A letter from Karla Koll serving in Costa Rica
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Dear companions in mission,
Greetings from Costa Rica in this New Year. This letter comes with my thanksgiving for your friendship and support. I pray that you have had your hope renewed through the celebration of Jesus’ birth. May we all be ready to face the challenges that this new year will bring.
The new year is getting off to a slow start for my family. By the time our daughter, Tamara, arrived here in Costa Rica on December 24, Javier was already feeling the flu coming on. Tamara and I succumbed on the day after Christmas. It was not the family vacation we had planned, but we were all together and able to rest quietly. Penny, my pug, thought it was wonderful to have so many people in the house with whom to cuddle for so many days. We still have some days of vacation left, so we will at least get to a beach before Tamara returns to Portland and her job with an immigration lawyer on January 8.
The Latin American Biblical University (UBL) officially opens for the new year on January 11. We have many hopes and dreams for this year as we await government authorization to begin offering degree programs online. We will also be offering several certificates this year, some online and others here on our campus. In these short courses people will have the opportunity to explore topics of interest as well as gain tools to help in ministry in different contexts. We are also looking forward to welcoming visiting groups to our campus to explore together with them aspects of God’s mission here in Costa Rica.
In recent years Asbury Theological Seminary has been holding consultations around the world on Christian revitalization movements. The fourth and final consultation will be held here in San Jose on January 12 to 16. Over the past couple of months I have been assisting the consultation coordinator, Dr. Bryan Froehle, with identifying participants and making arrangements. The consultation will be looking at five case studies: a megachurch here in Costa Rica, the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba, a Jesuit-run educational program for marginalized youth in Guatemala City, a Pentecostal ministry at the La Chureca dump in Managua, and a faith-based evangelical social ministry in El Salvador. I am looking forward to spending four days with a very interesting group of people analyzing religious changes in the region.
The first semester of our academic year starts on January 18. I will be teaching a course on the mission of the church for students here on campus and for distance students. My goal in the course is to help students articulate their own theology of mission so that they can guide their churches into healthy and sustainable ways of participating in God’s mission. Students haven’t registered for classes yet, so I don’t know how many students I might have. I ask your prayers for our students, that God would be working in people’s hearts to encourage them to study theology with us. Please also remember those who are writing their theses. We are hoping to have several more graduates soon.
One of the researchers who will be participating in the Asbury consultation is Robert Brenneman, the author of Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America. In his book Brenneman, a sociologist of religion, provides an overview of research about gangs in the northern triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) before he examines how some aging gang members have found a way out of the violent lifestyle of the gangs through conversion to evangelical churches. Brenneman is clear that churches alone cannot address the economic inequalities, broken families and dysfunctional educational systems that predispose many young men in the region to joining the gangs, yet he does suggest that the concern churches express over gang members might lead to work for social changes. One of the most intriguing conclusions in the book is the idea that evangelical Christianity is providing an alternative masculinity for young men in the region. This book is very helpful for anyone who wants to understand Central America today and how the flow of drugs and small arms through the region affects the lives of people here. Anecdotal evidence coming from our students and former students in Honduras suggests that the gangs have become more violent in their recruiting methods and less respectful of the churches in the few years since Brenneman concluded his research. Thousands of minors continue to flee the region for the imagined safety of the United States in order to avoid the gangs.
This month I ask your prayers for retired UBL professor Irene Foulkes. She suffered a stroke on December 14. As the new year begins, she continues to be hospitalized. Though she is physically very weak, she is able to speak and she recognizes the folks who go to visit her. Her family and friends hope that she will be able to return to her home soon to continue her recovery in familiar surroundings.
Irene joined the faculty of what was then the Latin American Biblical Seminary (SBL) in 1956 to teach Greek and New Testament. Though Irene and her husband, Richard Foulkes, initially served with the Latin American Mission, as the SBL identified with Latin American theology in the early 1980s the Foulkes became mission co-workers of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Irene has inspired generations of women and men throughout Latin America to study the Scriptures in new ways, especially with attention to issues of gender. Since her retirement she has remained active in the UBL community. In October Javier and I attended a Saturday morning course that Irene offered on interpreting the difficult texts that we find in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. We are praying for her recovery and for those who are caring for her.
2016 will be a critical year for Presbyterian World Mission. If enough churches and individuals increase their giving for the support of mission co-workers, Presbyterian World Mission will not have to terminate the service of any mission co-workers who wish to continue serving. I am very grateful for the support of so many folks that have made it possible for me to work here in Central America over the last three decades. Thank you. With your help I hope to continue serving beyond 2016. I will be spending part of this year in the United States and I look forward to reconnecting with many folks. Please do keep in touch.
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 67
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