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by Laura Lehman Amstutz
Response to the first Bible class offered at EMS in conjunction with Instituto Bíblico Anabautista (IBA) exceeded expectations. The assigned classroom was too small to hold the 18 to 20 Hispanic church members who came for training.
Seminary student, Marvin Lorenzana, who teaches the class, was delighted to move his class to larger quarters and to respond to this need in the Hispanic community.
Lorenzana became involved with the IBA program when he was planting a church in Miami, Florida. Now in Harrisonburg, he is working at creating a Hispanic service at Immanuel Mennonite church.
"I decided I wanted to provide something for the new people to give them theological and practical training," he said.
He came in contact with Armando Sanchez, pastor of “Enciende una Luz,” an independent Pentecostal church, who had a similar idea. He and Sanchez decided to partner with the seminary, Mennonite Mission Network, which developed the IBA program, and New Bridges, an organization that helps local immigrants, to begin Bible classes in Spanish.
Lorenzana said, “We decided, why don’t we do something that would be open to everyone, every Hispanic, lay leader or pastor who would be interested in training?” They decided to do the program at the seminary, which is supporting Lorenzana by providing free facilities.
The program has met with great success. The first class in the IBA series, “Introduction to Biblical Studies,” grew to 35 people as word spread about the class. Students came from four local churches. The class was completed on Wednesday April 12. Because of interest in the class, two sections opened beginning on April 19, and Sanchez has become a teacher for the new class.
Each course takes three months. Students work on the lesson during the week and on Wednesday night they come together to go over the material.
Now, Lorenzana teaches the second course in the series, titled “Encounter with the New Testament” and Sanchez teaches “Introduction to Biblical Studies” the first course, again. Lorenzana said that they have had people as far away as Richmond contact them with interest in the classes.
Proximity with the seminary community makes these courses different from the basic IBA courses. Lorenzana supplements the IBA material with material from his seminary studies.
“These are things that are not in the IBA material but are things that would be helpful for students to have a better picture of Biblical study,” said Lorenzana.
Seminary professors also come in to give additional material to the students. Lorenzana said, “One of the advantages we have being in the seminary facilities is that we have more resources, including the professors. They have been gracious enough to come when we’ve invited them.”
George Brunk III, Anil Solanki, and Dorothy Jean Weaver have come to the class to give guest lectures on the Qumran community, and Hebrew and Greek translations. Anil Solanki led the students in singing a song in Hebrew and Dorothy Jean led them in the Lord’s Prayer in Greek.
“It was an eye-opening experience for the students,” said Lorenzana. “For many of them it was the first time they’d heard or spoken Greek or Hebrew.”
“I think there is a huge need for this kind of training among the Hispanic community,” said Lorenzana. In Latin America, he said, many Protestant churches are more charismatic and don’t provide much training in the Bible. “I sense that lots of Christians are feeling they have been deprived of this information. This information is part of the faith. It strengthens your faith and gives you solid ground to stand on,” he said.
Courses cost $65 dollars for Mennonite students and $110 for non-Mennonite students. The usual cost of the program is $365, but Mennonite students have some of their tuition funded through Mennonite Mission Network. Non-Mennonite students are being funded by New Bridges.
Lorenzana would like to raise money for scholarships through the New Bridges agency, so that families with more than one student wouldn’t have to pay the full amount. He said, “I hate that some will have to say no to this program because of the money.”
There are 30 IBA Centers around the United States, but this is the first program in Virginia. Lorenzana was trained as a tutor in Miami, and now Sanchez is trained as well.
Lorenzana hopes to continue the three-year program to its completion, adding new tutors and new sections every three months. At the end of the three-year program students will receive a diploma in theological education.