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Finding their Theological Voices

A Letter from Karla Koll, serving in Costa Rica

Summer 2021

Write to Karla Ann Koll

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Dear friends,

As happened around the world, the start of the pandemic took us by surprise here at the Latin American Biblical University (UBL). When the government ordered all universities to suspend in-person classes in March of 2020, our students here in Costa Rica joined those who were already studying online in different countries. It was not an easy transition for some. Imagine traveling thousands of miles from your home, only to be confined to a student dorm while a deadly disease affected your family members and friends in your home country. Through these emotionally difficult times, our students in residence continued to work toward their degrees. I want to share two stories with you.

I first met Joseline Luque in May of 2018 when I taught a course for the St. Paul Andean Seminary in Peru. The class met at the Pentecostal church in La Merced where Joseline is a member. La Merced is a in the Amazon basin, the part of Peru known as la selva.

While most of our students do the majority of their courses online, when circumstances permit and scholarship funds are available, we encourage students to come to campus for as little as a month or for as long as two years. Longer periods of intensive study allow us as faculty members to observe up close as students develop their own theological voices.

Despite some initial resistance from her family, as a single young woman Joseline had the freedom to dedicate herself to full-time study. She arrived in Costa Rica at the beginning of 2019, wide-eyed and timid. She worked her way through 13 courses in a year. In her bachelor’s thesis, Joseline developed a pastoral plan to include LGBTQ+ folks in the ministries of her church. She then continued in the next level of study, our licentiate program. As a Pentecostal, Joseline is interested in pneumatology, the branch of theology dedicated to the study of the Holy Spirit. She noticed that in her church, even though the pastor is a woman, the Holy Spirit is often invoked to limit the activities and authority of women, especially of younger women. In her thesis, she decided to write a liberative pneumatology for women. Soon she will be returning to Peru with two degrees in hand.

Isabel Casilla came to Costa Rica at the beginning of 2020 with her husband, Freddy Conislla. A graduate of the Wesleyan Theological Seminary in Lima, Isabel had been serving as pastor of a Methodist church in Cusco. She jumped at the chance to come to the UBL when it was offered to her out of eagerness to develop more skills for responding to the needs and questions emerging in the church and beyond. Though the idea of studying at a university filled her with some fear, she is grateful for how the UBL has helped her to believe in herself and learn to express herself better.

As a Quechua woman, Isabel arrived with questions about the contribution her culture can offer to the task of doing theology. In her experience, the ancestral cultural practices of her community have often been devalued, not only in the general society, but also in the churches. As she finished her course work and began research for her bachelor’s thesis, she started with the question, “Where do I see God’s presence in my culture?” She decided to focus on ayni, a Quechua term often translated as solidarity. Ayni refers to both a cultural value as well as cultural practices in which community members come together to help one another for such activities as putting a roof on a house or planting crops. Despite the conquest and the imposition of Christianity, ayni persists in the communities, even if it is ignored by the churches. Isabel finds signs of God’s Reign in the reciprocal relationships ayni engenders. Her hope and dream is that churches in the Andean region will incorporate ayni and other aspects of indigenous culture into their pastoral practices.

Isabel presented her bachelor’s thesis at the end of April. Freddy is finishing his thesis for his bachelor’s degree in biblical sciences. Both of them wish to advance as far as they can toward their licentiate degrees before they return to new pastoral calls in Peru sometime next year. Isabel knows that she has grown as a person and as a theologian, but she acknowledges that it has not been easy. The most difficult moment came for her when her mother in Peru fell very ill with COVID. We rejoiced when we received the news that her mother had recovered.

At the beginning of August, five people from the First Presbyterian Church of Cheraw, South Carolina came to the UBL. They were the first group to visit the campus since the start of the pandemic. Isabel led a Bible study for the group, reading the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4 through the struggles of women in the Andes to defend their communities’ access to water. Joseline spoke to the group of how eager she is to put into practice the tools the UBL has given her for ministry.

As I listened to these two young women, I was filled with gratitude for the opportunity to support them on their journeys as theologians. Thank you for the prayers and gifts that allow Presbyterian World Mission to be part of encouraging young women to develop their theological voices. I hope you share my excitement when I think of the changes Joseline and Isabel will bring to their churches and communities.

Here at the UBL we are making plans for the coming academic year. We look forward to a time when we can once again welcome students to our campus. I hope you will continue to accompany me, my colleagues and our students.

Blessings,

Karla

Please read the following letter from Sara P. Lisherness, the interim director of World Mission:

Dear partners in God’s mission,

I don’t know about you, but daily my heart grows heavier. News about the pandemic, wars, wildfires, gun violence, racism, earthquakes and hurricanes cloud my vision. It’s hard to see hope; our world is in a fog. Yet we trust that God’s light and love transcend the brokenness of this time.

God is at work transforming the world, and you, through your prayers, partnership and encouragement, are helping us share this good news. Thank you for your faithful and gracious support of our mission personnel.

How can we see through the fog? What will the church be after the pandemic? Could it be that God is doing “a new thing” and is inviting us to perceive it? Through all the uncertainty we know that God’s steadfast love and care for all creation will prevail and that God’s Spirit is at work in each of us.

We all have an integral part to play in fulfilling God’s mission. As we seek to grow together in faithfulness there are three important steps I invite you to take in supporting our shared commitments to God’s mission:
Give – Consider making a year-end financial contribution for the sending and support of our mission personnel. Your support helps mission personnel accompany global partners as together they share the light of God’s love and justice around the world. Invite your session to include support for mission personnel in its annual budget planning.
Act – Visit The Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study to delve deeper into the work God is doing through the PC(USA) and its partners in ministry around the globe: pcusa.org/missionyearbook.
Pray – Include our mission personnel, our global partners, and our common commitments to share God’s grace, love, mercy and justice in your daily prayers.

Thank you for your faithfulness to God’s mission through the Presbyterian Church. It is my prayer that you will continue to support this work with your prayers, partnership, and financial gifts in the coming year. We hope you will join us and our partners in shining a beacon of hope throughout the world.

In the light of hope,

 

 

Sara P. Lisherness, Interim Director
World Mission
Presbyterian Mission Agency
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

To give please visit https://bit.ly/PCUSAmission

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16


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