Our daughter Maya turned 11 months old on Sunday, and I find it hard to believe that we're less than a month away from her first birthday! We're getting close to our two-year anniversary of arriving in Nicaragua, and the second year has seemed to go by even faster than the first did.
I've also been congratulating students, facilitators, and organizers recently on another important anniversary. On August 8th, 2011, one month before Maya's due date, we began teaching in the Ministerial Formation program. This program is the reason La Misión Cristiana asked Global Ministries to send a missionary to Nicaragua to work with them. The need for this program was the heart of the job description that was such a good fit for my gifts and interests that I began to sense God calling me to Nicaragua once I heard about it, and it is also the heart of what I spend my time, energy and effort on here. (Not all jobs actually turn out that way... especially in the mission field. I consider myself quite fortunate in that respect. :) )
I often say, half-jokingly, that the Ministerial Formation program is my "other baby." So, perhaps you would like to know what Ministerial Formation is (i.e. what it is I'm doing here, anyway).
The need that the Junta Directiva (National Board) of La Misión Cristiana identified was theological training for its pastors and leaders, training that would be steeped in the particular identity of this Nicaraguan, Pentecostal denomination committed to social justice and service to the "least of these." (See what I mean about the job description? Theological education and social justice? Be still my heart!)
The educational backgrounds of La Misión pastors vary widely. Some have college degrees in theology; others did not complete primary school. Many pastors have years, even decades, of pastoral experience but no formal theological training. Life in el campo (the countryside) is very different than life in Managua, the capital, and the more remote the location, the fewer opportunities there are for education. The other reality is that lay people do a lot of teaching and preaching, and so also need formation in the beliefs and identity of the church.
Taking this context into account, the national Theology Department and the National Board approved a proposal prepared by Carlos Sediles (a Nicaraguan church member working on a doctorate in theology, like me, his official role is an advisor for the project), for a program of Ministerial Formation. This program aims to:
1) be grounded in the identity of La Iglesia Misión Cristiana.
2) use popular education as its methodology, so it can:
a. value the life experience students bring to their studies, and
b. be accessible to students with a variety of formal educational backgrounds.
3) provide practical tools for ministry.
4) provide a solid foundation for further study of the Bible.
5) be comprehensive, giving at least a basic introduction to all the necessary areas.
6) be officially recognized; students who complete all the coursework will receive a diploma from the church, and we hope to have it recognized by CIEETS (the Protestant theological faculty where we also teach) as well.
We've designed it as a two-year program of study, and it has a different schedule in each of the 5 regions of the country. We started weekly classes last August in the central region (Managua area), so the students in those groups are now halfway through.
We leave tomorrow in the early morning to give a 4-day intensive course in the Western region, at the end of which those students will also be halfway done. By the end of 2012, they will have covered 3/4 of the curriculum. The Northern region will be halfway done by the end of 2012. The Southern and Eastern regions (both very small) will probably begin in 2013.
So, Happy Birthday to my "other baby"! I'm amazed by the work that our team of organizers and facilitators has done, and the commitment of the students who dedicate this time to their formation so they can become better leaders of their church.