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.