In Nicaragua, Bible Training Strengthens Churches

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Inside a sweltering, one-room church, fans blow, children wander, and English and Spanish blend together. At the front of the room, Chris Moore, a pastor from Fort Smith, Ark.,  passionately teaches on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. By his side, Nicaraguan Chico Avendaño translates the words into Spanish.

This gathering in Chinandega, a city of 120,000, is one of eight Bible Institutes happening throughout Nicaragua twice a year. Most of the attending 80 pastors and leaders from rural churches don’t have the resources to attend a formal institution for biblical education. These four-day gatherings address that need, and the accompanying problem of incorrect doctrine being taught to congregations.

“So, what are people teaching?” asks Bible Institute professor Stefan Feliz-Kent. “Basically what they hear on the radio or TV, which is a lot of prosperity gospel and garbage doctrine.”

Jim Wilson, missionary with ReachGlobal and the general overseer of the Bible Institutes, seeks to fulfill the need for formal theological education in rural Nicaragua.

“Our primary objective is to provide Latin American pastors with biblical, theological, and pastoral training that they otherwise don’t have access to,” Wilson says. “We have 15 courses; it takes about seven years to complete the program.”

In 1998, when he was pastoring a church in Huntsville, Ala., Wilson got a call from a friend asking if his church would be interested in doing long-term ministry in Nicaragua. After his first trip there, Wilson saw the need for pastoral training and his church decided to begin meeting that need.

“We began in 2000 with our first institute in Chinandega and God has blessed that,” Wilson says. “Now, we have eight different Bible Institutes in eight different cities in Nicaragua. We also have three in Costa Rica and we have one in Panama.”

As a result of the growth, Wilson says, more U.S. churches have begun partnering with the Bible Institutes and adopting specific locations. Churches who adopt an institute are responsible for bringing a team to teach, providing lunch for the pastors who attend and paying their daily transportation costs.

On day one, Moore and his team hand out copies of “For Your Joy” (“Para Tu Gozo” in Spanish) by John Piper. Many pastors ask for multiple copies to take back to their congregations. Giving out resources like Piper’s book is another role that churches like Moore’s — Fellowship Bible Church of Fort Smith — take on when adopting an institute.

“I believe that there is a lack of resources that are available to the pastors,” Moore says. “What we are able to provide in the Bible Institute is resources for the pastors and the church leaders so that they can get equipped and trained so that they can turn around and equip and train their people.”

Avendaño, a former Bible Institute student, followed this model.  After attending the Bible Institute, he changed his approach toward reading the Bible.

“When I am reading the scriptures, I apply the message that they’ve given us: how to read the Bible and how to interpret it,”  Avendaño says.  “I used to go to the Bible like any other book and I didn’t know how to do it in the right way. Now, I read it, meditate on it and then I interpret it and apply it.”

One of the key beliefs in the Bible Institute ministry is that training locals like Avendaño will give their ministries a lasting impact.

“[In missions] we don’t have a good history of transferring the authority to the local leaders,” Feliz-Kent says. “This ministry is doing that pretty well. Our idea is teach the local pastors and church leaders these fundamentals so that they in turn, continue teaching them to others.”

Feliz-Kent believes that equipping local church leaders with correct doctrine and principles for interpreting the Bible will help the church in Central America as a whole prosper.

“The church is not what it’s supposed to be because of bad teaching. That’s what motivates me and that’s what moves me. That’s why I do this. There is great need for theological education,” Feliz-Kent says.

Leaders of the institute agree that they are seeing God move in their ministry.

“They’re hungry, they want to learn, they’re picking up what you’re saying and are able to respond and ask good questions and explain it in their own words,” Feliz-Kent says.

Wilson also finds the growth of the institute and the testimonies of the pastors to be an encouragement.

“So many of them have come back and told me the blessing they have seen in their church,” Wilson says. “As they have turned around and reproduced and multiplied what we have brought them, they’ve taught it to their people.”

After the final session, despite the humid heat that fills the room and the six hours of intensive teaching and worship they’ve just experienced, the local pastors form a line behind Wilson and the team of teachers from Fort Smith. Some come up with their Bibles and ask probing questions about what they’ve learned. Many kiss the teachers on the cheek and bless them for their work.

“Thanks a lot for this kind of job that you are all doing here because you are a great instrument from the Lord,” Avendaño tells some of the leaders. “Just by coming here from a long distance to train pastors, I can see you have a love for the Lord.”

Taking Bytes of the Bible

ProMETA delivers seminary courses online

For Latin American church leaders like Hernan Aguilar, the online education revolution has delivered something that was once out of their reach: a top-shelf theological education.

Hernan is a member of Vida Abundante Del Sur Church in Desamparados, Costa Rica. He leads a discipleship program of 200 people within his church of 700 members, on top of his full-time job as a field representative for a large Christian non-profit.

