Excellent 2011 & Exciting 2012: Update on Venezuelan Seminary

January 17, 2012

Half of our 2011 Annual Conference Mission Offering went to support the education and development of church planters in Venezuela. In this excerpt from a letter, Dr. Warren Lathem, President of Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela, gives an update on the Seminary’s 2011 ministry highlights and looks ahead to goals for 2012.

“Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come (Rev. 1:4).”
Our Lord is the Lord of the present, the past and the future. The Christmas and New Year holidays are a time of pause in the work of the Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela. Most of the country of Venezuela grinds to a halt from normal business for almost a month. As we gear up for another busy year in ministry, it is a great time to reflect on the year ended and the New Year beginning. This reflection will take much more time than a normal update, but we hope you will take the time to read about the marvelous work God is doing in Venezuela!

There were some great events in the ministry of the Seminary in 2011 as well as through its students, faculty and staff, plus through the churches served by students and alumni and the work of the United Methodist Church of Venezuela, all of which were born out of this ministry of the Seminary. I am pleased to share with you some of the more significant events of the previous year. This is a representative list as a complete list would be impossibly long. And God was doing things of which we were not even aware. What a mighty God we serve!

2011 Ministry Highlights

• Taught 15 Seminary Courses involving over 80 students in 2011! That is more than twice as many courses taught in any previous year.
• Created degree planning sheets for each student, so they can know where they are in the journey toward graduation - this has meant a great deal to them because they see that we are taking the administration of the Seminary seriously and that we want to help them graduate in a timely fashion with a comprehensive spectrum of courses - which means they will have received a broadly-based and well-rounded theological education to help prepare them for real ministry in the real world.
• Supported a current Seminary student, Ivan, along with his wife, who are serving as the pastoral leaders for the 9th church plant sponsored by Carlos and Maria's congregation, both of whom were members of the Seminary's first graduating class.
• Inspired and equipped current Seminary students Alex and Ama to sponsor a church plant in Agua Viva, that ministers primarily to former gang members and other troubled youth.
• Equipped a Seminary graduate in Puerto Ordaz in sponsoring a daughter church in that region with Pastors Pablo and Nieve.
• Through the models of ministry taught in the Seminary the congregation of a current Seminary student in Cabudare began in February 7 new small groups, and during the first week of the small group meetings, 125 people made an initial decision to follow Jesus.
• Dan discovered  in October of 2011 how much he enjoys teaching Inductive Bible Study courses (through his experience of teaching the gospel of Mark), and how much the students enjoy both the IBS method and seem to benefit from Dan's way of leading them through the process of discerning what God is saying through particular passages. This was a great discovery because Dan has always loved the Bible, but his "specialties" in teaching have been evangelism and missions, so to find out that the IBS method was both fun and enlightening for him and the students was a serendipitous blessing. In 2012 he will teach the Pentateuch and also the Gospel of John.
• We completed the replacement of the roof on the classroom building, a major maintenance event.
• We improved security with a heightened front wall and front gate, plus three more wall sections at another location along the Seminary's perimeter along with improvements in the kitchen, the Men’s dorm, and the cafeteria, as well as significant campus parking and landscaping improvements.
• The planned opening of an extension site in Nirgua, partnering with two of our Seminary graduates who also serve as Seminary professors.

What do we have to look forward to in 2012?  
Some things we know. Others will be the surprise of grace. One of the really big things is 2012 is the 10th anniversary of the Seminary! In many ways we can hardly believe it’s been 10 years since we offered our first class in a rented room. My, how the Spirit has worked through this ministry! Our students and alumni have fed the hungry, housed the homeless, healed the sick, visited the imprisoned, preached the Gospel to the poor, led thousands to Christ, planted dozens of new congregations, built many new churches and other ministry facilities and impacted the nation for Christ. Here are just a few of the things we hope for in 2012.

2012 Ministry Hopes

• Our 3rd Graduation Ceremony with 10-15 new graduates.
• The extension classes in Nirgua are well received and many students participate.
• The addition of Seminary alumnus Victor as a new professor will go smoothly.
• More Venezuelan professors can be mentored and deployed in the Seminary.
• All the students who are on track to graduate in August will be able to do so.
• God will raise up a missionary (single, couple, or family) to live on the Seminary property and help take care of the property and more fully organize the retreat ministry and rental of the facilities to church groups.
• God will raise up additional Venezuelan leadership and help us move toward a transition of the Seminary leadership to Venezuelans who are passionate for the Seminary and its ministry, and also passionate to reach the lost.
• God will raise up mission teams to come serve at the Seminary and help with capital projects.
• God will provide significant financial resources for the operation of the Seminary as well as for the many capital projects that are becoming more and more critical to the Seminary's continued operation and future growth, as well as to the security of the property.
• More new students will enroll in the Seminary under the new curriculum plan.

