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.

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