There are two key moments in my life that have transformed the way I understand partnership in global missions. The first moment was 10 years ago when I was a student attending Urbana, Intervarsity’s missions conference. Pastor Oscar Muriu of Nairobi Chapel challenged all 22,000 of us in attendance when he compared the global Church to the global body of Christ. He helped me see that the African Church is a crucial part of the body, as is the North American Church. We can’t be the full body of Christ without exchanging our gifts and working together to build up the whole body.
This was an invitation for me to be in relationship with my African brothers and sisters as equal partners, which required a greater depth of humility and vulnerability on my part – to approach missions as a learner and recipient of gifts offered by the African Church. When I started living and serving in different African countries, I began to realize what some of those gifts are: a love of prayer and worship, deep surrender and faith, courage to practice both lament and hope.
Fast forward from 2006 to 2016. I am now serving as a United World Mission missionary with a Congolese-led partner ministry, Congo Initiative. Through our Christian university and other leadership initiatives, we are investing in a new generation of envisioned leaders who are building a flourishing Congolese society. It is here that I’ve been invited to work out what a gift exchange between different “body parts” looks like.
For the last three years, I’ve experienced a deep welcome into the lives of many people, both from Congo Initiative and UWM, and this has transformed my understanding of partnership a second time. I’ve learned that the practice of hospitality is essential to the creation of healthy partner relationships.
In Congo, hospitality has been significant for healing the wounds left by old missions paradigms that involved physical separation between missionaries who lived on mission compounds and local Christians who weren’t allowed to enter their homes. Just the very act of accepting an invitation to dinner in the home of a Congolese pastor and receiving my Congolese colleagues to share a meal at my house speaks volumes. It communicates that we are all members of one body with valuable lives to offer one another. It still strikes me that when I say thank you to someone here for hosting me, his or her response is often, “Thank you for accepting my invitation.”
And just as hospitality between UWM staff and Congolese staff brings us closer to healing from old wounds on an individual level, Congo Initiative’s commitment to welcome American church partners to come to see and join what God is doing here in Congo helps bring reconciliation to the Global Church. These church partners come bearing gifts of time, resources, teaching and research expertise, friendship and prayer to our organization when they visit us. But the paradigm of hospitality reminds us that our African partners are not only receivers. As Jean Vanier says: “Welcome is one of the signs that a community is alive. To invite other to live with us is a sign that we aren’t afraid, that we have a treasure of truth and of peace to share.”
My current role is focused on building partnerships locally and internationally for Congo Initiative, which involves communicating with and hosting people and teams from across the African continent, Europe and North America. It is a privilege to be a part of welcoming my brothers and sisters from around the world to come receive some of the same gifts I’ve received over the years from the African Church. I’m also aware of the generosity required by my Congolese leaders here in Congo both to give and receive. When Congo Initiative receives visitors, our leaders here allow them (and permanent international staff like me) to not only learn about their vision and culture, but through our gifts and contributions, to shape and influence it, too. They show me more of our hospitable God who not only created a beautiful world, but invited his creatures to be active members and participants in cultivating his creation.
The common value of partnership is the reason that UWM and Congo Initiative have decided to work together for the development of leaders committed to building a God’s kingdom in Congo. As you’ve already read, we have partners around the world who visit, pray and support us. If you would like to be a prayer partner with us, you may sign up for updates here: https://congoinitiative.org/receive-updates/.
By: Jessica Shewan, Serving in DR Congo
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Imagine that you were searching for a church to attend. What are some of things that you would include on your list of “essentials” as you visited churches from week to week? Solid biblical teaching would probably make the list along with other things like varieties of ways to get involved, size, location, programs for kids, etc. The list would vary from person to person and from family to family; however, one aspect that would remain consistent would be the absence of a particular question, “Has the pastor been educated?”
We don’t have to ask whether or not the pastor has been educated because theological education is quite nearly a universal requirement in churches across the U.S. The question we may ask is “where has this pastor been educated?” but that question presupposes that the pastor has received some sort of theological education. What we need to understand is that in Latin America, and really across the majority world, it cannot be taken for granted that a pastor has been theologically educated and in some cases, especially in rural contexts, their general education stopped before the sixth grade.
ESEPA seminary is concerned with providing adequate preparation for pastors and lay leaders across Costa Rica and various other parts of Latin America. Any number of ways exist by which this goal can be pursued and span the spectrum between informal, including discipleship, conferences, basic training, etc., and formal which is geared more towards institutional-type learning for academic credit at higher levels (undergraduate, graduate and doctoral). While we recognize the less formal categories as valid and certainly necessary and even participate in them through our own certificate program, the Lord has clearly called ESEPA to provide the latter primarily.
We provide this education in a variety of methods. The primary method of delivering theological education is through courses on our campus in San José and online. We have seven associate’s degrees that can be completed in two years as well as three bachelor’s degrees that can be completed in four years. We also have four master’s degrees – three academic and one practical. In addition to our central campus we also have an extension campus located at one of the local churches in the city. This additional campus allows us to provide classes for students who find it difficult to commute across town for various reasons. Finally, we offer courses through three regional extension campuses outside of the city. These regional campuses are set-up through local churches and are designed to handle a cohort of about 15 students that study a particular degree, normally Pastoral Ministry. The vast majority of our students, especially those at our regional campuses, are active in ministry.
