April 02, 2012

Dear Friends in Christ,

Jane and I just finished another trip to Venezuela.  As I write this we are sitting in the Caracas International Airport waiting on Delta to get us a plane. So while we wait I wanted to let you know about some of the great things God is doing here, especially as it relates to the Wesleyan Seminary of Venezuela.

I hope I can communicate in this letter at least some of the excitement we and the students experience.

Our most recent courses included "False Sects" taught by Dr. David Thompson; "Discipleship" and "Wesleyan Theology", both taught by Dr. Al Coppedge; and "Preaching for a Response I" taught by yours truly! 

What is the significance of these courses in Venezuela?  The people of Venezuela have a Catholic Cultural heritage, but are the most secular in all of Latin America.  The religious expression most common in Venezuela is a fusion of Roman Catholicism and the pagan cults of South America, the Caribbean, and Africa, all combined in real modern day idolatry, mysticism, black magic, and spiritism.

The course by Dr. Thompson addresses much of this false religious doctrine that results in all kinds of perversions and abuse.  Dr. Thompson brings a very clear biblical and theologically orthodox understanding to our students and pastors; many of whom have been converted out of this paganism; and all of whom minister in a culture rife with idolatry, mysticism, and witchcraft. They are extremely appreciative of the great clarity they gain from this teaching: both in clarifying their own theology and practice, but also giving them tools they can use to minister to the people of their community.

Then Dr. Coppedge’s course on Wesleyan Theology gives them a clear understanding of the nature of God, the nature of humankind, original sin, grace, salvation, and holiness. Wesleyan theology is fully embraced by the students, regardless of their denominational affiliation. They have had almost no theological training before coming to the Seminary, and our sound Wesleyan theology fills a void in their intellectual and spiritual life as well as the practice of their ministry.
Remember, John Wesley advanced the cause of Christ in England primarily through his ministry with the masses, the poor masses.  Today in Venezuela, 70% of the people live below the poverty line. Also, 60% of the people are living in what we would understand as “Squatter Shacks,” “Tin Shacks,” or “Stick and Mud” huts. 

This is not in the jungles.  Three-quarters of the population of Venezuela live in large cities. Our students and alumni are taking our sound Wesleyan teaching and reaching out to these great hordes of critically poor people.

An example of those caught in this life is “Maria” (not her real name). Maria is a single mom with three children. She works for one of our ministries.  She makes the equivalent of $50 a week and spends $20 of that for transportation to and from work.  She has built her own 10’x15’ “Squatter Shack” out of sticks and discarded tin.  She has mixed and poured her own concrete floor. 

She has no running water and no bathroom (sanitary) facilities. However, she very proudly says, “This is MY home.” She has never had a home of her own before. She receives a small equivalent of food stamps. Maria never misses work; she and her children are always spotlessly clean and are devout Christians. 

She has been loved into the kingdom by some of our students. While she lives with the consequences of poor and self-destructive decisions of the past, she is a devout Christian mother and valued ministry worker.

Dan & Nancy, and Jane & I visited her home and she was so gracious and proud of the spotless abode, one we would consider inadequate for horses.
It was my privilege to teach the first half of our core preaching course in Nirgua.  The students in the extension program are mostly young novice preachers, and they work very hard learning some basic principles of effective preaching.  What a joy to share what I have learned from some great preachers over the last 40 years of ministry.

We return in July to teach the second half of the course, after which they will have written 5 sermon manuscripts.  For most of them, it will be the first time they have ever written a sermon or had any formal instruction in effective preaching. However, our alumni speak of the critical impact this course has had on their practice of ministry.
One exciting development with which we are working is the repeated request of students and alumni for a Master’s Degree program.  We are working on the curriculum and the details, and are tentatively planning to offer Master’s courses early in 2013. This will continue to stretch our resources which already seem to be stretched to the limit.  But God is our Provider, and our trust is in his grace.

I have so much more to tell you, but I will wait for a later time to share more of what God is doing here.
Yours in Mission in Venezuela,
Warren Lathem