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A Certificate for Hispanic Pastors

Anderson University School of Theology in Indiana is reaching Spanish-speaking ministers and helping equip them for ministry through a Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative Phase 2 grant. This is part of the In Trust Center’s ongoing series about the Pathways project.

Karen Stiller interviewed the Rev. Ramón A. Rivera, the director of Ministry Education in Spanish in the School of Theology and Christian Ministry at Anderson, about the project.

Briefly describe the project.

Our Pathways project focuses on continuing education for Hispanic pastors. Collaborating with partners, we identify the needs of the Hispanic pastor and through these conversations, we discovered that a large percentage of pastors lack a degree. In response, we are trying to help that population receive a formal education and obtain access to that education, without the usual boundaries they might encounter.

The Certificado de Estudios Bíblicos y Teológicos (Certificate of Biblical and Theological Studies) offers leaders the opportunity to learn theological concepts and develop stronger biblical knowledge, along with refining writing and composition skills.

The response has been enthusiastic. For the first time in our movement, the seminary has opened its doors for us - an answer to our prayers. Likewise, the university has opened its doors to Hispanic pastors.

What have you learned so far?

Personally, this experience has been profoundly enriching. For a leader to grow, the Church must grow. Through this certificate, leaders are emerging, proof that the program is working. It’s easy to say, “a pastor needs this or that,” but by sitting down, listening to, and understanding them we gain insights. Perspectives may vary especially, for example, for a pastor from El Salvador.

While we may speak the same language, our perspective can be different. It’s a blessing and a learning process to understand how a pastor from Peru, who is working in the U.S., perceives the ministry. By understanding the pastor’s needs and perspectives, we can discover a wealth of insights into what’s happening within their ministries.

I’m learning so much. Participating in an ATS or Pathways training event opens up a brand-new world. It’s a learning process to work on the coordination of the project. Professionally and academically, it’s a blessing. I see God moving through the Church, through the academic world, and it’s all very exciting to witness the current academic field, which unfolds before us.

What has surprised you along the way?

It has been an amazing journey. Sometimes, when you think one way, you discover through evaluation and the organic movement that it’s not how you imagined it.

Our program is in Spanish and delivered 100% online. With simple training, professors and students are able to use the technology, ensuring a high-quality experience. We are creating and walking with the students. If they need additional help, we sit down with them and equip them, giving them the time they need to understand the technology.

It is so important for the students to feel we are walking with them in their journeys. We must understand their fears and reassure them that we are here to serve them. Our instructors receive training for best practices for online education. It’s been a surprising journey.

Another surprise has been the response. In Oklahoma, one of the first stops I travelled to in promoting the program, I was surprised when one pastor, upon learning about the program, enrolled three people. Three of their key leaders, along with their church, covered the cost as an investment in leadership in his church. The pastors are very open and positive about the program.

What have been a few of your successes?

We currently have 51 students, a significant increase from our initial 21 indicating a growing interest. But with success comes challenges. While numbers are important, the most meaningful moments occur when a student approaches me to discuss events unfolding in their community. One student, who is a leader in her church, started a mission in Mexico. She buys Bibles, school bags, and supplies, then travels to Mexico, identifies a church, and starts her ministry as a result of her participation in the program. That is a success knowing that God is moving through her.

Another pastor experienced difficulties with the technology but called me to say, “I am growing through the program.” Despite being busy, he is enjoying the program. That is a success.

Some have been challenged when they realize that this is a university, which demands a deeper level of education and higher expectations. I encourage them to read, providing pages as resources. Some say “Ramón, it is too much,” to which I respond, “Well, you are in the university, you are in the academic field, and you need to challenge your mind more.” That can prove successful and inspiring for them.

In my classes I tell the students, “I believe you can do that. I believe you can read that bunch of pages.” Many aren’t convinced they can handle the academic rigor. To inspire them, I encourage them to believe that God needs them. I also suggest that they consider the certificate program.

What spects of the project are you hopeful about?

I dream that the project will expand to create a deeper impact in the Church, enriching theological perspectives, and fostering a deeper understanding of the Bible. Through this project, I hope that not just the seminary will grow, but that we will cultivate healthy leaders, who love the knowledge and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I aim to equip healthy pastors and leaders through God’s graces.

We want to provide a robust academic experience by creating the space for students to develop leadership qualities. The need for healthy leaders in the community is crucial, especially in the Hispanic population, who immigrates to a new country and experiences a language barrier.

A pastor, who came to work in the U.S. after a successful ministry in Venezuela, told me the people here aren’t responding in the same way. The context and religious life are different in our country. In the U.S., the Hispanic population must hold many jobs to sustain their families. It is my hope that God will use our efforts to build a healthy leadership for our communities.

What are you learning that could help other schools?

I was nervous at my first ATS event, but by the end of the event, all the participants gathered in the chapel and worshipped together. For me, it was the deepest learning experience that I’ve had with this project, to connect with the kingdom. Despite our differences, we are all Christians. I pray that our program evolves to a point where we can develop more programs.

If we have the possibility to dream, dream bigger. Why not develop into a Ph.D. program? I am praying that God guides us to collaborate with another seminary in the broader Christian world.

At a glance: The Pathways Phase 2 grant for Anderson University (AU) School of Theology and Christian Ministry enables the creation and implementation of a new 18-course ministry preparation certificate program in Spanish for pastors and lay leaders in Spanish-speaking churches. The program also delivers regional workshops through cluster institutes in which AU faculty, staff, and seminary alumni travel to congregations in need of theological education for laity and local pastors. The certificate program is primarily serving the Church of God Hispanic Concilio congregational leadership, and seeks approval through to enable those who complete the certificate to gain access to master's programs in Spanish. With this grant, AU intends to continue the certificate program and move toward a growing portfolio of credit and continuing education opportunities to offer ministry education in Spanish.

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