April 2017 Update

Life with Pablo…

Well, let’s just say the Apostle Paul is never boring!

I am just about finished up with my virtual class for this bimester, Pauline Literature and it’s difficult to whittle down the experience of studying this giant of the Christian faith.

The man was not perfect, I’ll admit (and this is something he would say about himself) but he sure was formidable.

His conversion as a former persecutor of the church is gripping and it changed the course of Christianity.

Paul wrote half the New Testament (something disputed by the Academy, but that’s for another day.) He was a prolific church planter among the Gentile population, which for a former Pharisee, speaks to the depth of his change after meeting the Lord.

Finally, his statements in Galatians and Romans about salvation by faith form the bedrock of Protestant Christianity.

Pick Your Topic

Part of the joy in studying Paul is the variety of topics that he covers in his letters.  Perhaps just as important, is the way he utilizes theology for the nitty gritty of pastoral care:

  1. To encourage unity among the Philippians, he uses the incarnation and the call for them to have “the mind of Christ”
  2. To encourage the Thessalonians who had lost loved ones he uses the second coming. Your loved ones are sleeping and will be resurrected when the Lord comes.
  3. To spur the Ephesians to walk worthy of their calling, he speaks to their being seated in heaven in Christ
  4. For the divisions in the Corinthian church, he speaks about the church as the body of Christ with many members

We covered each of Paul’s letters, from his incredulity with the Galatians for abandoning the gospel, to the supremacy of Christ in dealing with the Colossian heresy to his magisterial explanation of the gospel in Romans.

We looked at his defense of his apostleship via his sufferings in 2nd Corinthians to dealing with false apostles and teachings in the Pastorals (and providing a list of qualifications for leaders to counter these movements).

Student Profile – When God Comes Knocking

This month I wanted to highlight one of our students, Gabriel Peralta, who was in my Peralta FamilyPauline Literature course through the seminary’s virtual program.

Gabriel is an electrical engineer by trade having worked in technology, sales and marketing and development with many multinational organizations both in Colombia and the U.S. including Unisys, Microsoft and Intel.

All was going swimmingly well in Gabriel’s career, and then one day, God came knocking…

A New Spiritual Journey

In 2010, Gabriel left Intel and both he and his wife began pastoring a new church plant in Bogotá based on Gabriel’s desire to serve the Lord in full-time ministry.  Gabriel and his wife had been active in their church for many years in discipleship, teaching, youth ministry and working with professionals.  Pastoring became an extension of that experience.

In 2013, Gabriel had a crisis of faith.

His desire was to reach the postmodern generation, but it was not in his denomination’s DNA. An institutional conflict ensued, angst followed and he made the difficult choice to part ways.

Had he heard the Lord correctly in starting on this new direction in life three years earlier?

Indeed, he had! And he felt it more strongly than ever when he moved just outside of Bogotá, to Chia, where he was given a plot of land to start a new work.

He would call it a Place of Encounter.

The name would indicate its mission to a postmodern generation.  He avoided overtly religious language and it would have three pillars all with the focus of reaching post-moderns:

  1. Discipleship
  2. An emphasis on social work
  3. An openness on working with other churches (which can sometimes be a problem in certain contexts).

A local businessman offered him a huge tent.  Others donated chairs, instruments and money. In four years, the church has grown to 700 people and 110 children.  The church has also established a foundation that emphasizes social work and educational projects for the community.

The Need for Further Education

It was during this huge transition that Gabriel entered the seminary.  He needed to acquire more knowledge and better ministry tools.  He aspired to be an author as well and wanted a place where he could read, reflect and write.

As he states, “there is a great danger of ministerial leaders who lack preparation in this country.”

Gabriel is doing something to correct his own deficiencies.

Gabriel is grateful for the BSC’s virtual program. He would never be in a position to relocate his family and ministry to Medellín for four years.  Now, he can study anywhere with a connection and interact with leaders from different parts of Colombia as he continues to prepare for the ministry that lies ahead.

October 2016 Update

2 + 20 + 222 = Revelation Online

Wow! That was a blast!

I’m referring to the first time I have taught the Book of Revelation online, that is, in 2 degree programs, with 20 students and about 222 reading reports, assignments, forums, and term papers that I had to wade through! 🙂

I’m sorry to say I don’t have the right interpretation of Revelation for you. However, I am happy to report that we rescued the book from the crude futurology of which it is mostly subjected.

The truth is that the author of Revelation brings his imaginative polemic against the cruel, immoral, violent, destructive, and dehumanizing state with its economic, military and religious exploitation.

