Category: Establishing Churches

A Beacon in the Valley

This particular Thursday night last May had been unlike any other night of evangelism our ministry team had led. Our “Coffee With God” outreach time of discussing a short Bible study in a one-on-one setting while sharing coffee together had gotten a little out of control. Normally we had a slow, but steady flow of people that allowed us to spend time with most of our participants and engage in the Bible study and any other discussions they might be interested in starting.

This Thursday night we experienced a tsunami-like flood of people who quickly and almost simultaneously surrounded our tiny table hoping to get a small cup of Nescafé Ricoffy (a hot drink blend of coffee and chicory that is popular in the South African coloured* community) mixed together with at least three heaping scoops of sugar. Additionally, unlike most of our previous weekly outings, the majority of the people that came that evening seemed to be only interested in the coffee portion of our coffee with God time, quickly exiting the area with their sugary, caffeinated drink in hand.

The mess of an evening was completed by the fact that two people who were in line for (what was supposed to be) a Bible study and coffee got into a fight leading to one of the men pulling a knife on the other. During this time, Denver, one of our ministry team members, was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was accidentally slapped in the face knocking his glasses to the ground, but yet unfazed – Denver is a fit guy and a champ after all. As things seemed to heat up I began walking my 6’5” 220 pound frame over to the two men with the goal of helping them peacefully resolve their issue. Initially I hoped my size and peaceful intervention might dissuade them from getting further into their argument. Really, though, I prayed as I walked because I was a bit unsure of how to handle the situation – I am of course a lover not a fighter. Fortunately, before I could even get halfway to them the two men ended their argument in a stalemate with each walking in the opposite direction down the road. This was the disaster that was our evangelism evening, or so we had thought.

That same evening we happened to have a professional photographer join us. He was taking pictures for an organization who partnered with Trinity Church. The photographer happened to be away taking neighborhood photos when the initial flood of people arrived and the disagreement arose, but was present during most of the remaining part of the activities.

About a month later we received some of the photos he took. The scene that he captured shed a different light on what had happened that night. Although many people rejected the “seeds” we had offered, for many others what had happened was engagement. A momentary, but meaningful engagement with their lives and with the Gospel.

Amidst the fray – and there was a whole lot of “fray-ing” going on – something special was going on as a number of individuals desired for more. They spent time talking with Nimo, Denver, Kaycee, Basil, Yolanda, and me. They asked questions, they discussed that night’s portion of Mark’s gospel we were offering, they interacted with the night’s real purpose behind the activity. They were not coerced or forced into talking, but craved something more than an overly sweet cup of coffee could provide. A number of them have continued to search and have had later conversations with some having joined us in our Sunday morning services.

Trinity Church Grades 5-6 Bible Study

These are the true dynamics of ministry at Trinity Church, a small congregation sitting in the heart of a neighborhood called Beacon Valley, an area with high poverty and even higher gang activity and drug use. A world-surprising church that itself sits within the valley all the while standing tall as a beacon of Gospel-sharing light amidst the numerous offerings of prosperity gospels and new apostle churches.

A church where even in a small congregation, the diversity spreads large with members being made up of coloured, Xhosa, British-descent, and Afrikaner South Africans; Zimbabweans, Dutch; Australians; and Americans. This diversity bringing in many different cultural backgrounds, outlooks, and histories yet everyone coming together in unity as a family of Christ. A church that seeks justice amidst the poverty where some members offer a weekly meal for the children whose parents have little. A church that opened a much-needed student- sponsored primary school (elementary school in the U.S.) in order to provide a quality education for many of the children in the neighborhood. A church that takes time to share the freeing Good News of Jesus with the alcoholic couple (we met one evening), the many drug users addicted to tik (meth in the U.S.), the gang members, and even the gang leader who happened to stop by to grab a cup of coffee and then stay for a bit to hear the Bible study we were offering. In contrast to its size, the Trinity stands large in faith and its ability to live out the great commission.

This is the church we have had the privilege of partnering with. The church, much like the aforementioned Thursday night, continues to quietly impact many people’s lives while mostly getting overlooked amidst the noise of the surrounding neighborhood and its reputation. A church that lacks ample financial resources and staff and (because of its poverty) is oftentimes looked down upon by wealthier churches in its congregation. A church that nonetheless continues to faithfully follow the Father in offering justice, mercy, and His Good News. A church that received our partnership and assistance all the while equally offering the strongest of witnesses and faith-building moments to us. May the Lord continue to use Trinity to surprise the world in all that it does and may we continue to see more of these small snapshot-like moments as it does so.

