A letter from Karla Koll in Costa Rica
"No one will hurt or destroy in my holy mountain, because the earth will be full of the knowledge of God" (Is. 11:9).
Dear companions in mission,
Advent this year finds me in a new setting as I begin the next phase in my journey of mission service. My husband Javier and I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, in mid-September, where I have been settling into my new duties as professor of mission, history and religions at the Latin American Biblical University (UBL).
Advent is a time of new beginnings. As we start a new liturgical year, Advent invites us to look back to God's coming among us as a child born two thousand years ago. This year I find myself looking back, as well, on the path that has brought me to this place. I first came to Costa Rica as a theology student in 1984 to learn from Central Americans. At that time, wars were raging in Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. I encountered Jesus in new ways as people in the seminary and beyond shared with me how they saw God present with them in the struggles for peace with justice in the region. Jesus was in the refugee camps, sharing the sufferings of those who had been displaced. Jesus was walking with those who were risking their lives to defend human rights. And Jesus was present in hymns filled with the hope of a world made new.
The Latin American Biblical University has also been looking back at its own history in recent weeks. In October, the UBL celebrated its 90th anniversary. Harry and Susan Strachan, the founders of what began as a Bible training school for women, believed the Gospel could bring positive changes to Latin America. For this to happen, women and men needed to study the Bible carefully and reflect on the text in order to lead churches and ministries. Though the theological perspective of the institution has changed over nine decades, the commitment to careful study of the Bible and rigorous theological reflection remains, as well as the hope to be a force for positive change in the continent.
Advent is also a time for looking forward. The Isaiah 11 text, which the common lectionary has us read on the second Sunday of Advent, invites us to dream together with God of a world transformed. Lions and lambs will lie down together. Children will play without fear of snake bites. In this vision, violence no longer exists. Yet violence continues as wars rage in nations far away like Syria and the Congo. Not so far away from Costa Rica, the countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have the highest murder rates in the world. Many women and children, and some men, are victims of violence in their own homes, here and elsewhere.
Advent reminds us just how far we are from God's hopes for the world into which Jesus was born. Here at the Latin American Biblical University we are convinced that theological education, focused on God's liberating love and responding to the cultures and needs of the peoples of the continent, has an important role to play in empowering women and men to work for change and to overcome violence. We are continuing to offer undergraduate programs through a combination of courses here in San Jose and distance courses. We are working on plans for new masters programs that will be offered on-line. In addition to degrees in theology and biblical sciences, we are formulating a master's program in gender, diversity and religion. The UBL remains committed to making theological education accessible to those who don't have the resources to study in other universities.
I am grateful to be part of a team of committed women and men who share this vision. The faculty has welcomed me warmly. Many have been my friends and colleagues for years. Edwin Mora, the current president of the UBL, and Nidia Fonseca were students with me in the 1980s. Violeta Rocha was one of the first theology students I taught in Nicaragua in the late 1980s. Elisabeth Cook, now serving as our academic dean, is also a Presbyterian Church(USA) mission co-worker. I am also thankful for the congregations and individuals whose gifts make it possible for me to serve here. Please continue to send your support.
As we here at the Latin American Biblical University look forward to the challenges of the coming year, I invite you to pray together with us this closing prayer from our anniversary celebration liturgy:
Mother and Father God who loves us without ceasing, our light and our salvation who always accompanies us, we ask you to sustain the Latin American Biblical University in your hands so that in our work peace and justice will join together as love and wisdom are renewed. We ask your blessing on all who participate in this educational endeavor through our continent, its islands and beyond. For Christ and for the America that is Latin, indigenous, African and diverse! Amen.
In Advent hope,
Karla Ann Koll
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The 2nd Sunday in Advent we at Trinity Avenue Presbyterian, Durham, NC read and reflected on the Isisah 11 text. We are hoping with you for change to overcome violence. Smiles to you, Karla. We are happy that you are surrounded by good friends and together are engaged in meaningful work. Happy Holidays!