Despite all appearances, God is still on his throne and the lamb who was slain has redeemed his people.  Therefore, we must never compromise but rather remain faithful, even unto death.

I think that’s a pretty timeless message, and I had the privilege of teaching and discussing these themes with 20 motivated students during my recent online class on the Book of Revelation.

Maranatha!

Two Programs – A Variety of Students

The Book of Revelation course was also the first time I had students from two different degree programs, one undergraduates in Theology and another post-undergraduates in our Ethics and Christian Thought program, a one-year specialization mostly for working professionals.’

I also had the privilege of teaching some of our residential students who chose Revelation as one of their electives even though they live on campus.

Here is a list of some of my students and their future plans / current careers to give you a sense:

  • Victoria G. – Professor of Biology at the University of Antioquía who wants to better serve her students
  • Guzman P. – Theology student in undergraduate studying for the pastorate
  • Marcela Coutin – Of French / Colombian descent, psychologist and business consultant
  • Cesar H. – Doctor who runs a counseling center in his church

No Peace…

In my last newsletter I mentioned that the Colombian government had reached an historic peace agreement with the FARC paramilitary groups.

Both the government and the military groups had been fighting for decades creating a culture of violence and displacement that had touched all of Colombia.

Well this month, Colombian citizens voted on that referendum and rejected it by less than 1% margin.

This was a shocking outcome if only for the fact that Colombia had been reeling with this issue for 40 years now.

This looked like the breakthrough everyone was waiting for.

Add to that a campaign of misinformation and voter apathy (less than 40% voted) and you have a sense for how difficult this has been for many people.

There are 70 year olds who wept when the agreement was signed, and who wept when it was rejected by vote.

For them, they have never seen a Colombia without violence.

Please pray for renewed talks and for the cease fire to continue until both sides reach another agreement.

Prayer Requests

  • For the approval of the partnership program with Park Street Church, which will replace some much needed funding.
  • For upcoming courses: The Book of Philippians and World Mission of the Church in January 17.

Update from Colombia – July 2016

Greetings from Medellín!

I’m sending this update from Medellín, Colombia where my daughter (Caroline) and I have enjoyed our visit so far.

I have been busy prepping for two upcoming classes: 1) The Book of Revelation through our virtual program and 2) the World Mission of the Church through Gordon-Conwell’s Hispanic Ministries program.

Caroline’s Travelscaroline-travel

Caroline is returning to Colombia for the first time since our departure.

She has enjoyed reconnecting with friends and visiting a local girls’ home where a former seminary couple ministers. She’s also been busy with with a little shopping for arts and crafts jewelry.

colombia-shoppingGive peace a chance…

This week the Colombian government reached an historic peace agreement with the FARC paramilitary groups.

As you might know, the government and the military groups have been fighting for decades creating a culture of violence that has touched all of Colombia.

This civil upheaval has lead to the second largest population of internally displaced people (IDPs or refugees) in the world behind only Syria.

Please pray for this peace agreement. It is a fragile process as the government tries to navigate between justice and restitution for the victims and a return to a productive life for the members of the militia.

Studying Colombia’s IDPs

Last month, the Biblical Seminary of Colombia received a sizable three-year grant in order to spearhead a major research initiative on the forced displacement in Colombia. The research project will involve professionals from the fields of sociology, psychology, economics, political science and theology. It seeks to help the church minister to Colombians who have become refugees as a result of the armed conflict.

Girls’ Homegirls-farm

During our time, Caroline and I were privileged to visit the Mercy and Service girls home (MAS) located in the foothills of Medellín.

The home houses 50 girls ages 2-18 and provides a safe environment and loving house parents for girls who come from very troubled contexts.

Manuel Ramos and Loida Barbosa, former SBC students are the house parents / directors.

If your youth group or short-term team is looking for a wonderful opportunity to serve underprivileged kids (through programs, donations or construction teams) feel free to contact Manuel Ramos (ramosmanuelalejo@gmail.com).

Thank You

Thank you for continuing to pray for this ministry of leadership development in Latin America and for continuing to support it with your generous donations.

Triumph Through Adversity

argeIntroduction

Argemiro Antonio Díaz was 15 years old when he graduated from elementary school.

He is now a graduate of the Biblical Seminary of Colombia and a director of a Bible institute near his hometown.

This is part of his story.

Early Memories

ColombiaArgemiro was born in 1982 along with his twin brother Emiro near the tiny municipality of San Pedro de Urabá in the rural part of Northwest Colombia. He was one of five children. He came from a poor family of “campesinos” (peasant farmers) as he puts it. 

