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A University’s Contributions to Justice

A letter from Karla Ann Koll, serving in Costa Rica

October 2017

Write to Karla Ann Koll

Individuals: Give online to E200373 for Karla Ann Koll’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D506645 for Karla Ann Koll’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).


Dear companions in mission,

“The UBL increased my capacity to dream and to see the world of colors.” These words come from Coralia Blanco, currently the pastor of the Shalom Baptist Church north of Havana, Cuba. This year the Latin American Biblical University (UBL) is celebrating its twentieth anniversary as a university recognized by the government of Costa Rica. As part of the celebration, we asked graduates to share with us what their theological education has meant to them.

Since April of 1997, the UBL has granted bachelor’s, licentiate, and master’s degrees to 107 women and 130 men from 22 countries, including Equatorial Guinea, the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa. Several individuals have earned multiple degrees. Graduates are serving not only as pastors and teachers in formal and informal settings, but also in a variety of organizations and government agencies.

Over and over again, graduates affirm that their studies at the UBL provided them with academic skills and professional training while at the same time deepening their faith and contributing to their personal growth. Carmen Gomez of Chile says she was born again through her studies at the UBL as she learned to see God differently and to read the Bible in new ways. Arnoldo Aleman, a Pentecostal pastor from Guatemala, rediscovered Christ as the one who walks with his people, especially those who have suffered the most throughout the history of these lands.

The UBL has changed the way many understand pastoral ministry. Coralia Blanco developed a sense of pastoral ministry focused on social justice and on meeting the needs of the most marginalized people in the community. Manuel Ramirez, who teaches at a bilingual school in Ucayali that serves young people from eleven indigenous groups in the Amazonian region of Peru, came to understand that God’s action takes place outside of traditional denominational spaces and so must the pastoral action of the church. For Sergio Talero, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia, courses at UBL helped him learn to contextualize the liturgy, connecting the celebration of our faith with the lives of the people in the community.

Many graduates have expressed their gratitude for the academic rigor of their UBL training and the way they were encouraged to use their research and teaching skills in the service of social change. Through the alternative, inclusive, interdisciplinary and liberating pedagogy of the UBL, Angel Roman, a Guatemalan theologian who is currently working in Bolivia, writes that he came to see theology as fundamental in the process of social transformation.

For many, the UBL was their first experience of being in an ecumenical setting with Christians from many traditions and cultures. Carmen Gomez reports she “lived in an evangelical bubble” before her studies at the UBL. Nidia Fuentes, a Roman Catholic engaged in pastoral work in the United States, discovered that no church or group has the complete truth about God and that we need each other to understand the fullness of God’s love for the world.

Both women and men mentioned how important the UBL’s gender perspective has been in forming their understanding of their own identities and the need to work for gender justice. Guadalupe Cunachi of Ecuador, who directs formation programs for educators in Salesian schools and universities, writes of how her studies at the UBL allowed her to claim her own experience of God as the source of her pastoral work and her theology. Karoline Mora of Costa Rica says her studies at the UBL allowed her to develop the capacity to lift up her own voice. She realized that she doesn’t need to repeat theologies written in other places. Instead, she can dare to articulate her own reflection about God from her own context. Men like Daniel Gonzalez of the Lutheran Church in Peru express how important feminism and gender equity is for them, even though their work for gender justice in the churches and in society sometimes brings them into conflict with other men or with their denominational leadership.

Regardless of where their ministries have taken them, graduates affirm the importance of the skills they learned at the UBL. Genoveva Nieto, a nun from Colombia active in work against human trafficking, says she learned to read her own life as well as the situation of churches and of the world from a biblical perspective while at the same time she learned to read the biblical text with women. Danahé Zambrano of Ecuador, who works with a joint state and civil society effort to promote the human rights of vulnerable groups such as migrants and the LGBTQI community, says she doesn’t remember much Hebrew or Greek, but she has not forgotten the way she learned to analyze biblical texts.

Though we are marking 20 years as a university, our institutional history is much longer. In 1922, Susan Strachan, one of the founders of what became the Latin American Mission, opened a Bible training school for women in San Jose, Costa Rica. The next year, a group of men from Nicaragua asked to be admitted. After many years as a Bible institute for women and men, the name was changed in the 1940s to the Latin American Biblical Seminary to reflect the transformation into an institution of post-secondary education. The decision to embark on the process to become a university responded to the demand coming from students for state-recognized degrees that would allow them access to advanced studies in other countries as well as to employment opportunities with the state sector or non-governmental organizations in their home countries.

Today the UBL is the only ecumenical institution for theological education in Latin America with a continent-wide reach. By moving our programs online, we hope to offer more women and men an opportunity to study theology. I am grateful for the prayers and gifts that make it possible for me to serve on the UBL’s international faculty. The current students of the UBL and I are counting on your continued support as we move together into the UBL’s third decade of service to the churches of Latin America and the Caribbean. If you or your congregation have not yet given toward my support for this year, please consider doing so. With your help, the UBL will help more students develop the capacity to dream of a more just and peaceful world.



Please read this important message from Jose Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission

Dear Friend of Presbyterian Mission,

What a joy to send this letter! As Presbyterian World Mission’s new director, I thank God for your faithful support of our mission co-workers. The enclosed newsletter celebrates the work you made possible by your prayers, engagement, and generous financial gifts. We can’t thank you enough.

After I began in April, I met with mission co-workers and global partners and was blessed to see firsthand the mighty ways God is working through them! Our global partners are asking us to help them move forward with life-changing ministries. Because of your support, we can say “yes” to these creative and exciting initiatives.

I write to invite you to make an even deeper commitment to this work. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? We need your gifts to end the year strong. With your help, we filled two new mission co-worker positions and plan to recruit for others. The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer the call to serve.

Second, would you ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s mission budget for 2018 and beyond? Our mission co-workers serve three-year or four-year terms. Your multi-year commitment will encourage them greatly.

Our mission co-workers are funded entirely from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours. Now more than ever, we need your financial support.

In faith, our mission co-workers accepted a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission sent them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts?

With gratitude,

Jose Luis Casal

P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!

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