Greetings in Jesus’ name. I hope you all had a joy-filled celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
After months of dry weather here in Costa Rica, we are experiencing the transition to the rainy season. We’ve had a couple of heavy rains thus far. Soon we will be having rain every afternoon. There was less rain than normal last year and drought is predicted for this year as well. The lack of rain not only affects crop production. Costa Rica depends on hydroelectric dams for a large percentage of its electricity, so not enough rain can mean power outrages. We hope this year’s rains will be sufficient.
This is also the time of year when birds are mating and raising their families. A chorus of avian voices wakes me up every morning at about 4:30 AM. Several birds have chosen to raise their families on the campus of the Latin American Biblical University (UBL). I could spend hours watching the Hoffmann’s woodpecker chick who sticks his head out of the hole in the palm tree that serves as his nest. His parents are always close by. We know there are several nests in the stand of bamboo at the center of campus, but the one we can see the best belongs to a pair of clay-colored thrushes, the national bird of Costa Rica.
The distance courses I’ve been teaching since the beginning of February finish at the end of May. Some of the students are very excited by the new things they are learning about the history of the churches. Marianela, a student in Curacao, calls me regularly on Skype to talk about the course material. As a Roman Catholic nun, she has never had the opportunity previously to study church history from an ecumenical perspective. Unfortunately, some students have had to drop the courses. Many of our students hold other jobs in addition to working in their churches. Despite their desire to study, they can’t always make room in their busy lives for reading books and writing papers. We hope and pray that those who had to could not finish these courses will be able to take other courses in the future.
In May I will be taking my first trip to the US since moving to Costa Rica. For the last several years, the UBL has been providing theological training for Hispanic pastors in the United Methodist Church. This year it’s my turn to offer a course on the history of Christianity for the 28 students who are currently enrolled. They have been working on the course since early February. We’ll have an intensive week of classes in Nashville May 12 to 17. I’m looking forward to what we can learn together about the way people in different times and places have lived their faith in Christ.
I’ll be making several other stops as well. I’m spending the first weekend in May with the folks at First Presbyterian Church in Bainbridge, Georgia. This church is sending a youth work team to the UBL at the end of May. They asked me to come and share with them about Costa Rica and the UBL. From Georgia, I am going to Princeton for several days in order to gather documents I need for getting my doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary recognized in Costa Rica. Though I won’t be in Princeton for a Sunday, I do hope to have a chance to meet with folks from several churches in the area. I am going to Nashville on May 10 so that I can spend the weekend with Trinity Presbyterian Church. This will be my first opportunity to visit this congregation that started supporting me a few years ago. I’m also looking forward to seeing several friends in Nashville. Once our class ends in Nashville, I’ll go to Colorado Springs to spend a few days with my dad and his wife. My daughter, Tamara, is coming from Portland to spend a couple of days with her grandparents as well. I’m hoping for a bit a rest before I fly back to Costa Rica on May 22. I will have access to e-mail and I will also have my US cell phone with me. Please let me know if you would like to touch base with me while I am in the US.
The next bimester for students in residence at the UBL starts on June 9 and lasts for eight weeks. I’ll be teaching a course on mission. I’m looking forward to being in the classroom again with people from throughout Latin America reflecting together on God’s mission in the world today. I still don’t know how many students I will have. Now that we are teaching classes in the evenings, more Costa Ricans have a chance to study with us.
My main task in June will be preparing for the Global Institute of Theology (GIT) that the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WRCR) is holding here at the UBL in the month of July. Students and staff will be coming from around the world for three weeks to study and reflect together on transforming mission, church and community. We have several specific prayer requests as we prepare for GIT. The UBL has submitted visa applications for 14 students coming from places such as Indonesia, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Zambia. We hope the visas will be issued by the end of May. Then participants have to travel to the nearest Costa Rican consulate to have the visas stamped into their passports. Please pray that this process goes smoothly for all involved. Also pray for our staff and faculty as we make arrangements to host this gathering and prepare for the classes we will be offering. We are very excited that the WCRC has chosen to come to the UBL and we hope it will be a good experience for everyone involved.
My husband, Javier Torrez, was able to spend the last half of April with me here in Costa Rica. When I leave for the US, he’ll go back to our farm in Nicaragua for a week. Then he’s taking our car back to Guatemala to sell it there. He is planning to come back to Costa Rica in early June. We’ll looking forward to having more time together. Our daughter, Tamara, is finishing her junior year at Reed College where she is preparing to write her senior thesis in history and literature. She and her boyfriend will be spending the summer in North Carolina.
In April, the UBL welcomed Dr. Linda Lawrence Hunt to our campus. Linda is a retired English professor from Whitworth University. She came to share with us the insights she has gathered as she explores the permanent loss and long-term grief that comes after the death of a child. Her book, Pilgrimage through Loss: Pathways to Strength and Renewal after the Death of a Child, tells the story of how she and her husband have lived with the loss of their daughter who was killed in a bus accident in Bolivia where she was serving as a volunteer. Linda also interviewed other parents, looking to discover the sources of strength and resilience that allow people to incorporate the ongoing loss in a life-affirming way. At our campus, Linda had a chance to hear from students about how grief is experienced after the loss of a child in different cultures. Later, several dozen people came to hear Linda’s presentation. Her experience obviously touched a need in our community. Here in Central America and elsewhere, the violence that is taking the lives of so many young people leaves families and communities grieving. A few days after Linda’s talk, a former student in Guatemala who serves as a youth pastor wrote of the deaths of four young people in the neighborhood of his church. We who serve in ministry in the region often find ourselves accompanying parents who have lost children. But this is also part of ministry everywhere. I highly recommend Linda’s book and her blog, www.pilgrimagethroughloss.com.
This month I want to introduce you to Elisabeth Cook, who is currently serving as academic dean of the UBL. As a child, Eli played in the hallways of the Latin American Biblical Seminary (SBL) where her father, Guillermo (Bill) Cook served as a visiting professor. Eli was first invited to serve at the SBL in 1990 when she was asked to organize the publications department. In 1992, she became the administrator. She already had a bachelor’s degree in administration. She did both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in Biblical sciences with the SBL-UBL. In her own words, she fell in love with the Hebrew Bible. She began teaching classes at the UBL in 2005. She is currently working on a doctorate in Old Testament through the University of Exeter in England. Like myself, Eli is a mission co-worker of the Presbyterian Church (USA) . She tells me she feels very lucky to be able to serve in the country where her family is located. She enjoys spending time with her nieces and nephews.
As our academic dean, Eli is guiding the faculty through the process of developing on-line degree programs. We all are learning new skills and being stretched to use all of our pedagogical creativity in redesigning the courses we teach to meet the needs of students who will be studying on-line with us in the future. I am very grateful for Eli’s vision and focus in this new phase of the UBL’s educational mission. She and I both request your prayers for this process. In addition, Eli asks your prayers for her as she tries to carve out time to finish her dissertation in the midst of her multiple duties as dean.
The UBL is very grateful for the ways in which churches outside the region accompany our efforts to provide a theological education that is contextual and transformative. One of the ways churches support the UBL is by providing salary support for those of us like Eli and myself who serve as mission workers here. Thank you for being part of the work of the UBL and of Presbyterian World Mission. If your church hasn’t given to the support of a mission co-worker recently, please consider doing so. Together we can respond to God’s call to train Christian leaders for the task of leading and teaching God’s people here in Latin America.