Despite our efforts and those of other institutions across Latin America, there remain barriers when it comes to access to theological education. The most common barriers are financial and a lack of education. ESEPA has sought to respond to the educational needs, especially those of regional pastors, through our regional extensions. The groups we bring together are similar in their education background so we can design our courses around their needs and deliver the courses in a suitable manner. Two of our extension campuses meet for one week every two months. They have a facility that provides room and board for the week, which gives the professor the additional benefit of interacting with students outside of class.
The greatest barrier to access is financial. The cost of higher education is prohibitive and so many pastors simply go without. ESEPA has sought to overcome the financial barrier through a model that allows for local churches to commit monthly funds in exchange for a certain number of members to have access to courses each semester. The cost of one course, not per credit, at ESEPA is $110. The total cost of a 4-year degree is roughly $3,500, which represents a fraction of the cost in the U.S., yet it is a tremendous barrier here.
The agreement that we have reached in partnership with local churches is to allow them a particular number of students full-time in exchange for monthly payment. The structure is tiered in order to offer a variety of possibilities, for example for $60 per month a church can send two students full-time and year round. Normally each student would pay roughly $1,320 to take the same number of classes but through the church they have access for $720. The positive side for ESEPA is that it helps retain students and offers monthly income to cover the various monthly expenses incurred by a brick-and-mortar institution. The tiers continue offering 5 students for $120 per month and 15 students for $240 per month. While these agreements have opened the doors for a number of students to be able to study, the reality is that financial barriers remain that prevent many others from having the opportunity.
Our vision as an institution is to provide quality education for pastors and lay leaders that adequately prepares them for the ministry. In the case of those who are already in ministry, our goal is no different. We want to equip them to better serve the people to whom they have been called. God has used ESEPA over our 32-year history to impact a large number of students and churches. We believe that God has positioned in such a way as to have an exponentially larger impact in the future as the institution continues to grow. We currently serve nearly 400 students across all of our programs with nearly 200 of those students enrolled in bachelor’s level or above.
However, we cannot pursue that which God has called us to without help. We believe that we are forward thinking in our approach but we also recognize that forward thinking is not enough. If you are interested in theological training or if you are interested in helping to make sure that the gospel that is preached in Costa Rica is the same gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ found in the Scriptures, please pray for ESEPA.
By: Andrew Halbert, Serving in Costa Rica
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Global Perspective: Forming Church Leaders to Turn Growth into Maturity
The days when Evangelicals in Colombia were ignored or marginalized as an insignificant minority are gone. The exponential growth of evangelicals in the country—as in the rest of Latin America—has brought a dramatic change in the religious sociological landscape. We have become a significant minority with presence in all spheres of society. This opens doors of opportunity to serve in the name of Christ and also poses huge challenges to the church. A key question is: How do we take the opportunities and face the challenges so that numerical growth turns into maturity and God glorifying fruit, and does not become only demographical data?
Lively worship, massive events, successful church planting, generous sharing, and even social acceptance do not sustain healthy growth. Otherwise the New Testament could have stopped in Acts chapter 2, with the narrative of Pentecost, and an attachment: a logistics manual on how to reproduce it in different cultural settings around the Roman world of the first century.
For 72 years the Biblical Seminary of Colombia (FUSBC) has participated in the formation of leaders for the evangelical church in Colombia and other Spanish speaking churches around the world. We have come to appreciate more and more at least three key elements that the New Testament shows are foundational for the sustained health of the church:
- Rooting people in the Scriptures
- Expressing your faith in your context
- Articulating your faith in your own voice
These give focus to what we do at FUSBC through our programs: B.A. in Theology (residential and on-line), Graduate Degree in Christian World View and Ethics, Ministerial Institute of Medellin (Bible Institute), Continued education (non-formal), and Prison Bible institutes.
- Rooting people in the truth
Jovanny, a pastor’s son, came from a small town. Upon graduation, his denomination appointed him to pastor in his hometown. The congregation did not want him; he was young, inexperienced. But after they received his humble and effective teaching of the Scriptures, nurturing them in the truth and shepherding them into obedience to that truth in their day to day situations, they came to love him. People enjoy enthusiastic worship, but they treasure more shepherding, rooted in God’s Word so they grow spiritually into maturity.
- Expressing the faith in your context
Jovanni took all the traditional seminary courses on biblical interpretation, church history, theology, preaching, etc. In these courses, he was challenged to connect what happened in the classroom with what was happening in our country.
During the worst days of the drugs cartel wars in Medellin, the Seminary developed a course on the Church in situations on violence. Today, when more than 10% of the Colombian population are internally displaced, faculty at FUSBC are working with churches, scholars from other countries and displaced communities on a research project focusing on Theology and Displacement. At the same time, another team is working on a course on Christians as agents of peace and reconciliation, and yet another group teaches on Pastoral care of women. When seminary professors, students and graduates root their teaching and service in the Scriptures and connect it with the context, the church is nurtured into maturity.
