March 15, 2013

Guatemala: From the Inside Out

A seminary in Guatemala City is making disciples for all the nations by providing much-needed theological education to Latin American pastors.

  • Deeper Understanding

    TEAM missionary David Stoddard helps pastors who don’t have any previous Biblical training understand the Gospel in a deeper way.

  • Worldview

    SETECA encourages students to expand their worldview beyond Latin America, and some graduates now work in the Muslim world and with unreached people groups.

  • Hands-on Lessons

    Teddy Torres, director of the Practical Ministries Department, helps students take what they learn in the classroom out into the city to apply lessons in a hands-on way.

  • Varied Student Population

    SETECA student Jassiel Cholima is earning a Master's Degree in counseling and also works with the puppet ministry led by TEAM missionary Diana Stoddard.

  • Breaktime

    SETECA students enjoy a break from class in the courtyard. Pastors and church leaders from all over Latin America come here to study the Bible and be equipped for ministry.

Many Latin American pastors feel God’s call on their lives for ministry, but the task is difficult for those without any formal training. SETECA (Seminario Teológico Centroamericano) in Guatemala City provides much-needed theological education to church leaders from 23 countries and 34 denominations.

Started in 1929 by a small group of students, SETECA equips more than 1,300 students a year for kingdom service around the world. Students at all education levels study pastoral ministry, theology, Christian education, missions, and more in undergraduate and graduate programs.

“The biggest strength of SETECA is it’s an institution that’s really founded on God’s word,” said TEAM missionary David Stoddard, a professor at the seminary and veteran Latin America missionary who, along with his wife Diana, came to SETECA four years ago. Stoddard enjoys teaching Biblical truths and Christian life principles to active pastors and lay leaders who do not have extensive Biblical educations. “The most exciting part is when we see their eyes light up when they hear something for the first time,” Stoddard said. “They get to learn truths that they never even knew about.”

SETECA lives out its vision of growing men and women for God by placing a high value on making disciples. “We’re very serious about knowing Christ and making him known, and growing in the knowledge and relationship with him,” said Paul Branch, SETECA’s academic dean. To that end, a Practical Ministry Department was started three years ago so students could take what they learn in the classroom and put it into practice in the community. “We hope that they can see the city as their classroom,” said Teddy Torres, director of the department. “I tell them, ‘You’re going to see [many] different ways of serving the Lord. The Lord is going to guide you more than you ever imagined.’”

Pastor Mario Roberto Ramos has experienced significant spiritual growth, thanks to his studies at SETECA. Ramos is taking Family Life courses and has been encouraged by his professors to follow Christian principles in his personal and pastoral life. “I’ve been challenged to be a better husband and a better father, and that’s helped me be a better pastor,” Ramos said. He takes what he’s learned back to his church, hopeful that the lessons will have a positive impact on church families and their community.

The heart’s desire of SETECA is that students will make disciples for Christ not just among their own Latin American nations but also across the world. “I had a very narrow world vision when I came here as a student in 2003,” said Luis Guerra, the director of the Ministerial Leadership Department. “But because of what I learned in class and the passion of the professors, my worldview has greatly expanded.” SETECA places a strong emphasis on missions and cross-cultural ministries, and recently caught a vision for the Muslim world and unreached people groups. Graduates work in places like Peru, Brazil, North Africa, Turkey, and Hong Kong. “SETECA students are growing in that vision and growing in what God is calling them to do,” Branch said. “We are very excited to be a part of what God is doing in the world.”

A key part of SETECA’s worldwide strategy is their online learning programs, which reach people that otherwise would not have the opportunity to study at SETECA. “It’s our vision to reach men and women of God with theological education on many different levels in many different countries around the world,” Branch said. A team of professors and staff are working together with the purpose of getting as many of SETECA’s classes online as possible. “We are always interested in seeing more students take our courses, because we know the value of the courses in their lives and in their ministry,” Stoddard said. “The goal is to get it out online so that any Spanish speaker anywhere in the world can study the Bible.”

-Written by Lisa H. Renninger
-Photographed by Robert Johnson

[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, March 2013]

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