Thursday, August 31, 2006

Wesley Seminary of Venezuela

The future site of the Wesley Seminary of Venezuela already is home to the Lugar Altissimo United Methodist Church, shown here from the Pan American Highway.

The site is also home to an emerging orphanage, the first United Methodist Orphanage in Venezuela. As you can see, the foundation is complete, columns are being poured and the cement block for the walls was delivered during our recent trip.

We believe it is most fitting for Theological Education to occur in concert with local church ministry and ministries of justice and compassion.

Therefore, having these three institutions share the same campus is appropriate for United Methodists. Unfortunately, we have watched as United Methodist Theological Education in the United States has moved further and further from any significant relationship with the local church or commitment to the Global Mission of the church.

At Wesley Seminary, we are committed to training local pastors for the Great Commission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we teach how to be effective in reaching the lost, the unchurched, and the alienated with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are also committed to training our pastors to fulfill the Great Commandment. Therefore, the linking of the seminary with the local church and a local ministry of love and compassion provides a tangible, living witness to the students who pass through our halls.

In addition to being committed to be a truly Wesleyan and Orthodox educational institution, we are also committed to excellence. We believe we are providing the finest undergraduate theological education available in Venezuela. Our non-traditional educational format allows us to bring in leading educators who teach for one week. Examples include Dr. Burrell Dinkins, recently retired from Asbury Seminary, who will be teaching in October. Bishop Lindsey Davis, resident bishop of North Georgia, who will be teaching in January. Others include career missionaries, career educators, career pastors. All faculty have a minimum of a Master’s Degree and many possess doctoral degrees.

We are also committed to creating and maintaining a Global Focus in the United Methodist Church of Venezuela through the course content and spirit in the Wesley Seminary. The curriculum includes courses on the Mission of the Church, the Global Mission Outreach of the Church, etc. It is our goal to raise up pastors who are fully committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ, here, there and everywhere, following the Acts 1:8 model. We look forward to the day when the United Methodist Church of Venezuela begins sending long-term missionaries to other countries. Wesley Seminary already has had one of our students leave after three years of training to become an Assembly of God missionary in Paraguay.

Perhaps most importantly, we intend our students to have a thorough understanding of Scripture, respect for the authority of scripture as well as a solid understanding of Systematic Theology in the Wesleyan tradition.

All of this is done at a remarkable cost of only $1200 per student per year (not including cost of land and construction of facilities or missionary support). For just $1200 we can provide a full year of tuition, books, room and board for a student. This will be the focus of a later posting.

However, I mention cost here to simply lift up what a remarkable work is being done through the Wesley Seminary of Venezuela. With over 80 students enrolled and with 50-60 students attending each class, we are making an eternal difference in the lives and destinies of people in Venezuela.

About a year ago, a colleague said to me (Warren, President of Wesley Seminary), “Lathem, what do you know about running a seminary in Venezuela?” I replied, “Nothing, but I’m doing it. What are you doing?”

We have had a steep learning curve and still have much to learn. We have made many mistakes and will probably make many more. However, we are also educating pastors and we are seeing new ministries of compassion started by these pastors, new missions and preaching stations being planting by these pastors, a spirit of connection and cooperation developing between the pastors such as they have never known before, and most importantly, lost people are coming to know Christ through the work of the pastors and churches and the impact Wesley Seminary is having on their lives.

Of course, it takes a team of highly dedicated and committed Christians to make this happen. The principle members of that team are David Cosby, Academic Dean of the Seminary and Dan Dunn, Dean of Students. Jon Herrin, missionary to Venezuela serves on the faculty as well. Fortunately, all four of us are blessed with wives who are also fully supportive of the work we are doing in Venezuela and are full partners in the work. Additionally very committed faculty and staff support us from other theological and missionary institutions. Also, the Assembly of God Bible Institute has been our home for the first 4 years and without their support we would have a much more difficult time.

