Berea Presbyterian Seminary - June 2018 Update

Mérida, Yucatán

Equipping God’s people for ministry, Berea Presbyterian Theological Seminary is committed to developing leaders to serve faithfully and effectively, primarily among the Ch’ol people in Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas. The Ch’ol language, which can be traced directly to its Mayan origins, is the native tongue of approximately 150,000 people in the state. 40,000 of those are monolingual (Ch’ol only) speakers.

Since the 1940s when pioneer mission work among the Ch’ol people was first undertaken by Presbyterians, much attention has been given to appreciating their language, cultural identity and formation of their own leaders. When the growth of the churches indicated the need for more formal theological education, Berea Bible Institute was established with support from missionaries from the Reformed Church of America and Wycliffe Bible Translators. The first Ch’ol minister was ordained in 1961 and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (IPNM, for its initials in Spanish) established the Ch’ol Presbytery in 1974. Four years ago, in 2014, the IPNM granted Berea the status of Theological Seminary, with the authority to offer bachelor degrees in both theology and music.

With 81.7 percent of its children living in families below the poverty line ($1.90 a day), Chiapas is, by far, the poorest state of the country. Such high rates of poverty mean that most communities don’t have access to clean water, sanitation, health clinics or schools. 18% of people 15 years or older cannot read or write, most of them indigenous women who are commonly prevented from going to school. Considering these social challenges, Ch’ol Presbyterian churches express their eagerness to serve others in Christ’s name with outreach to the community.

Berea Seminary operates on a tight budget. The students are responsible for cooking their own meals and do all the house cleaning in their dormitories and classrooms. The Rev. Don Wehmeyer (The Antioch Partners/Outreach missionary) teaches at the seminary twice a year and would be happy to take any volunteer teachers; maybe someone reading this update!

Rev. Usias Arcos serves as the president of the seminary. He reports that support for scholarships and for upkeep of the facilities are still priorities. The following areas represent additional opportunities for involvement:

•    Community Garden: This would allow students, faculty, administration and members of the community to grow fruits and vegetables for supporting their nutritional needs.
•    Library Expansion: Approximately 3,600 additional titles are necessary for Berea to meet new requirements placed on theological schools.
•    Faculty Development: Seminary presidents and faculty are now expected to have earned graduate degrees. Rev. Usias, who is a graduate of Sureste Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Villahermosa (also in partnership with The Outreach Foundation) and part of the team working on the revision of the Bible in the Ch’ol language, is currently looking for options to further his formal education.

After eight decades of Presbyterian witness among the Ch’ol, the presbytery reports that there are at least 38,000 believers meeting in 87 churches, congregations and mission posts served by 24 ordained ministers. The importance of training more pastors and worship leaders is crucial for the strengthening of God’s people and their witness throughout the region. We are grateful for the congregations and individuals in the United States that stand with Berea Presbyterian Theological Seminary in prayer and financial support.

Most sincerely, 
Juan J. Sarmiento
Associate Director for Mission 

Read more about Berea Presbyterian Seminary HERE.

The Outreach Foundation is seeking gifts totaling $5,000 for repairs needed for the seminary and some scholarships.