Spanish education opens doors

Demand is growing but funding is tight for Anabaptist Biblical Institute’s grassroots leadership training program

Feb 23, 2015 by and

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Many of the 17 recent graduates of Instituto Bíblico Anabautista (Anabaptist Biblical Institute) shed tears as they gave graduation-day testimonies.

From left, Norma Vazquez, Armando Pacheco (face not visible), Esduardo Oxlaj, Enrique Melchor, Osvin De Leon, Carlos Barrios, Lorena Barahona and Bertha Barahona stand during their IBA graduation ceremony Jan. 31 at Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación in Fort Myers, Fla. — Violeta Ajquejay

From left, Norma Vazquez, Armando Pacheco (face not visible), Esduardo Oxlaj, Enrique Melchor, Osvin De Leon, Carlos Barrios, Lorena Barahona and Bertha Barahona stand during their IBA graduation ceremony Jan. 31 at Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación in Fort Myers, Fla. — Violeta Ajquejay

It was an emotional moment, said IBA director Rafael Barahona, because receiving a certificate from IBA is the first accomplishment of this kind for many. A large portion are first-generation immigrants.

“They studied some in their country, but they weren’t able to complete even high school sometimes,” he said. “Getting to accomplish something like this is really an achieving experience.”

IBA is the Spanish-language theological training program for Mennonite Church USA leaders.

The recent graduates serve in three congregations: Iglesia Evangelica Menonita Nueva Vida and Iglesia Segui­dores de Cristo, both in Sarasota, Fla., and Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvacion, in Fort Myers, Fla.

The Sarasota churches held a ceremony together Feb. 1. Arca de Salvacion held its ceremony Jan. 31.

This was one of many graduations held in IBA’s 26-year history. Demand for IBA’s basic Anabaptist theological training is growing, though the program lacks the resources to promote or market itself.

Members of Iglesia Menonita Seguidores de Cristo in Sarasota, Fla., stand with their pastor, Juan José Rivera. From left, Miriam Martinez, José E. Funes, Iris Tomé, Isaac Rivera and Osmari Rivera celebrated their graduation from IBA with a ceremony Feb. 1 at Iglesia Evangelica Menonita Nueva Vida. — Violeta Ajquejay

Members of Iglesia Menonita Seguidores de Cristo in Sarasota, Fla., stand with their pastor, Juan José Rivera. From left, Miriam Martinez, José E. Funes, Iris Tomé, Isaac Rivera and Osmari Rivera celebrated their graduation from IBA with a ceremony Feb. 1 at Iglesia Evangelica Menonita Nueva Vida. — Violeta Ajquejay

Violeta Ajquejay, the assistant director and only other paid staff member in addition to Barahona, has worked full time with IBA since the formation of MC USA. In the first few years the program had about 10 study centers, she said. Study centers are locations, usually churches, where students take courses together near their homes. At least five people in a congregation must be interested in taking IBA classes to form a study center.

Today the program has 48 study centers and 296 students. Two more graduations are expected before the end of the year, and three new groups hope to start classes this year.

Part of IBA’s growth has come since it became part of Mennonite Education Agency. Since MEA came on board in 2007, the number of study centers has almost doubled.

IBA also partners with Mennonite Mission Network and MC USA’s Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church). IMH’s board of education presented the idea of partnership to MEA. It fit well with the goals of MEA’s Hispanic Pastoral Leadership Education office, said MEA director Carlos Romero.

HPLE also includes Seminario Bíblico Anabautista Hispano, a college-level seminary program that incorporates distance learning in partnership with Mennonite undergraduate institutions.

“The IBA program has been lodged in numerous settings in the last decade,” Romero said. “The IMH was looking for stability, and it made sense that an educational leadership program would be lodged in the educational agency of the church.”

There are 120 congregations in Iglesia Menonita Hispana.

Building identity

Many of IBA’s graduates have been sent by their conference or congregation to plant churches — churches that also need to train leaders, many with little Anabaptist faith background, Barahona said.

“IMH needs an education program not only to develop pastoral leadership but also to help maintain and build Anabaptist identity,” Romero said.

The program was created to be accessible to IMH churches.

“It is necessary to establish educational models that conceptually and methodologically are effective in reaching Hispanics,” Romero said. “These models must be adaptable and economical.”

There are two levels of certification, each requiring 21 hours of course credits. The curriculum is developed for students to complete alongside the work they do in their congregations.

“These students are not just studying,” Ajquejay said. “They have families, they have their work and they are already involved in the church.”

One person must agree to be the tutor, which means coordinating schedules, getting special training and leading each class.

Harder every year

Romero, Barahona and Ajquejay all said the biggest challenge is funding.

“It’s harder every year,” Barahona said. “We are always short.”

The 2014-15 fiscal year budget for Hispanic Pastoral Leadership Education is about $195,000, Ajquejay said. The fundraising goal is $75,000. As of Feb. 18, $27,652 has been donated.

Members of Iglesia Evangelica Menonita Nueva Vida from left, Ana Silvia Galva, Alma Ovalle, Gloria Perez, Elizabeth Perez and Gilberto Perez stand together at their IBA graduation ceremony Feb. 1. — Violeta Ajquejay

Members of Iglesia Evangelica Menonita Nueva Vida from left, Ana Silvia Galva, Alma Ovalle, Gloria Perez, Elizabeth Perez and Gilberto Perez stand together at their IBA graduation ceremony Feb. 1 at their church in Sarasota, Fla. — Violeta Ajquejay

For the 2013-14 fiscal year ending June 30, HPLE raised $68,500 from congregations and individuals.

Barahona said one thing they seem to lack is a circle of support. People just don’t know about IBA.

“People who know about it, they have been committed to IBA, and if they have some money to donate, they do,” he said. But those who know about it are mostly those who have participated, and for most of them, the $85 per course fee is all they can afford to give toward IBA.

The actual cost to IBA for one person to take part is about $400.

Some of the more established churches are beginning to switch to English as their primary language, Romero said. As a result, they are working to translate course materials to English. This would allow leaders from other cultural backgrounds, or newcomers to the Mennonite church, to also make use of it.

“In the future we only see increased demand for this program,” Romero said. More staff will be needed.

They hope to finish translating the material so it can be more widely dispersed. They would also like to incorporate more technology, including online course options.

People who believe in the program are working unpaid on these projects. With more support, they hope to expand.

Romero said the vision is to have 300 IBA centers in MC USA congregations.

Ajquejay looks forward to more graduations.

“I can tell by the way they express themselves how much they have grown personally and spiritually,” she said. “That’s very rewarding.”


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