* The term “coloured” is an official designation for one of the five racial categories in South Africa and does not carry with it the racially derogatory association that it does in the United States.

By: Leo Wurschmidt, Serving in Africa

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More Than I Expected or Imagined: Serving Thai Believer’s Vision


Protestant missionaries have been working in Thailand for almost 188 years, and yet this nation, known as the most Buddhist country in the world, still has less than 1% evangelical Christian.  The remaining Thai population is made up of 93% Buddhists and about 6% Muslim.  So why has there been such slow progress in seeing Thais receive the Gospel?  I began to think that maybe we missionaries have not been as helpful as we thought we were.  After studying how Christian movements in the past have accelerated, I was convinced that reaching the city and seeing churches established was the most effective way to reach a nation.

After serving in a campus ministry organization in Thailand for 14 years, I changed mission organizations in 2005 and joined UWM.  During this transition time, I was encouraged by my director to do an informal survey to see what Thai leaders thought about what kind of work missionaries should be doing in Thailand.  After so little progress, I thought this would be helpful to see what Thai’s thought about the how ministry was being done and the missionaries’ role.  I talked with several leaders, but one Thai leader, who was the president of a Thai seminary, told me something that changed the trajectory of how I approach doing ministry.  He said, “in the past missionaries would come to me and ask, ‘Do you have any seminary students you could send me to help me start my church, or my denomination or ministry organization?’  So, we would send Thais to the help the missionary accomplish their vision.”  He said, “this was okay in the past, but now we have Thai leaders who have a vision and are equipped to start churches and ministries on their own. Now, we need the missionaries to come alongside us Thais, to help us accomplish the vision God has given us for our nation.”

At that point, the organization that I was working with had started two very weak churches, one in Bangkok and the other in the Northeast of Thailand. Not only was it propped up financially by us missionaries, there were too many missionaries in both churches and this inhibited the Thais ability to step up and lead.  So when this Thai leader said this, it made sense, and I’ve never gone back to trying to get Thais to help me accomplish my vision.  It’s their nation, and they know their people better than me. Therefore, they are more likely to see Thai people come to Christ.  At that point the Thai leader invited me into what was called, the Thailand National Plan.  This was a plan to see churches started all over the nation.

Over the past 11 years, I’ve been able to come alongside Thai leaders on the local, regional and national level to help them accomplish their vision to reach their nation.  This has been much more fruitful and rewarding in seeing churches started.  Locally, I am partnering with Thai business leaders to establish a church, and just this month we moved into a new facility that was not your traditional way of building a facility.  The business leaders partnered with another businessman who has soccer sport complexes throughout the city, so when he was planning to start a new business in our area of the city, we invested in the business and built our facility within the sport complex.  A creative and more economical way of getting a more permanent facility.   The thing about joining with a national to help them accomplish their vision of planting a church is that, if I have to leave at anytime, the ministry will continue because it was the Thais vision from the beginning.  I see missionaries struggling to turn over the churches they’ve planned or the ministries they have started, and many times the ministry dies because it was never owned by the Thais.

Regionally, our team has come alongside churches and organizations to provide discipleship and leadership training.  Offering this kind of training to many churches has been exciting and the local pastors welcome and appreciate the opportunity to partner with us.  On the national level, as God opened the door for me to serve through the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand and on a national planning committee thinking and planning for strategic initiatives on the national level.   Over the past 11 years, I have been able to serve denominational leaders and to bring resources, training and ideas to the table help enhance and expand the vision and plans of national leaders working together to reach the entire nation.

One recent example of working with Thai church planters is that I have been able to join with a church planter training team who trained over 250 pastors and leaders in four regions throughout the nations.  These pastors set a goal to start 150 new churches over the following year.  Last year when we followed up on these pastors 134 churches had been started.  Through helping the Thais accomplish their vision God has done more than I expected or imagined.

By: Gregg Nicholson, Serving in Thailand

His plans vs HIS Plans

Natán grew up in a home that was filled with unhappy moments.  Before he entered his teens he knew what his plans were.  As soon as possible he would leave home, join the Sendero Luminoso (the terrorist group), return to his village and kill those who were causing great problems in his family.  A young 12 year old boy had his plan, but God also had HIS plan.

