A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
“For me, studying at CEDEPCA has meant an encounter with another God. I have discovered a God who desires life with dignity for all, a God who is love and grace. This God is very different from the judging and punishing God I was taught about when I was a child.”
These words came from Emerson Morales, one of my colleagues at the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA). Emerson is also one of our university-level students in Biblical and Theological Training. This program is currently in a state of transition. After the coordinator left in June, I was asked to become the interim academic dean as we began a process of rethinking the role of theological education in the overall work of CEDEPCA. The Biblical and Theological Training program of CEDEPCA serves as the branch of the Latin American Biblical University (UBL) in Guatemala, connecting us with processes of theological education throughout the continent.
At the end of September we brought together 18 members of the staff, the board and the student body to dream about the future of the program. We began by asking each person present to share what this program has meant in their lives. One after another, people spoke of how their understanding of God, themselves and the world has been transformed. They talked of how they have been inspired to work for change in their churches and their communities. Lyz de Guerra, a Presbyterian who is near the end of her degree program in Biblical studies, said her studies in CEDEPCA were a dream come true. CEDEPCA’s flexible and low-cost program gave her, a mother of three, the opportunity to dig deeply into the Bible and equip herself to work more effectively in her church.
In November, I sat in on the last class of the year in Chimaltenango, where CEDEPCA is teaching courses in the theological institute run by the Kaqchikel Presbytery. The professor, Hector Castañeda, asked students to share what they had learned during the year. Juan Tubac started off saying that before the class he thought being poor was God’s will. Now he understands that poverty is created by the social structures human beings build, not by God. Another student, José Martín, told how some members of his family accuse him of no longer believing in God because he no longer accepts poverty as God’s will. Others chimed in with similar experiences of how their transformed theological understanding has changed how they feel themselves called by God to work in their churches and communities.
CEDEPCA seeks to prepare women and men to follow Christ in working to overcome violence together with people from other churches and traditions. Some of our students are pastors who have studied as much as they can in the Bible institutes or seminaries of their respective denominations. They come to CEDEPCA looking for broader theological perspectives and they discover a God who, in the words of one student, “is free of religious traditions and ecclesiastical stigmas.” Others are professionals with degrees in other areas who are seeking to deepen their knowledge of the Bible and their walk of faith. Some are young people just starting out in ministry. All are excited about the opportunity to learn more.
The testimonies of students and former students point to the continuing need for the kind of alternative theological education that CEDEPCA and the UBL offer. We are stepping out in faith, not at all sure where the resources will come from, as neither our students nor their churches can pay more than modest fees. The demand far exceeds our ability to respond. Not a week goes by without a church or community organization contacting me to ask if CEDEPCA can help train their leadership. We are making plans to offer university-level courses on Saturdays in Guatemala City as well as a certificate program in Christian education. We hope to provide more people with the opportunity to discover a different God, a God who loves the world and who calls women and men to serve the cause of justice and peace.
This is what Christmas is all about, an encounter with a different God. The One who arrives as the Babe of Bethlehem comes to save, not to condemn. This God doesn’t make people poor but chooses to be born among those who were poor. This God comes not with the power of a conqueror but in the vulnerability of a child.
This Christmas may each one of us encounter God anew.
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 277