Consider sponsoring a pastor. It only costs $1200 a year. You, your Discipleship Group, Sunday School Class, Congregation, or a couple of friends could provide a full year of education for a pastor in Venezuela for just $1200. Pray about it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Joy of Discovery

We just returned from 16 days in Venezuela. What a great trip! One of the highlights of the trip was seeing the ministry there through the eyes of Doug and Kathleen Crosby (pictured left). Doug and Kathleen spent 11 of the 16 days with us in Barquisimeto, Maracay, Colonia Tovar, Maiquetia, and Punto Fijo. This was their first trip to Venezuela.

The Crosby's have been close friends of the Lathem's for over 15 years. They were members of Warren's last pastorate and spent 2 1/2 years helping plant the Coal Mountain UMC in Forsyth County Georgia. They now split their time between Roswell , GA and Fort Myers, FL.

Doug and Kathleen founded and managed Flying Fotos for many years before retiring and turning the business over to their son, Jason. They now advise Jason and work in the their family business.

What a joy it was for us to see the excitement build in them for the work in Venezuela. They met many of the pastors of over 25 churches and missions we have established there. They participated in conferences, meetings, worship services and fun activities. They met our missionaries, spoke to several of our seminary students, spent time with a number of our lay leaders, made aerial photos of our prospective seminary site, and much more.

On the return flight yesterday, they said, "When are we going back?" I proposed January when Bishop Lindsey Davis will be teaching in the seminary and when we hope to have our organizing annual conference. We'll see...

In the meantime, the work progresses at a remarkable rate inspite of all the difficulties and challenges. God is faithful. The United Methodist of Venezuela is growing, the seminary is making a great difference in the life of the UMC of Venezuela, the pastors are planting new congregations, the construction of several facilities is progressing and much more. Please pray for the work. Pray about how you can help.

We praise God for the opportunity to work with the churches in reaching the lost of Venezuela. It is one of the most meaningful ministry experiences of our lives. Gloria a Dios.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Tomorrow we travel to Punto Fijo, the coastal town where McEachern UMC in Marietta, GA has done so much work. In this picture you can see the sanctuary constructed by memebers of the McEachern and the Punta Fijo churches. Pastors Juneval and Nohely Perez serve this congregation located in a very poor are of Venezuela. For several years Juvenal has been inviting Warren to travel to Punta Fijo to preach. Finally we were able to work a trip into our schedule.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights Warren will be leading a preaching crusade in Punta Fijo. On Saturday he will conduct a Pastor's Seminar. On Sunday morning we will attend worship at the Punto Fijo Church.

Please pray for these efforts. Pray that many will come to know Christ through the preaching mission. Pray that the pastors will discover the joy of becoming missional pastors leading their churches into the essential mission of the church: Making Disciples of Jesus Christ. Pray this will be a time of encouragement for Juvenal and Nohely.

When we first got to know the Perez,' they were living on $20 a months serving this congregation. Then they lost their lease on their worship space. But God has been faithful Now they have their own church building, they have an adequate salary and are in their 4th year of studies at the Wesely Seminary of Venezuela. The first baptism in thier new church was their own son. We thank God for his grace to this faithful couple and his provision for them. We are thankful for having a small part in this work.

Juvenal and Nohely have a passion for people to know Christ, especially children. They have built the largest children's ministry in the Venezuelan United Methodist Church. Much of this has been possible thorough the very productive long-term partnership with McEachern. Perhaps your church could benefit as has McEachern through dveloping a partnership with one of our Venezuelan congregations. Email us at if you would like to explore this wonderful opportunity.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

We are having a great two weeks in Venezuela. The first week was spent teaching at the Wesley Seminary and preaching, conducting a critical conference for the United Methodist Church of Venezuela as it wrestles with the writing and editing of a Discipline, planning construction steps for the orphanage and seminary and church at Lugar Altissimo.