Natán ran away from home to the big city of Arequipa.  He stayed with extended family who invited him to a youth group at a local church where his uncle was the pastor. That night Natán recognized God had a different plan for his life.

Even though he had grown up in church, Natán realized he needed to repent of his sins, receive God´s grace and forgiveness and enter into a relationship with Christ.  God´s plan began unfolding from that time onward.

A short time later he began attending a rural Bible Institute in Chiguata, Arequipa, Peru.  He was being discipled, learning about ministry and discerning God´s plan for his life.

After graduating from the Bible school God directed Natán to attend the biblical seminary in Lima to prepare to be a pastor. While studying there he began a relationship with one of the girls from Chiguata, Patricia, who would later become his wife.  

In 2016 Natán accepted a position as a pastor of a church in Lima, Peru.  It was  his first time to be the main pastor of an entire church.  He was asking God for help, direction and maybe someone who could walk alongside him during this time.  

During a visit to the seminary his path crossed with one of his former teachers at the Bible Institute in Chiguata.  It was a joyful reunion for both Natán and me, Vikki!

An even greater joy was shared as Natán met my husband Nelson and they began a friendship.  Soon after we moved to Lima, Natán asked Nelson to work alongside him; to be his mentor and coach as he began discovering what it means to be a pastor of a church.

Natán thought he knew his plans for the future.  God stepped in and reshaped those plans.

We thought we knew our plans for our future in Arequipa. God stepped in and reshaped those plans.

We are so thankful for His plans.  

By: Vikki Maya, Serving in Peru

Prayer

Pray for Natán and Patti and for us as we continue to seek God´s plan for our lives. Continue to lift up the country of Peru and for the many others who need HIS story lived out in their lives.

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Church in Belgium: Forming Faith, Community and Mission

United World Mission’s core belief is about developing well trained, spiritually-formed leaders and to strengthen and multiply disciple making churches that proclaim and demonstrate the gospel. Here in Brussels, Belgium a church called The Well is doing just that.

One area that they are concentrating on is mentoring and training new leaders in the church while also making disciples who make disciples who make disciples… These leaders go out into the neighborhoods to reach the lost with the gospel; through prayer, Bible studies and by serving those in need.

In my first six months here, I have seen the body of Christ in this church reach out to those that are lost and serve them in multiple ways. Mainly through the vehicle of Serve the City, which was founded by The Well.  Via Serve the City, the members of The Well serve breakfast to refugees two mornings a week as they wait in line for the government office to open so they can try to get asylum.  They also serve food to the homeless on the streets, and help feed those in shelters along with repairing and assisting the shelters as needed.  This involves working with government agencies that have these social programs and also with Roman Catholic charities as well. Due to this unique situation not only do we get to share Jesus with those that are in need, but also with community volunteers we serve alongside who may not be believers.  These relationships take time to build and the process is slow, but already I’ve had some personal conversations with people.

 

As The Well prays and seeks God’s direction in the life of the church, it is building up and changing communities. When there is a need the social agencies, charities, etc call on Serve the City for help. They have a reputation for genuinely caring for people and assisting when and where needed.

For example, Missionaries of Charity needed additional help feeding the homeless on Tuesday afternoons. This is in my neighborhood. As a member of The Well, through the umbrella of Serve the City, I started volunteering there on a weekly basis. Now it has been opened up to others in the community via STC website. I’m coordinating and teaching the volunteers how to serve there. There has been such a positive response that we are looking to help the charity in other ways such as in the mornings preparing the food to be cooked, cleaning their garden, and more. Sister Monia, who is the head nun there, was asked  a question one time by someone if I was a Roman Catholic missionary. She said no but we both love Jesus and we work together for Him. It is amazing to see God work through and use us from different denominations to further the kingdom, along with making new friends who still need Christ’s salvation.

Jesus said we are to go to the ends of the Earth proclaiming His name.  Here in Brussels where only 1% go to Protestant church and 5% go to Roman Catholic church there is much work to be done. I am grateful, honored, and humbled that God would call me to a place where there are so many lost and yet new relationships being made that will lead to their salvation.