As a father, husband, career man, church board member and discipleship leader, Hernan (like thousands of other Latin American pastors) has little time for seminary classes, let alone the money or the means to travel to them.

However, with ProMETA (the Spanish acronym for “Accessible Master’s Programs in Theological Education”), Hernan has been able to take seminary classes without sacrificing the other responsibilities in his life.

“ProMETA for me was God’s answer to prayer,” Hernan says.

Sharp students, accessible courses

ProMETA is an online, non-profit seminary program started in 2006 by ReachGlobal – after six years of testing. Based in San Jose, Costa Rica, ProMETA offers flexible and accessible Biblical training to Latin American leaders, all in Spanish, though additional materials are available in English and Portuguese. 

A full 60-hour master’s degree curriculum costs about $4,200. Students can earn a master’s degree either in contextualized biblical theology or Christian leadership.

ProMETA currently has 109 students from 19 countries (incoming students must have a college degree). The average student age is 42, and many are professionals who come with a master’s degree or even a Ph.D. Many students also work as pastors, either full-time or in addition to other full-time careers such as engineering or medicine.

However, most have no formal Bible training — and it’s the Bible training they really want, says Ted, ProMETA’s Academic Dean.

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“You’re talking about people very thirsty for learning more. So they’re sharp people with a lot of motivation.”

— Ted, ProMETA academic dean

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“They’re in ministry – this isn’t preparation for ministry,” Ted says. “So they are looking for answers, they’re looking for ways to improve their ministry, deepen their knowledge and skills.

“You’re talking about people very thirsty for learning more. So they’re sharp people with a lot of motivation. That makes it a wonderful learning experience – for the teachers, above all.”

Education made relevant 

A typical ProMETA class might have 10 students from four or five different countries connected through the class forums and, often, live discussions over Skype. Through its online forums and discussions, ProMETA wants to make theological education both flexible and available for Latin American leaders like Hernan, says Keith, ProMETA’s director.

“We are targeting the Hernans of Latin America that can take principles and craft something … that is relevant to their culture and totally biblical,” Keith says.

Hernan, 44, has been attending ProMETA classes since 2010 and has completed about 40 percent of his theology degree coursework. His goal is to pass on what he’s learned as a ProMETA student to other leaders in his church. His hope is to increase the number of people in the church’s discipleship program from 200 to 560 – 80 percent of the church.

Along with Vida Abudante del Sur’s pastor and other leaders, Hernan developed all of the discipleship material from scratch. The discipleship program teaches basic theology and doctrine of Christianity, leadership, and other key ministry values—for example, excellence, discipline and friendship.

Hernan leads the committee that produces the materials, and he then assists in teaching the leaders within the program who go on to teach their own private groups. That kind of vision and initiative exemplifies what ProMETA tries to instill, according to Keith.

“The advantage that Hernan has is he’s writing it as a Latin American and he knows how to contextualize it,” Keith says. “The way he writes it, the examples that he uses, the words — they all connect with the new believers, whereas a missionary would be totally oblivious to all of that. So that produces more effective disciples.”

Hernan, who has not yet finished the program, says he is enjoying his education and the professors so far. He has found the program rigorous and relevant to Latin American culture.

“I have developed skills and knowledge and ambition as a leader — ambition that all of our members of the church become disciples,” Hernan says. “The program has helped me to serve better in my church.”

And that really is the motivation behind what ProMETA does.

“We’ve got a very strong feeling and desire to equip those people who are in a position to make the biggest impact on their region so that there’s a strong ripple effect from these folks,” Ted says. “They’re capable of teaching other people already. We just want to make them effective in that.”

PRAY 

  • For students’ lives, ministries, and nations to be transformed as a result of their studies with ProMETA.
  • That ProMETA will find new ways to make the school accessible to a wider audience of Christian leaders in the region.
  • That ProMETA will find new sources of long-term funding for its programs.
  • That ProMETA will attract and retain students who can train others in solid theology and practice.
  • For the health and growth of churches that ProMETA students lead and minister in.
  • That God would widen the positive influence of ProMETA students and their churches so that the gospel of Jesus can penetrate more and more communities.

LEARN MORE

See a photo gallery about one area of ReachGlobal’s work in Costa Rica.

Read more about ReachGlobal’s work in Latin America.

GIVE

If you’d like to support the development of ProMETA courses, go here.
If you’d like to support the ProMETA scholarship fund, go here.

Transforming ‘Small Worlds’

Jobs for Life, ReachGlobal partner on Costa Rica extension

Karina Carmona has been a Christian for more than 25 years, but she never knew how deeply her faith connected to her work – until Jobs for Life came along.

Thanks to a partnership with Reachglobal’s team in San José, Costa Rica, Jobs for Life is being taught in Spanish for the first time.

