Ethiopian sees how Latin Americans run a seminary

Exchange creates stronger bonds in global Anabaptist educational community

Jul 23, 2018 by and

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GUATEMALA CITY — An exchange of East African and Latin American approaches to theological education took place when the president of Meserete Kristos College in Ethiopia visited SEMILLA, the Latin American Anabaptist Seminary in Guatemala City.

Eastern Mennonite Missions funded Kiros Teka Haddis’ July 1-7 visit, with the goal of getting to know the seminary’s institutional model and programs.

SEMILLA academic dean Rafael Escobar, Eastern Mennonite Missions East Africa representative Debbi DiGennaro, Meserete Kristos College President Kiros Teka and SEMILLA President Willi Hugo Perez. — SEMILLA

SEMILLA academic dean Rafael Escobar, Eastern Mennonite Missions East Africa representative Debbi DiGennaro, Meserete Kristos College President Kiros Teka and SEMILLA President Willi Hugo Perez. — SEMILLA

A rich trans-Atlantic exchange unfolded, including visits to SEMILLA classes, discussions with administrators and a day of dialogue with Central American church leaders about the relationship between the church and a theological training program.

The schools share histories of emerging in contexts of violent oppression.

MKC’s roots go back to 1983, when leaders of the banned Meserete Kristos Church started an underground leadership training program in communist Ethiopia.

SEMILLA was founded in 1984 by Central American church leaders who discovered in Anabaptist theology a practical and empowering approach to peace, justice and a vision for living the reign of God at a time of violent right-wing oppression and civil wars.

Both schools — serving in the context of poverty — rely heavily on funding for scholarships. As leaders shared their finance models, they were surprised to discover inverse approaches.

MKC has developed a strong charitable support base in the U.S. and Canada, with about 70 percent of its budget coming as donations and 30 percent generated by institutional operations and programs.

SEMILLA, through its Central American Study and Service (CASAS) program and the Casa Emaús guesthouse, generates about 70 percent of its financial needs.

Mutual benefit was found in exploring educational delivery models. SEMILLA provides most of its education through a system of 25 study centers from Mexico to Panama, taking its education to 800 adult students across this broad geography. SEMILLA also has an emerging online education program.

While MKC provides classes in several settings, the main focus is the residential campus. Leaders discussed the merits and limitations of both approaches in light of contextual needs.

Opening new channels

“It is good to dialogue with our brothers and sisters around the world,” said SEMILLA President Willi Hugo Perez. “In this way, we strengthen our community of faith and learning for the establishment of the reign of God in our lives. I am grateful, especially, to Eastern Mennonite Missions for making this visit possible.”

All agreed it was a rich week of exchange, strengthening both institutions, opening channels for future communication and creating stronger bonds in the global Anabaptist community.

“I am returning with a good memory about you and your organization SEMILLA and the church leaders of Latin America to Ethiopia,” Haddis said. “It will be interesting, especially, to discuss the CASAS program with leaders of Meserete Kristos College.”

John Wambura, president of Mennonite Theological College of East Africa in Musoma, Tanzania, hoped to visit as well, but was unable to because of visa requirements.


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