A letter from Karla Koll serving in Costa Rica
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Advent has come once again. In Jeremiah 33:14–16 we read the promise that one is coming who will bring peace and justice. The words of the prophet resonate with our own longings as we look around a world filled with pain and suffering. We know we are very far from experiencing the peace and just relationships that God desires for God’s creation. Advent calls us to active waiting, to seek peace and justice as we prepare for God’s coming among us.
Here at the Latin American Biblical University (UBL) our students bring their longings and their concerns for the vulnerable populations in their own contexts. They have hard questions and they come to their studies looking for ways to put hope into action. Through their academic work they acquire tools for social analysis and theological reflection, gifts they bring to their churches and communities. As our academic year ends I want to share with you the work some of our students have concluded as I invite you to celebrate with them and pray for their ongoing ministries.
Macoy Torres Montenegro came to the UBL from Lima, Peru, to finish his bachelor’s degree. In his thesis he wrote a proposal to renew the Christian education program in his denomination, the Church of God in Peru, by applying the insights of popular education to teaching in Sunday schools. In many churches around Latin America the Sunday school experience for children consists of memorizing Bible verses. In order to develop as followers of Jesus, Macoy argues that children need to develop a consciousness about the situations in which they live. Christian education should encourage children to ask questions and cultivate the capacity for dialogue with their teachers, the Scriptures, and the world around them.
Juver Rimari also comes from Peru. The increasing violence experienced in urban areas of Peru prompted Juver to reflect on the appropriate Christian response to interpersonal attacks. In his bachelor’s thesis Juver offered a rereading of Luke 22:47–54a, in which Jesus tells his disciples not to defend him with swords from those who have come to arrest him. This text is often used in evangelical churches to say that Christians should not use violent means to defend themselves from attack. Juver found that Jesus acts in such a way as to defuse a violent situation, turning himself in to avoid any further injury either to his disciples or to those who had come to arrest him. Faith communities should act to protect people’s lives and actively work to lessen violence.
Albertina del Carmen Quilaman Ordenes is concerned about the older women where she lives in Concepcion, Chile. She notes that many churches, especially Pentecostal or Neo-Pentecostal churches, provide no pastoral accompaniment for older adults, even though the number of older adults is rising throughout Latin America. In her licentiate thesis Albertina offers strategies for churches to overcome the social stigma around age, gender and poverty that convinces many older women that they no longer have a useful role. She suggests ways to encourage older women to read the Bible through their own experience and to develop their own spirituality.
In his licentiate thesis Edgar Mayta Mamani went looking for signs of the inbreaking of God’s Reign among the youth living in El Alto, the sprawling urban area above La Paz that is now home to thousands who have migrated from Bolivia’s rural communities. Edgar found that the youth are building their own forms of community based on affective ties. The youth are also working to retain their Aymara or Quechua worldviews in the new urban setting as a way of resisting the consumerism of the globalized market. Edgar notes that few churches are accompanying the young people in these processes, and he offers his ideas for developing pastoral models to engage youth.
Colombian Anibal Cañaveral presented a new interpretation of the parable of the good Samaritan in his master’s thesis. Instead of the allegorical interpretations of the text that have been popular both in the past and today, Anibal argues that corporeality should be the key for understanding the text. In the beaten body of the man beside the road Anibal sees the thousands who have been killed by the paramilitary forces during the armed conflict in his country. He suggests we should resist seeing the different people in the parable as good or bad. By acknowledging the complexity of persons and their motives, we can create conditions for reconciliation and peace.
Our latest master’s degree has been earned by Rosa Maria Lopez Perez, a Costa Rican who is a pastor in the Wesleyan Methodist Church. As part of a special master’s program the UBL offered with three other universities on pastoral accompaniment and HIV, Rosa Maria focused on the experience of five Christian women in stable relationships who were infected by their partners. These women are part of a demographic that is at greatest risk for contracting HIV. In the framework of patriarchal culture, Rosa Maria explored how these women’s beliefs that both God and their husbands would protect them in fact made them more vulnerable to infection. Her thesis offers a theological vision to empower these women to overcome the social marginalization and deepening poverty that often accompanies the diagnosis of an HIV infection and to find healing and hope.
I am filled with gratitude and very humbled by the tremendous privilege I have of accompanying these students and others, helping them refine their questions and pointing them to resources as they construct theologies to serve the needs of their communities. Through your gifts and your prayers, you are part of making this work in God’s mission possible. Thank you. Presbyterian World Mission hopes to keep working with mission partners like the Latin American Biblical University into the future. Though giving for the support of mission co-workers is increasing, I am not yet fully supported. As we live into hope in this Advent season, I encourage you to put your hope into action. Please continue to pray for our work here at the UBL and please consider sending a gift of support.
In anticipation of Christmas joy,
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 66, 67
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