Rev. Dr. Karla Ann Koll
Serving in San Jose, Costa Rica
Latin American Biblical University
Presbyterian Church (USA) Mission Co-worker
Dear companions in mission,
Since I returned to Costa Rica from my trips to Princeton and Guatemala last month, I have been caught up in the whirlwind of tasks that are part of the end of the academic year. Writing reports for the end of the year provides an opportunity to celebrate and give thanks to God for all that we have accomplished this year at the Latin American Biblical University (UBL), especially the degrees we have conferred on students who have finished their studies. We are also planning our courses for next year. One of my tasks as interim director of the School of Theological Sciences is to help students, those in residence and those who are taking distance courses, plan the next steps in their studies. Thus I am spending a lot of time in conversation, both in person and via e-mail. I also advise bachelor’s and licentiate students who are working on their thesis proposals.
On November 10, Rosa Maria Lopez Perez defended her master’s thesis on pastoral accompaniment with women who are HIV-positive. Rosmery, as we call her, is part of a special masters’ program that was offered by the UBL and three other universities on pastoral care and HIV/AIDS. She worked with a group of women in stable relationships who were infected by their partners. She is very excited to be done with her degree. Her work is being published as the last of three courses on pastoral care and HIV which are part of our Biblical and Pastoral Institute program. Rosa Maria is a pastor in the Wesleyan Methodist Church here in Costa Rica.
Each year the UBL holds an assembly of its governing body, known as the Association of the Latin American Biblical Seminary. This year’s assembly, which takes place on Friday, November 13, will bring together faculty, staff, and students as well as supporters from the community. The UBL is facing some serious challenges in terms of our budget for next year, so we would appreciate your prayers. I had hoped that taking the minutes for this assembly would be my final task as the secretary of the board, but my colleagues on the faculty have asked me to serve on the board for another year. The coming year will be crucial as the UBL will be looking for a new president.
Because our students are often in residence for just a few months, we hold graduation services as people finish their degrees. Our second graduation of 2015 will be held on Wednesday, November 18. Once again I am the graduation preacher. Nine students will be receiving their degrees that day, of whom four will be receiving their degrees in absentia because they are back in their home countries. I hope you will celebrate with us and offer your prayers for our graduates: Rodrigo Riffo (Argentina, bachelor’s in Biblical sciences), Macoy Torres (Peru, bachelor’s in theological sciences), Juver Rimari (Peru, bachelor’s in Biblical sciences), Adela Artavia (Costa Rica, licentiate in Biblical sciences), Rosa Maria Lopez, (Costa Rica, masters’ in theological sciences), Albertina Quilaman (Chile, licentiate in theological sciences), Anibal Cañaveral (Colombia, masters’ in Biblical sciences), Edgar Mayta (Bolivia, licentiate theological sciences) and Viviana Machuca (Colombia, licentiate in theological sciences).
As a faculty, we decided that we needed a community celebration as the academic year ends. Those of us here at the UBL who are from the United States – two faculty members and three long-term volunteers – also wanted to share our Thanksgiving traditions with our community. So, on Wednesday, November 25, we will have a Thanksgiving worship service followed by a community meal. I will be doing stuffing this year, using sage from my herb garden.
On December 2, I will be starting my travel to Antalya, Turkey, where the second meeting of the Pentecostal Reformed dialogue on mission will take place. The theme for this year’s discussion is salvation in both traditions. I am looking forward to this group of people who come to these dialogues with deep commitments to their own traditions and to the unity of Christ’s church. Our venue in a majority Muslim country on the route thousands are taking as they flee the violence in the Middle East will force us to ask difficult questions about what it means to speak of salvation and Jesus Christ in the world today.
December 11, the day I return from Turkey, is the last day of classes at the UBL. Some of our students will be returning to their countries with the hope of continuing their studies through distance classes and their research for their theses. Others will be staying over the vacation to work on their theses here. Most of us on the faculty will be working through December 18 as we finish up reports and prepare for classes that start in January.
My husband, Javier Torrez, will be with me here in Costa Rica most of November and December. Our daughter, Tamara Torrez-Koll, will be arriving here in Costa Rica on December 24. We are very much looking forward to spending Christmas and the start of the new year with her here. She has requested some time at the beach. She will return to Portland, Oregon on January 8. (Tamara will be able to bring letters and small packages to us, so please let me know if you would like to send us something).
Sonia Gonzalez came to Costa Rica from Guatemala in early September of this year. Sonia had been one of my students in Guatemala. I also had the privilege of working with her in the national organization of Presbyterian women. Sonia, who worked for many years as a teacher, is currently the director of a private school in Guastatoya, a small city two hours east of the capital. She told me that she first became interested formal theological studies when she was elected a ruling elder in her church in 2004. Suddenly she was expected to teach the adult Sunday school class, so she wanted to be well-prepared. She started taking UBL courses part-time at the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA) in Guatemala City.
The progress toward her bachelor’s degree has been slow. She came to Costa Rica for brief stays to take classes in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Each trip to Costa Rica has meant giving up her salary in order to study. Now she is finishing her final three classes and working on her proposal for her bachelor’s thesis. She is going to write on the history of Presbyterian women in Guatemala. She told me that about three years ago she began to feel the call to serve as a pastor. She is currently serving a small congregation. She dreams of being ordained as a pastor once she finishes her degree. Her studies through the UBL and her interactions with people from different contexts and different churches have opened her mind and heart.
Sonia will be returning to Guatemala on December 12. Her children, two sons and a daughter, as well as four grandsons and a granddaughter are waiting for her there. She is thankful that all of her children have jobs, but none of them is making enough to cover the expenses of their families, so they continue to depend on Sonia’s help. Her prayer request is that her children will become economically independent, which would allow Sonia to dedicate herself full-time to service in the church. She hopes to finish her bachelor’s thesis by May. I am sure she would appreciate prayers for her thesis as well.
How can Christians in the global north live faithfully in a globalized world of increasing inequality? Rebecca Todd Peters offers steps toward answering this question in Solidarity Ethics: Transformation in a Globalized World. She begins by inviting first-world Christians to understand how they benefit from the neoliberal economic policies that have been imposed around the world. The next step is building relationships with people across lines of difference, whether they are folks in your local community or in another country. She argues that though personal lifestyle choices are important, only collective efforts will bring about the kinds of political changes needed to build just and sustainable societies. The book offers helpful models for thinking about how to encourage people to develop moral intuition that moves toward mutuality, as well as a good discussion of theories of solidarity. I recommend this book for folks who lead short-term mission trips.
My colleagues and I here at the Latin American Biblical University are encouraged by your prayers and your messages. Thank you for your gifts that make it possible for me to serve here in Costa Rica with Presbyterian World Mission. As Advent approaches, we look forward in the hope that you will accompany us into the new year with your prayers and support. Together we can work for a more just future.