Multiplying Seed, Abundant Fruit
by Juan Sarmiento
A significant focus of The Outreach Foundation is to contribute towards the increased capacity of the global church for outreach through the development of servant leaders. In keeping with good Presbyterian tradition, since its early years the Evangelical National Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (known in the country as the IENPG) has emphasized the formation of God’s people for preaching and teaching in order for Christ’s message to be passed on across generations and places (Please see my next reflection to find out more about the IENPG).
Still another major missiological emphasis (see my previous posts for other two) that was developed in the fertile Guatemalan ground in the 20th century and that continues to have a very significant effect on the unfolding of God’s global church in our days is Theological Education by Extension (TEE) which can be traced back to 1963 at the Evangelical Presbyterian Seminary of Guatemala. Seminary professors joined by Presbyterian missionaries James Emery, Ross Kinsler and Ralph Winter were struggling with the question of how a single school could equip ministers for such a diverse range of needs. They initiated an experimental program based on the concept that the seminary could to go to the student rather than the student coming to the seminary in the more urbanized region of the country. Although the reaction by some of the more established pastors was negative, the TEE program soon enrolled more than 200 instead of the former average of less than 15. These students were part-time, responsible for congregations and employed in other jobs or small farming so they brought to the process their ongoing experience that helped the students be closer to the realities of their communities. This type of educational development would take the original sense of the word “seminary” (literally “seedbed” in Latin) to a whole different level.
TEE as a decentralized form of training ministers soon spread to the Honduras and West Indies and then on to Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil. To this day, it has been effectively used for the formation of hundreds of thousands of pastors in Asia, Europe, Australia and Africa and North America; altering forever the models for theological education (for more information click HERE).
As part of our brief visit we had the opportunity to visit with some of the current students and recent graduates of the Coban site which is the region where the IENPG is experiencing the most growth. The Outreach Foundation has participated in the funding of a facility to accommodate students (some of them travelling 10 hours) attending its modular courses. We also were able to listen to both the General Secretary for the IENPG and a senior seminary leader express their enthusiasm about that site as well as other extension locations.
Many of the students were already leading congregations. I am glad that rather than having to abandon their ministries and uproot themselves and their families to attend a residential seminary program, they remain at home, economically active and involved in their ministry. In spite of the fact that the level of formal education for most of them is below third grade and many of them have to take public transportation for more than five hours their desire for learning more about how to serve their congregation made me feel humbled to be among them. I am grateful for their inspiring witness, the many lives and families that are already being blessed by their ministries… and the many more that will!
Juan J. Sarmiento
Associate Director for Mission