At Vida Abundante del Este, a non-denominational church in San José, Carmona and her classmates are being challenged to recognize their value in Christ and the unique qualities they can bring to their jobs.

A 36-year-old businesswoman with a high-school education, Carmona has nearly completed her first Jobs for Life program. For the past three years, she has worked beside her mother, making desserts and special orders at Fresh Market, an upscale market and bakery in San José. However, she longs to attend one of Costa Rica’s universities, too.

“This course was part of my plan to be able to be sure of my abilities, of my talents, that God has given me in order to decide [on a career focus],” she says. “I have a few months left before I have to decide exactly what I want to study. I am sure that my job will almost always be directed towards [working with people].”

Viewing work as a calling

The idea of Jobs for Life was born in Raleigh, N.C., in 1996. The organization’s goal is to help build lives, one job at a time. It now has more than 316 active sites in the United States.

Dan Jenkins, a ReachGlobal missionary in Costa Rica, recognized a need to expand Jobs for Life to Latin America. He partners with local churches to develop, equip and encourage people to honor God in their work.

One of the greatest barriers we face here is that few Christians view their work as a calling,” Jenkins says. “But we’ve found several pastors and lay leaders who are eager to see this change.”

So about a year ago, Jenkins talked with David Spickard, president and CEO of Jobs for Life. The two decided to launch the program in Fall 2011. And so began the time-consuming process of translating the materials from English to “tropicalized” Spanish.

“The work being done by the leaders at Vida Abundante to translate the JFL curriculum will have an impact on the entire Spanish speaking world, not just Latin America,” Spickard says. “It really is the start of something extraordinary.”

A transformed world

When the leaders of the church asked Guiselle Quesada, a member and local psychologist, to teach Jobs for Life, she was not initially eager to accept. Flipping through the weekly lessons, though, she found herself identifying with the intended audience.

“When I was reviewing the lessons of this course, I said to God, ‘This is my life!’ … What I give here, I speak with ownership because it’s my life experience. So maybe for this [reason] I put so much passion in it.”

In the final weeks of the class, Quesada hopes that students, like Carmona, will be living catalysts for Jobs for Life to expand outside the boundaries of San José.

“I can’t change the world,” she says. “But I can change my small world. If there are small worlds that change and change and change, we are going to have a better society.”

Spreading the work

Spickard recently spent two weeks in Costa Rica to see the work that is being done through Jobs for Life in San José.

“My visit helped me see how it is working firsthand, connect directly with their leaders and understand how the Lord is raising up men and women to embrace Jobs for Life’s mission—transform lives for His glory—and be used to spread this work across Latin America.”

Carmona has found the course to be a much-needed reminder to live out her Christian values in every area of life, especially her job.

“This part of our profile is something really important, right? For any person that wants to hire us, I think that knowing we are honest, good collaborators, [and] loyal is really important.”

What You Can Do

Pray

  • That God would bring more people to the Jobs for Life program in San José and La Carpio.
  • That the students would be challenged to grow as they learn how to apply biblical values in their everyday lives, especially at work.
  • That another generation of Jobs for Life leaders would emerge as they continue to expand.
  • For direction and passion as Karina makes plans to attend university.

Learn More

Write to latinamerica@efca.org for more information on this new partnership.

Read about ReachGlobal’s work at a health clinic in Costa Rica.

 

 

 

 

 

© 2012 EFCA. All rights reserved. 

Training Pastors in Haiti

For the first time that day, Don Smith, a retired EFCA pastor, was met with silence from the young Haitian pastors and leaders he was teaching.

“I asked them, ‘Why do you think Jesus taught in parables?’” Don says. “They didn’t offer any answers. It was quiet. I didn’t understand their silence. Then I asked, ‘What is a parable?’ They didn’t know.”

When Don went to train pastors in Haiti with ReachGlobal for a week in January, he quickly discovered how great the need for solid biblical training is in a country where evangelicalism is growing.

The young men — most in their early 20s — who attended the training at Jesus in Haiti Ministries (a ReachGlobal partner ministry in Haiti) eagerly devoured the teaching. Their discussions often grew lively. Their attention stayed directed towards Don and his co-trainer, Steve Spellman (interim leader of ReachGlobal’s ministry in Haiti).

“They asked great questions that demonstrated a sincere, honest desire to learn and understand who Jesus is,” Don says. While the questions were good, they were also surprising — questions such as:

  • Is Jesus fully God and fully man?
  • Why are Jesus’ sayings so hard to understand?
  • Was Jesus tempted to have sex with Mary?

“I wondered how they could be pastors, or be this far in training, and yet know so little about basic essential doctrine,” Don says. “Many Haitian pastors have not enjoyed the same opportunities to learn that pastors in the U.S. have had.”