What about our finances?
In summary, we paid all our bills in 2011 for seminary operations, made significant capital improvements, made our annual $30,000 mortgage payment ($80,000 current balance on an initial $170,000 interest free loan) and carried a few thousand dollars for operations into the new year. Praise God! This is the first time in 10 years of operation we have actually had a small balance to carry forward. Through your generosity and the careful financial administration of Nancy and Dan Dunn, God has provided for the Seminary each step of the way. 

This year the students and churches of Venezuela contributed the equivalent of over $50,000USD through gifts, tuition, fees and the retreat ministry of the Seminary! This is a huge step toward our desire to have a fully indigenous Seminary. While there have been many times when the future was unclear and the obstacles seemed so great, you have responded to every need and God has provided through your prayers and generosity.

Here are the big objectives we have before us:
• Continue to offer excellent, accessible, affordable university-level Wesleyan theological education to the lay and clergy leaders of Venezuela.
• Continue to develop Venezuelan leaders and faculty for the Seminary and progress rapidly with placing in the hands of Venezuelans local control of the Seminary. Our goal is for this Seminary to be fully Venezuelan operated and sustained. We do not have a hard and fast time-table as events are so unpredictable. But we are making real tangible progress in this effort. We know we want to hand over a debt-free campus to the Venezuelan Leadership as well as the primary administration of the Seminary. Of course, we will continue to work to support this ministry, teach and resource the Seminary as long as they desire and God desires and we have breath.
• Continue to develop spiritually mature leaders for the church in Venezuela and the mission of the church to the world. We will continue to lead in teaching and demonstrating our Wesleyan principles of Inward and Outward Holiness. We will continue to lead the church in Venezuela in the development of strong, vital congregations which reach out to and serve the lost of their communities.
• Continue to minister to a large variety of Christian churches in Venezuela through our retreat ministry on the Campus of the Seminary. This provides not only a critically needed resource for the church in Venezuela, but also provides significant income for the seminary to continually maintain and improve the facilities.
• Continue to develop non-traditional learning opportunities such as extension campuses, directed studies, on-line classes.  We are just beginning to venture into these areas and will learn as we go.
• Continue to be the Seminary for the United Methodist Church of Venezuela, yet remain organically independent of the denomination so we can better serve lay and clergy leaders of all denominations.  Some of our most effective students/pastors and alumni serve in other denominations. Most had never been exposed to Wesleyan theological education before attending the Seminary, but fully embrace its orthodox practical theology. We will provide counsel and support to the United Methodist Church of Venezuela as desired and requested by the Bishop and the church.
• Continue to partner with other effective evangelical ministries in Venezuela such as One Mission Society, The Mission Society and International Leadership Institute.
• Further develop the relationship between the Seminary and the Medical Mission, first on the campus and then in other areas of Venezuela. While we are just beginning this new area of ministry this year, we believe there is significant opportunity for expansion and will see how God leads us forward.
• One further objective with a longer range implication is to eventually provide this unique theological experience in other countries of Latin America. Initial conversations have begun with potential partners in Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Honduras. We are seeking God’s direction and timing for this to move toward reality. Your prayers for this will be greatly appreciated.

What are our 2012 Financial Goals?

• Continue to increase Venezuelan funding for the seminary through tuition and fees, gifts and the retreat ministry.
• Continue to develop faithful givers in the US who will personally invest in the lives and destinies of our students and the churches of Venezuela.
• Continue to grow our relationship with the US church developing strategic partnerships with the Seminary and Churches in Venezuela.
• Continue to pay our Operating Costs and our Mortgage in a timely fashion.
• Raise the money for the Construction, Equipment and 3 months medical supplies for the Medical Clinic.

What is on our wish list?  
If we have the resources, we would like to do the following:
• Ship a container of library books already purchased to Venezuela. We need a Ministry Champion to take the lead on finding a way to make this happen. Importing into Venezuela is very difficult, but not impossible, and with God, all things are possible.
• Replace the old 97 Tahoe we use in the ministry. It is worn out and a maintenance nightmare. However, we just never seem to have the funds to replace it. We need a church or Sunday School Class or individual to step forward and make this happen.

Please pray for God to raise up the Leadership needed in the Seminary, whether from the US, Venezuela or some other country.  Pray for laborers in this prolific vineyard!

Visit Dr. Lathem's blog.