about what’s going on.
As a parent with two children, how are you talking to them about racism and injustice?
Jeff: We are raising them up in God’s Word and training them to show love and respect to theirs. George Floyd’s death caused them to ask some really tough questions because they hadn’t experienced racism. Now, they are a lot more sensitive to this issue and what is happening. We try to tell them that this is a problem because people are not fortunate enough to know God’s love.
Amielah: We teach them by leading by example. Kids learn by watching what you do and listening to what you say. Our children have seen that our Life Groups have always been diverse. Also, my son’s best friend is African-American, and they treat each other like family, and that’s how it should be.
What do you believe Shepherd has done or still needs to do to champion diversity?
Jeff: I love Shepherd. I have been here for 20 years. It represents the makeup of our diverse community. Twenty years ago, it was heavily Caucasian, and my wife was a little nervous. Now we love it, because Shepherd represents how God sees us. Pastor Dudley says, “If you don’t like Shepherd, you are not going to like heaven.” We may be all different colors, but we are all God’s children. I love what our church is doing to be intentional about diversity, our worship leaders on stage, and even our different ministries, especially Sports. I don’t think we would be here if it weren’t for Dudley’s leadership. As our pastor, he’s very mindful of diversity, so everyone feels love when you walk in the door.