Argemiro recalls that every December, he and his siblings received one school uniform, which had to last an entire year.  Most days the family had two meals, but some days only one and in dire situations, they were forced to forage for yucca, bananas and roots in the mountains nearby.

Early Education

While Argemiro attended school as a child, it was very sketchy and academically deficient.  When it rained, his teachers would not come to school.

Frequently, he was taken out of school for long periods of time to help with the planting and harvesting of corn, cacao and rice.  Furthermore, he and his siblings missed most Fridays to help out with the house and crops.  His dad figured that since it was Physical Ed. day at school, the kids could exercise at home instead.

Argemiro started kindergarten when he was eight (8) and he didn’t finish 5th grade until he was 15.  After that, his father did not have enough money to send the kids to the junior high or high school in the nearby town.  At age eight (8), however, Argemiro accepted the Lord into his life when his mother, a Christian, took him to an evangelistic campaign.

At the age of 20, Argemiro began a junior high and high school accreditation program.  He attended classes on Saturday for three years while working at home and finally graduated with a high school diploma at the age of 23.   It was a fairly poor education, but one that allowed him entry into the next phase of his life.

Violence at the Doorstep

Argemiro was raised in a region that was deeply impacted by the armed conflict that swept through Colombia from 1964 to the present. 

This conflict pitted the Colombian government who sought civil stability and the protection of its citizens against left-wing guerrillas who claimed to be fighting for social justice and protecting the poor against government exploitation.  Right-wing paramilitary groups arose as a protective measure against the threats of the guerrillas. Both groups were accused of drug trafficking and terrorism.

Rural Colombians were caught in the crossfire and were subjected to horrific violence and mass displacement at the hands of both right and left wing paramilitary groups. 

Argemiro’s uncle was kidnapped and killed by the leftist guerrillas.  His aunt’s home, farm and belongings were destroyed. Both were said to have aided the opposition’s paramilitary members. 

There were many nights for a period of three years when Argemiro and his family took flight and slept in the mountains near their home because of the threats of violence to their home and persons.

It was estimated that 6 million Colombians were forced to flee their homes due to the violence. This gave rise to the second largest population of internally displaced persons in the world, trailing only Syria in this tragic category.

Building Toward a Future

When Argemiro was 20 years old, his mother committed suicide, which left the family devastated. Argemiro mourned for nearly three years.  Soon after, he left his rural existence to live in the nearby town of Valencia.

In 2005, at the age of 23, Argemiro began studying at the Bible institute that he now directs because he wanted a better future for himself. In those days, unless a farmer belonged to a co-op, he could easily be exploited on the price of his crops.  Besides, farming was a tough way of life.  One lived with the anxiety of the unpredictable weather, the hard toil and even injuries related to farming.

Argemiro knew there was no way to escape the poverty living day by day in his father’s profession.

Arge PhotoBy 2009 after completing his program at the Bible institute, Argemiro began to work as a lay pastor in a small rural church.  It was during this time that he met his future wife Karen and they began dating.  After a year, he was so taken that he started making plans to wed his girlfriend.

He surmised that he would work in Bogota for a spell, earn some money and then return to get married in 2012.

The Lord had other plans.

In 2011, his denomination offered him a scholarship to study in Medellín at the Biblical Seminary of Colombia (BSC).  Argemiro had studied under three graduates of the BSC during his time at the Bible institute so he was further inspired by their example. 

Though Argemiro and Karen struggled with the decision (they would have to live apart and postpone their marriage for four years), they both knew this would be an opportunity of a lifetime.

In 2011, Argemiro took the 10-hour bus trek to Medellín and began studying at the Biblical Seminary of Colombia.  Argemiro was 29. 

Life at the BSC

To say Argemiro was unprepared for advanced university studies would have been an understatement.

He was woefully deficient in so many areas.

His first year was one long constant struggle to understand the material and to turn in quality work.  There were many days where he felt like quitting and returning home.  As he puts it, “the shirt was just too big for me.” 

But he persisted. 

He sought help from his fellow students and professors and his military style discipline was hard to match.  Every school day for the first three years he was up at 6:00 am, attended classes until 12:30 pm, then studied from 2:00-6:00 pm and 8:00-10:00 pm, without fail.

The BSC was also prepared for a student like Argemiro.

Every year as part of its unspoken mission, it accepts students that would ordinarily not make the academic cut at other universities.  And then it surrounds them with attention and builds them up where they are deficient: grammar, writing, research and much more.  Part of its curriculum fills that gap.  In Argemiro’s case they also partnered him with a stronger student who could help him in some of his coursework.