- Articulating your faith in your own voice
An avid reader, Jovanni was always asking why the seminary library did not have more books written by Latin American evangelical authors or, at least, from a Latin American perspective. To this day, most literature used in theological education in the majority world comes from other contexts. Writing for a seminary professor in Latin America is a major challenge: you do not get paid sabbaticals or research assistants. In spite of this, one of the leaders of a major publishing project from and for the evangelical church in Latin America told me recently: FUSBC is the single major contributor of authors (faculty and graduates) to this project. Another one of our graduates articulates his faith for the church and the un-churched through his music which is known all over the continent. When the church articulates the truth in her own voice, for her own context, it is growing into maturity.
A mature church is one that remains faithful. The Biblical Seminary of Colombia focuses in theological education leaders to that end. Among our graduates are a great number of pastors, presidents of denominations and faith-based organizations in the country and at a global scale. While some have reached positions of renown, the service of most may never be recognized beyond their neighborhoods. However, they are those who have nurtured believers in the truth all over Colombia and in other Latin American countries, as well as planted churches among Latin American immigrants in the United States and Europe.
By: Elizabeth Sendek, Serving in Colombia as Director of the Biblical Seminary of Colombia (FUSBC)
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“Be careful what you teach in class on Wednesday, because it probably will be preached in church on Sunday.” That’s what my mentor, Dr. Gene Green, warned me, before I first began teaching in Colombia. A former Latin American seminary president, he knew what he was talking about…seminary students very often take their sermons directly from what they learned in class that week. But Dr. Green undersold what a legion of churches and ministries and audiences that theological education impacts. So let me introduce you to some of the students I get to teach at the Biblical Seminary of Colombia (FUSBC).
Wilcar is a Venezuelan who left an engineering career in his home country to come study theology at FUSBC. He aced my classes in Synoptic Gospels and Acts, works as my teacher’s assistant, and has recently been appointed the pastor of a new Baptist church just south of Medellín.
Hanz, our seminary’s former student body president, is a Lutheran, and just finished my class on Faith and Science. Even though he has not yet graduated, this talented and charismatic man is already actively training pastors through one of FUSBC’s extension programs: the Ministerial Institute of Medellín.
Jennifer took Synoptic Gospels with me. Wife and mother of two, she also runs the children’s ministry at her church, Iglesia Cristiana Monte del Rey, and writes monthly articles for their evangelistic magazine.
Giovanny was a pastor with the Confraternidad denomination and came to the seminary for more formal training. Although he is a widower and a single father, Giovanny continues to pastor, and every week he goes into the notorious Bella Vista Prison to teach Scripture and life skills to the inmates.
Alejandro and Andrea studied Gospels and Acts with me, all the while working as the Directors of Young Life for all of Colombia. As Alejandro completes his studies, he is discipling numerous younger seminarians and flying back and forth to Bogotá to manage a nation-wide ministry.
David Eduardo left a career as a chemical engineer to plant a church in Comuna 6, where he ministers to families in a context of oppressive drugs, gangs, and domestic violence. In spite of the fact that he hadn’t taken my prerequisite New Testament Introduction class, David ventured to take my grueling Synoptic Gospels course, and because he is whip smart and ultra-disciplined, he excelled.
Paola came to live with her older sister in the seminary before she was university age, owing to domestic conflicts, but enrolled just as soon as she finished high-school. She’s a second-year student, and in addition to studying, she serves in the music ministry in her local church and also works in a youth ministry in a dangerous neighborhood (barrio de invasión) on the outskirts of the city.
This is just a sample of the sorts of students we get to teach at FUSBC. They don’t come here because their parents are making them go to university. They don’t do it because they want to live in an idyllic and beautiful setting. They don’t do it because it is easy. They all are actively involved in ministry even while they study. And they spread out among all the major denominations of Colombia, distinguishing themselves as the best-educated and best-trained leaders in their communities. It is nothing short of a privilege to work with them, especially because teaching these students has an immediate impact in numerous pulpits and congregations, in major parachurch organizations, and in the prisons and the most dangerous neighborhoods of this massive city.
Of course, if you are a theologian with a PhD, teaching may not be your only passion; chances you are want to do cutting-edge theological research, speak in conferences, and publish books. And you can do that at FUSBC. The seminary recognizes that its future as a university requires the production of scholarly literature, and so they allot a major portion of time so that their professors with doctorates can continue to write about the subjects that impassion them. Likewise, we are in the midst of a major research project on the humanitarian crisis of forced internal displacement in Colombia. We have teamed up with economists, psychologists, sociologists, NGOs, pastors and community leaders for a major three-year research project in a half a dozen different locations in Colombia, with the goal of mobilizing the local churches to be agents of justice and restoration in their communities. Far from marking the end of my academic career, being a missionary professor at FUSBC has accelerated my research far beyond what I could have imagined. Being a scholar in this environment is nothing short of thrilling.
FUSBC’s ministry works—it works great—and as a result, our student body is growing. So we need more professors, serious theologians with a passion to see academic rigor galvanize a myriad of ministries in some of the hardest quarters of Latin America.
By: Dr. Christopher Hays, Serving in Colombia
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