By: Jen Rowland, Serving in Belgium

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Practical Training in French for West Africa


In October 2012 while on a sabbatical in France my husband, José, and I attended a Strengthen Your Interpersonal Skills (SYIS) workshop. At that time we were taking a Counseling class at Institut Biblique de Nogent to be better equipped to meet the great need for Practical Counseling amongst national leaders in French speaking West Africa. We were excited to be part of this workshop that we had heard so much about as being a wonderful tool to help with topics such as managing stress, maintaining margins,  listening well, help others solve their problems, etc….

At the end of that workshop we went to the Facilitators and said, “We want this workshop to be held in Senegal, our national leaders are in need of this type of training”. We were challenged to take the Facilitators Training and then introduce the program in our context of ministry.

God is so gracious to us! 3 years later, guess what!?! A training for SYIS Facilitators was organized for the first time in French in Senegal!!! Wow! God really wanted us to see our dream come true. Shortly after taking that training we discovered that a friend of ours, who is the leader of New Tribes Mission (Integral Mission) in Senegal was an experienced English Facilitator for SYIS. We invited him to join us and organize the Workshop in French. He accepted the challenge to do it in French with us. After some months of preparation our dream came true in Dakar this past February.

The need is so great that we ended up having a waiting list since our target number of 24 leaders was quickly reached.

Here are a few of the testimonies:

“I have been to many seminars but it is the first time to be part of one that is so dynamic and practical.” . I was very touched by the role plays.” (National Pastor from Dakar)

“My wife and I were transformed by the workshop. In our family now, our communication has improved tremendously, so whenever we start with our old way of communicating, we stop and either with my spouse or with the children we decide to start over the proper way just like we learned during the workshop.” (African missionaries)

“When can we get a training for Facilitators, we need to teach this to our leaders.” (World Vision Leader)

“I didn’t want to come to this workshop and I was thinking another seminar again!, but my supervisor wanted me to,so I came, But I can tell you, I am so glad I did, I learn so many new things that was needed in my life and in my leadership. I am grateful!” (National Pastor fromThies)

By: France-Lise Oliveria, Serving in Senegal
France-Lise and José: Regional Leaders for West Africa 

Navigating Difficult Decisions

Many years ago when my wife and I were developing the LAM (now UWM) student ministry in Bogotá, Colombia we met Daniel Salinas, a student of mechanical engineering at the National University.

salinasDaniel came from a Christian home, was an excellent student, and participated with enthusiasm in the activities of the group.  He played the guitar, led worship, and formed part of a musical group specializing in Andean music.

As the time of his graduation came close, he confided to us a difficult decision he had to make.  His uncle had studied in Europe and had married a German lady.  He was impressed with Daniel and said that through his contacts he could secure a scholarship for him to study for a Master’s degree in engineering in Germany.  For a Colombian from a poor family, this offer seemed like a gift from heaven!

However, as Daniel had considered this unique opportunity, he remembered that he had promised the Lord to give Him two years of his life following graduation as a symbol of his gratitude for the Lord loving and saving him.  So he faced a very difficult decision.  How could he turn down such an amazing offer!  It could influence his future.  Not only what he would learn, but a prestigious master’s degree from a European, above all a German, engineering school!  Certainly the Lord must have been in this windfall!  But as he laid the matter before the Lord, he recognized that he had made a promise, and a promise had to be kept.

Therefore, upon graduation, he shared with us all that he had decided to serve the Lord for two years.  We were all amazed, because we knew of the offer.  But, he wanted to Seek God First.

One year he worked in our office using his photographic skills in putting together audiovisual materials.  Then, he responded to an invitation to go to Uruguay with two other young university grads to pioneer a university ministry in Montevideo, where there was no Christian witness.

As the years stretch on, Daniel never did make it to Germany.  In Uruguay he met Gayna, an American missionary involved in the student ministry. Shortly after they married, he accepted an invitation to work with students in Bolivia, and they have been serving together ever since.

Then followed PhD studies in the U.S., and more missionary service in Paraguay.  During the years he has become a recognized Latin America theologian/scholar, has written and published several studies on Latin American historical theology.  However, his first book was as a heart wrenching sharing of his and Gayna’s difficult years raising their child, Karis, born with cerebral palsy, who died at only 7 years old.

Daniel is now facing another big decision: whether to teach in a Seminary in Medellín, Colombia or a Seminary just south of the U.S. border in Mexico.  Significant and important reasons tug in each direction, but as we chatted the other day when he was visiting us on the way home from observing the situation in Mexico, it was evident to me that he was working through his decision, once again, putting God first.