This week we are traveling to Maracay where Warren taught last night, Colonia Tovar for a day of R&R and then to Punto Fijo for a 3 night crusade and a one day pastor's seminar. Traveling together are Doug and Kathleen Crosby, Efrain and Bethsaida Morales and Warren and Jane Lathem along with our Venezuelan friends and drivers, Samuel Rojas, Adolpho Moron and Gustavo Moron.

Doug is the founder of Flying Photos in Atlanta and he rented a plane and made the photo you see here. The church is the tiny red dot at the bottom of the picture and this is the future site of the Wesley Seminary. Efrain and Bethsaida Morales are students in the seminary, pastors of the Ondas de Paz UMC and parents of the Lathem's daughter-in-law, Lim.

Please pray for the rest of this trip. By the way, several persons have been converted and several pastors have professed renewed faith. Keep praying. More later...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Venezuela in August

Dan and Nancy Dunn left today for Venezuela where Dan will preach in Puerto Ordaz this weekend before going to Barquisimeto on Monday for the August session of Seminary classes. The Dean travels down on Friday when he will meet Jim Ogan. Jim will be teaching the Book of Acts next week in the seminary. Warren and Jane Lathem will travel to Venezuela on Sunday and then to Barquisimeto on Monday where Warren and Dan will team-teach a course on Global Mission. Boake Moore will travel to Barquisimeto on Wednesday to discuss the construction of the Wesley Seminary and make important connections with attorneys, contactors, suppliers, etc.

Our missionary friends have rented a house in Barquisimeto and will move into it in September. He will be the Field Director for Venezuela Now, Inc. in Venezuela as well as the Dean of the Wesley Seminary. She will serve as the treasurer/accountant for Venezuela Now in Venezuela, the Wesley Association of Venezuela and the Wesley Seminary.

Doug and Kathleen will be visiting and praying about their future involvement in the work God is doing through the United Methodist Church of Venezuela.

On Friday and Saturday of next week, after seminary is finished, the United Methodist pastors and families will remain in Barquisimeto for a time of Christian Conferencing. Their primary task will be editing and, hopefully, adopting a Discipline to gove
rn the life of the UMC in Venezuela. The pastors have a draft of the document and are coming to seminary prepared to make necessary changes. Then our hope is that we will have our first official annual conference in January and organize the church in accordance with the approved Discipline.

On Sunday, Warren will preach at Ondas de Paz and Lugar Altissimo United Methodist Churches. Dan and Nancy will fly back to the US on Sunday afternoon. Then on Monday and Tuesday we will be working on construction plans for the seminary and helping our friends secure some of the things they will need to move into the country. We will hold a pastor's conference in Maracay on August 22 then travel to Colonia Tovar for a night of rest. On Friday we will fly to Punto Fijo where we will have another Pastors' Conference on Saturday and Warren will preach on Sunday.

We return to the US on August 29th, exhausted but praising God for all he did before our eyes. In addition to all of the above, there will be several other preaching opportunities, times of holy conversations, the delivery of a sound system to one pastor, shoes for another pastor's children and financial support for a couple of other pastors. Often tears will be shed, both of gratitude for all of God's blessings and sadness over parting.

Please pray for:
Safe traveling mercies;
The good health of all involved;
A great, transformational week of seminary classes with about 65 students;
The "Discipline" discussions and edits;
Blessings for all the preachers as they preach God's word;
The Pastors' Conferences, especially holy unction for Warren's teaching in these sessions;
Doug and Kathleen's first visit to Venezuela to be transformational;
Boake Moore to find the right contacts and information needed to proceed with the seminary construction as soon as funding comes forward.

Most importantly, pray that we will see many people come to faith in Christ, the Church built up in the faith and pastors encouraged.

If you still have time to pray for more, pray for workers in this ripe harvest field. And pray about how you can help with this ministry with a nation at risk, the most secular nation in South America.

Future Site of Wesley Seminary