The hard work paid off.

In 2014, Argemiro graduated with a degree in theology from the Biblical Seminary of Colombia.  He was at the top of his class.

Lessons Learned

Argemiro had only effusive things to say about his four years at the BSC. 

His academic pursuits were transformative to his mind and heart, world view and professional trajectory.  But it was the whole experience of living and studying at the Medellín campus that was life-changing, eye-opening and a cultural and religious tour-de-force. (That last one is my paraphrase! )

During his time at the SBC, Argemiro stepped down from his spiritual superiority platform as a proud Presbyterian.  His eyes were opened to new ways of thinking, doing church and being Christian.  He embraced his fellow classmates from differing denominations as brothers and sisters in the Lord. 

Argemiro developed a healthy theology of the Holy Spirit, a neglected component in his denomination that only associated the Spirit with holy rollers and speaking in tongues.

Argemiro also learned to appreciate new cultures as he lived and studied with students from the different regions of Colombia and professors and missionaries from other countries.

Through it all, Argemiro’s constant refrains were: Remember where you came from.  Remember from where the Lord has brought you.

Finally, it was during his time at the BSC that God fully prepared Argemiro and Karen for marriage. 

Karen had been through a terrible upbringing of ritual abuse and even of fathering a child through that experience.  She was deeply wounded.  Argermiro, try as he might, was not emotionally prepared to come along Karen with the grace needed to overlook this past. 

Argemiro emphatically claimed that their marriage would have been an utter disaster had the Lord not steered them apart for four years.

God did a tremendous job of healing them both and of redeeming Karen’s past while they lived in separate cities.  Their relationship and marriage became the stronger for it.

Ministering in Colombia

Soon after Argemiro graduated from the SBC he wed Karen who had patiently waited for him for four years.  (They certainly beat the odds for long-distance relationships and it is a testament to their strong characters in the Lord.)

Bible Institute

Bible Institute

Argermiro was installed as the director of the Bible Institute of Northwest Colombia (where he had previously studied) helping to develop leaders for the churches of his denomination in his region. 

Prior to that, however, the institute had opened its doors to train leaders from other denominations.

Currently there are 27 students at the Bible institute signed up for the three-year ministerial training program.  Class are held once a month for three days.

The content is rich and the curriculum is a variation of Argemiro’s coursework at the SBC: theology, church history, bible, education, counseling, homiletics and hermeneutics.

The Bible institute prefers high school graduates, but makes exceptions given the academic backgrounds of his students.  It is not uncommon to see 30 and 40 year olds with just an elementary school education.

The Bible institute has 8 professors in total made up of BSC graduates and local pastors. Argemiro teaches three courses per semester.

The institute receives about 15% of its operational budget from a mission in Holland and the rest from meager student tuitions.  Currently, it is running a substantial deficit, which makes the ongoing maintenance of their 70 year-old buildings problematic.

Argemiro also ministers as an associate pastor of his local church and as a director of a small foundation that does social work with vulnerable populations especially children.

Argemiro is developing plans for the long-term sustainability of these different projects, especially the Bible institute.  He would welcome short-term teams to visit the institute and region.

Conclusion

Argemiro continues to embody all that the SBC represents: passion for the Lord’s work, ministry preparedness, service, love for the Lord, his word and the communities he serves. 

His achievements have not come easy. They have prepared him to minister in the difficult regions where he now lives.

God has been faithful to him and has taken him from the life of a rural peasant farmer to one who will contribute to the development of many generations of leaders in Colombia.

It has been my pleasure to play a small part in his development.

To God be the glory!

– Gustavo Karakey is a professor of New Testament serving the Biblical Seminary of Colombia.

Note:  Argemiro Díaz can be reached at argemirod@unisbc.edu.co.

Life Goes On (Even in Transition)

Life Goes On (Even in Transition)…

Though we are now back in Boston, my (Gustavo’s) work at the Biblical Seminary of Colombia (BSC) continues anew. Among other things…

1) I am starting a new semester teaching a virtual course on Hermeneutics and an intensive course called Overview of the New Testament.

I am excited to test a new webinar software (WebinarJam), which is typically utilized by Internet marketers, but makes a great resource for virtual professors to connect with their students through live trainings.

2) I am also helping on translating portions of a Greek language software which the BSC will utilize in their residential, virtual or Masters programs.

3) I am continuing on my doctoral thesis (the world-class libraries await) – I recently completed research on the use of the shepherd image in the Intertestamental literature (I wish that on no one! :)).

I am excited to begin this new stage of ministry to Colombia.