As I think of Daniel’s difficult decision, so many years ago, I recognize that if he had gone to Germany, his life would undoubtedly have been far different from his experience today.  He probably would be a well recognized Colombian engineer, with a lovely home and all the trappings.  Life has not been easy as a Latin American missionary, living by raising support from the small churches of Utah, where Gayna was raised.  But I am reminded of Jesus’ words: Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. Daniel’s unique contributions to the church in Latin America must certainly be part of these “all things”, as well as the Lord’s words to him one day, Well done good and faithful servant. I thank the Lord for him and Gayna, and pray for their continued fruitful ministry.

By: Jack Voelkel, former LAM missionary in Colombia and current UWM Board Member

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Changing Senegal through Farming and Discipleship

The Beersheba Project is changing the landscape of Senegal through agricultural techniques and discipleship of young farmers. United World Mission has missionaries serving on this multi-ethnic, multi-agency project.  Check out their story…

Aaron & Sara Toombs, Serving in Senegal

Beersheba Project from Go2819 on Vimeo.

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Saved to Serve

Most missionaries can wholeheartedly agree that this missionary life can keep us very busy. Leading, teaching, preaching, preparing, accounting and administration are just a few things that fill our days and our schedule. So much so that sometimes we forget to stop for the one right in front of us (the one we came to serve *gasp*). We were recently given the opportunity to reach out with the love of Christ in a personal, sacrificial way. Let me tell you about Brenda…

actis1

We were in a busy season of ministry getting ready to open the doors of our new Vocational Skills Center for Girls. We were up to our ears in planning meetings, looking for curriculum, hiring teachers, buying school supplies….yada yada (you get the picture) when Brenda came into our lives.

actis4

I knew Brenda from my teen moms’ outreach. She was a small girl, dark as charcoal with a shy demeanor and a broad smile, her belly burgeoning with the growing little one carried safely inside. She dropped out of school in 4th grade because she didn’t have the school fees, left home at 15 because of an abusive aunt, went looking for love in all the wrong places and at sixteen became pregnant. She was then abandoned by the baby’s father with nowhere to go. No job, no education, no land, no husband. This is becoming an all too common story woven throughout life in the village.

A few days after losing her newborn son, she was chased from her in-laws place as they simply didn’t have enough money to continue feeding yet another mouth. God placed her in our path at a most “inconvenient” time. As she invited us into her story, I must admit a million reasons for why we should not ‘enter in’ bombarded my mind. We were busy doing ministry (*wink*).

actis3

Yet, Brenda came into our lives in a time when God knew we needed to learn another important lesson. We were reminded how Jesus, though He had places to go and crowds to teach, took the time to stop and serve the one in front of Him. People matter. Lives matter. All the time. No matter the time.

actis-2So…together with the local pastor we work with, we hatched a plan. Together with his church, we would give Brenda the family she needed. We would co-parent her to meet her emotional, spiritual and physical needs. We found and rented a small house for her near the pastor and his wife. They can provide a family and supervision, and we also enrolled her in our Girls’ Center so she can learn important life skills and discipleship. We now sit with her as she endures her very first trip to the dentist; we scour the open air market looking for adequate clothing for her; we have long chats about discipline; you know, normal parenting stuff yet, in a very not-so-normal circumstance.

“Surprised By Love” is a core value of our mission. In this case, not only has Brenda been surprised by love, but also WE have been surprised by love. As we go on with the daily ministry we love, training village pastors, teaching Farming God’s Way, running the Vocational Center, visiting our sweet widows or teaching young moms about proper nutrition, we are reminded to stop and take care of the one God has placed in our path in that moment. We are forever changed in the messy, the hard, the inconvenient, the joy-filled, the abundant, the indescribable moments called life.

By: Shelley Actis, Serving in Uganda

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Educating Pastors and Lay Leaders

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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Training Latin Leaders

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?

Training Sunday school teachers
Training Sunday School Teachers

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.

Biblical exposition conference
Biblical exposition conference

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:

  1. Rooting people in the Scriptures
  2. Expressing your faith in your context
  3. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Prof. Mejía rural church
Prof. Mejía at a rural church
  1. 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.

Prof. Hays and studens

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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