A letter from Karla Koll in Costa Rica
Dear companions in mission,
Greetings from San Jose, Costa Rica.
My first three weeks here at the Latin American Biblical University (UBL) have been full of activity. I'm so glad to be working with my colleagues here as we dream about how to continue to offer contextualized theological education to people throughout the continent. I wake up every morning and give thanks to God that I am finally here.
The animals and I are adjusting to our new schedule. Penny, the pug, is enjoying her two walks a day, even if she does have to wear a leash. Often we find ourselves walking in the rain in the afternoon. Portia, the cat, loves hiding in the tall grass in the backyard (though I really do need to find someone with a machete to cut the grass). Her latest game is chasing lizards, though I haven’t seen her catch one yet. I'm enjoying living in this capital city. A 20-minute bus ride gets me downtown to the National Theater, where I saw a delightful original contemporary ballet last weekend. In the coming weeks I'm looking forward to reconnecting with many friends here.
My first class starts on October 14. I'll be teaching the introductory history of Christianity course, 15 centuries in 15 sessions. I have all of the material prepared. In addition to a general overview, we’ll be exploring issues such as women’s leadership in Christian communities through a variety of historiographic approaches. It's so wonderful to have a library to use. So far there are 12 students signed up for the class. The bimester will run until December 6.
This month the Latin American Biblical University is celebrating its 90th anniversary. The institution that today is the UBL was established in 1921 by the Latin American Mission as a Bible college for women. The first female students entered in 1922. The next year a group of Nicaraguan men showed up and asked for admission. For decades now the founding date has been calculated from when the men arrived. Alvaro Perez, the librarian, is preparing a photo exhibit that will be displayed throughout the first floor of the main building. As part of the celebration, the faculty is publishing a book on theological methodologies. On Thursday, October 17, a round table discussion will explore current theological issues. The next day we'll celebrate with a worship service and a dinner. I ask you to celebrate with us and pray with us as we look ahead.
Javier, my husband, is on his way back to San Jose from Nicaragua. I'm looking forward to exploring more of the city with him. He will be here about a week before he needs to take my car out of the country. Later in the month I'll need to make a trip to Nicaragua to bring my car (and more books) back to Costa Rica. We are excited about shaping this new phase of our life together as we move between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
When I was a visiting student at the Latin American Biblical Seminary in 1984 Edwin Mora was working on his first theological degree. Today he is serving as rector or president of the Latin American Biblical University. Edwin, a Methodist from Costa Rica, holds several degrees in theology and psychology. He feels that focusing on spirituality allows him to combine both areas. Edwin is a gifted musician who accompanies our weekly worship services on the piano. He teaches the liturgy courses in the School of Theology. As he begins his term as rector, he reminded me that the Latin American Biblical University began with a dream of the founders, Harry and Susan Strachan, to provide training for church leaders throughout Latin America. The institution faces many challenges today, but there have always been challenges throughout the 90 years the doors have been open. Edwin asks for your prayers for himself, the faculty, and the administration as we move forward into the next decade of service.
As part of my preparation for my upcoming history course, I reread Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity. As a sociologist, Stark asks how an obscure Jewish movement became a dominant religious force in a few short centuries. Among the arguments Stark offers, two stand out to me. Stark claims that women in early Christian communities enjoyed a higher status than their pagan counterparts, in part because Christians stopped the practice of exposing female infants to the elements and therefore a higher percentage of girls survived in the churches than in the surrounding society. Even as other scholars continue to debate about the roles of women in early Christianity, it's important to remember that followers of Jesus protected the lives of girls in a society that accepted infanticide. Stark also looks at how Jesus' teaching about caring for the sick meant that Christians were able to respond with compassion to epidemics that struck the Roman Empire. Christians, who were unafraid of death, nursed the ill and saved many lives. Latin American theologians have insisted that life is the central value of faith in Christ and that protecting life should be the focus of our Christian practice. Stark's work reminds us that compassion has changed the course of history.
As always, I'm very grateful to have your accompaniment on this journey in mission. Thank you for your prayers. Now that I'm getting organized here, I hope to do a better job at keeping up with correspondence. I do appreciate hearing from you. Meanwhile, I invite you to watch this video shot on the campus of the UBL, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QL_fCGDuOoI (just copy the address and plug it into your browser).
Rev. Dr. Karla Ann Koll