A letter from Karla Koll serving in Costa Rica
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They came from all directions. Some traveled more than six hours by bus to reach the retreat center north of Tegucigalpa. Twenty-seven women and men of different ages gathered January 27 of this year for the launch of the theological training program for the Presbyterian Church of Honduras.
The three-day course was the answer to many prayers. For years, the Presbyterian Church of Honduras had been looking for a way to train their leaders. They turned for help to Presbyterian World Mission and the Honduras Mission Network, a group of local congregations and presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that have come together to accompany the Presbyterian Church of Honduras in mission. Though the Honduran Presbyterians dreamed of having their own seminary, it was clear from the beginning that a traditional seminary would not meet the needs of their small denomination of just under 30 congregations. After more than two years of considering different options, the Latin American Biblical University (UBL) was invited into the conversation. In May of 2016 my colleague, Nidia Fonseca, and I traveled to Honduras to offer a workshop based on the materials of our Biblical Pastoral Institute to help the church leaders visualize how a decentralized program of theological training could work in their church.
The Biblical Pastoral Institute of the UBL is our largest non-university program. The methodology allows students, regardless of their level of formal education, to develop skills to interpret the Bible in their own contexts, lead their communities in theological reflection, and engage with their local community to work for change. Over the last three decades, thousands of women and men throughout Latin America and the Caribbean have taken courses in the program. The course materials are designed for group study without the need for an instructor from outside the community.
Some participants in that first workshop expressed their surprise that the materials work directly with the Bible. This intrigued us because we are, after all, the Latin American Biblical University. My favorite comment came from an older pastor who, throughout the first day of the workshop, cited a memorized Bible verse for every concern that others raised, effectively cutting off any dialogue. He was assigned to a small group that studied a section of a course focused on God’s creation. When he came back to the large group he said, “I have read the Bible. I know what the Bible says. But I had never realized how important the land is to God.”
Three times during each year, all the students will gather for classes offered by visiting faculty from the UBL. In between the national meetings, groups will gather in their respective regions to work through three courses every semester. Students who complete six courses during the first year will be awarded a Certificate in Ministerial Education, Level One. A Level Two certificate awaits those who finish the two-year program. The Honduran Mission Network is committed to raising the funds to make the program possible.
Betzabé Reyes and Blanca Aida Rivas, two UBL graduates from the Presbyterian Church of Honduras, are key for the success of this program. Both dynamic young women studied in Honduras and in Costa Rica, earning bachelor and licenciate degrees in theology. Before this new program the church had not offered any space to these young women to use their gifts and training in their own denomination. Betzabé and Blanca will be traveling to the different regions of the country to meet with groups of students, review assignments and answer questions. Betzabé is also doing the administrative work for the program, keeping track of registrations and grades.
Most of the participants who came for the opening session have not had the opportunity to go beyond sixth grade because education has never been a priority for the Honduran government. Many of the congregations in rural areas are being led by women or men of deep faith and evangelistic fervor but with little formal education and no theological training. These folks will be the ones who benefit most from this new program. At the UBL we are excited about the changes that will happen in the Presbyterian Church of Honduras as people in the congregations start reading the Bible for themselves and reflecting on what God requires of them in their context. We count it a privilege to be part of this process.
You are part of this educational process as well. I am very grateful for the prayers and financial gifts from congregations and individuals who help make programs like the training in Honduras possible. If you have not given recently toward my support, please consider doing so. With your assistance, I can continue to accompany women and men in Honduras and elsewhere as they explore their place in God’s mission.
Enthusiasm ran high during the three days of classes at the end of January. At the closing meal Nancy Sanchez, one of the women from the church in Puerto Grande, asked, “Can’t we stay here and keep studying for another three days?”
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