“Few schools give spiritual education,” one of the Haitian pastors shared. “And most families don’t take responsibility for the spiritual education of their children.”

Once Don realized their need for a basic biblical foundation, he changed his training tactic.

“I decided to address their questions without presuming anything. I began with the most basic truth and then expanded from there,” Don says. “They do learn quickly if taught clearly, biblically, systematically and patiently.

“The biggest challenge is to know where to begin teaching a concept and then build from there. The challenge will be to teach and encourage them with a long-term, intentional, systematic, consistent, progressive curriculum so they have a firm foundation of faith.”

The pastors’ need for training wasn’t the only apparent thing — they also have a passion to learn so that they can better pastor, shepherd and disciple their fellow Haitians.

They also want to learn how to meet the challenge of voodoo, which permeates the culture of Haiti and keeps many Haitians from receiving Christ.

“The greatest need of the Haitian is Jesus,” Derson, a 20-year-old pastor in training, explains. “To be a pastor… that wasn’t my plan, because being a pastor is really hard. But I really care about people following God and Jesus. I really care about people’s souls. I don’t want anyone to burn in hell. That’s why I want to be a pastor — to preach the gospel to the world, to make disciples who make more disciples.”

One of the other young pastors approached Don after the two-day training.

“He told me, ‘Thanks for teaching me so I can love Christ more. I want to grow in faith,’” Don says. Then the young man added, “Don’t forget me. Please help us!”

What motivates Don to go back to Haiti is the need of the pastors coupled with their passion.

“This is the greatest opportunity to present Jesus as more amazing than they’ve ever been taught,” he explains. “I will not forget what I have been blessed to receive [in terms of my biblical education], and neither will I forget those who cry out for help. I owe these men the opportunity to learn about their faith as I did.”

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CONNECT

haitiresponse@efca.org or haititeams@efca.org

SERVE

ReachGlobal is praying for more workers for the harvest in Haiti. Join Don, Steve, and others to provide ongoing training and teaching for Haitian pastors seeking a solid biblical foundation. Email haititeams@efca.org for more information.

PRAY
  • For the Haitian pastors who hunger for the Word of God — that they would be fed, receiving the training needed to shepherd and lead their people.
  • That God would raise up additional workers to go and serve in Haiti. The harvest is plentiful.
GIVE

Make an online donation to Haiti earthquake relief efforts.

SHARE

Video: Mexico: ‘A New Day’

As the capital of Mexico (and one of the largest cities in the world), Mexico City is known for its rich culture and delicious food — but it’s also known for its political corruption and crime. The needs may seem overwhelming, but there are signs of God’s light penetrating the darkness. Through healthy churches, partnerships, leadership development, and holistic ministry, ReachGlobal is doing its part to promote spiritual transformation in Mexico City.

We believe we are witnessing the dawning of a new day in Mexico City — light breaking into the darkness. How will you help transform this mega city?

Having trouble viewing the video? See it on YouTube or Vimeo.

* * * * *

“A New Day” is part of the Moving Latin America Pictures project. It is the fourth of five videos produced by a short-term mission team of videographers to capture the essence of the ministry and the needs on the field. Please stay tuned as we post one final video next week.

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CONNECT

mexico@efca.org

SERVE

Bring a short-term team to Mexico City. Or contact us about serving long-term as part of the Mexico City Team.

PRAY
  • For the millions of people in Mexico City who do not know Jesus Christ — that God’s light would reach to the darkest corners of the city and transform the lives of the people.
  • That God would raise up workers for the harvest in Mexico. Pray to see how He might be calling you.
GIVE

Make an online donation to the ministry in Mexico City.

SHARE

Video: Haiti: ‘Beauty from Ashes’

Within days of the earthquake in January 2010, God called ReachGlobal Latin America and TouchGlobal (the crisis response arm of the EFCA) to Haiti. The initial crisis may be over, but we remain in Haiti because of the overwhelming spiritual, physical and relational needs.

Find out more about our growing ministry in Haiti and accept the call: Pray. Give. Serve.

Having trouble viewing the video? See it on YouTube or Vimeo.

* * * * *

“Beauty from Ashes” is part of the Moving Latin America Pictures project. It is the third of five videos produced by a short-term mission team of videographers to capture the essence of the ministry and the needs on the field. Please stay tuned as we post a new video each week for the next two weeks.

* * * * *

CONNECT

haitiresponse@efca.org or haititeams@efca.org

SERVE

Find out about bringing a short-term team to Haiti or serving as an intern. Or contact us to discuss opportunities to serve long-term as ReachGlobal staff in Haiti.

PRAY
  • For the Haitian people — that they would know Christ and His saving grace in their lives.
  • That God would raise up workers for the harvest in Haiti. Pray to see how He might be calling you.
GIVE

Make an online donation to the ministry in Haiti.

SHARE