Online theological education opens doors

Elkhart, Indiana, USA – Nora Marleni Martínez of Metapan, El Salvador, is in the first group of students in a regional Peace and Justice Institute program of the Seminario Anabautista Latinoamericano (SEMILLA).

Now, some SEMILLA courses are online, making it possible for Martínez to only travel a long-distance half as often.

“I can make my own study schedule,” said Martínez, “and find a place [at home] where I can concentrate best.” She is also thankful not to have the extra expense of travelling for seminary courses.

Online education means more time with her family and more time to care for women in her church community and to meet with other women theologians.

Her studies are teaching more than facts. Martínez is learning that peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather a way to live in the midst of conflict, she said.

Educators recently set plans in motion for more seminary programs to be available online in Spanish. The goal? To make Anabaptist biblical and theological education more accessible for the roughly 417 million people who speak Spanish.

Spanish Anabaptist educators from Latin America and the United States gathered Nov. 11–14, 2016, in Guatemala. The following organizations were represented:

  • SEMILLA, an Anabaptist seminary serving Central America and Mexico, based in Guatemala City.
  • Centro de Estudios Anbautistas–SEMILLA, a program of Mexican churches.
  • Seminario Biblico Menonita de Colombia, a seminary of Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia.
  • Centro Bíblico Teológico, a program of Iglesias Hermanos Menonitas de Colombia.
  • Seminario Bíblico Anabautista Hispano, Hispanic pastoral and leadership education program of Mennonite Education Agency of Mennonite Church USA.
  • Mennonite Mission Network.

Each of the programs has either started online courses, had students studying online elsewhere, or were requesting funds to set up online theological education programs.

At the January 2016 meeting of the Council of International Anabaptist Ministries (CIM), the Latin America Committee designated resources to help initiate Anabaptist online theological education.

Mission Network’s Latin America Director Linda Shelly saw the benefits of an integrated approach: “The spirit of collaboration was strong as representatives shared about their programs, saw the similarities and differences and anticipated new opportunities for students.”

The group noted also that there are Spanish-speaking students around the world in places without an Anabaptist leadership development program who will be able to enroll online, plus other programs that can join or connect in some way with this new initiative.

The current programs are initially calling themselves the Comunidad de Instituciones Educativas Anabautistas (CITA). Their vision is to be “an Anabaptist people formed biblically, theologically and pastorally for Christian mission in the world.” The stated mission is: “We contribute to continual biblical theological training in Spanish for the people of God in our contexts.” SEMILLA was asked to give initial coordination to CITA because of its experience in working with multiple conferences.

— Kelsey Hochstetler, Mennonite Mission Network

Note: Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism (Goshen College) set up an Anabaptist Biblical Library: Biblioteca Digital Anabautista,