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,
October is upon us. We here at the Latin American Biblical University (UBL) are looking toward the end of our academic year, but there is still lots to do. The on-line bachelors’ programs are just about ready to present to the government for approval. We are advancing on the plans for three on-line masters’ degrees. We are excited about the possibilities the future offers for reaching more students throughout Latin America, though we still don’t know from where all of the resources will come to make it happen. We move forward as people of faith. We thank you so much for your prayers for our faculty and our students.
This will be a busy month of travel for me. Before I leave Costa Rica, I will be leading the Emmaus church community in their Bible study and celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Sunday, October 4th. This interdenominational community meets every Sunday evening at the UBL. I remind you that October 4th is Worldwide Communion Sunday, so please offer your prayers that day for our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world. Also remember the 150 Presbyterian Church (USA) mission co-workers who serve with mission partners in 40 countries.
On October 7 I travel to Princeton, New Jersey. I have been invited to speak at Princeton Theological Seminary as part of the Nuestra Herencia lecture series. The topic for this year’s lectures is “Tales of Mutual Influence: Mackay, Shaull, and the Protestant Origins of Liberation
Theology in Latin America.” I have enjoyed rereading some of the works of John Mackay in the context of my work here at the Latin American Biblical University. I have also been remembering my friend and mentor Richard Shaull, who encouraged me to do my doctoral work at Princeton even though he was no longer on the faculty. The lecture is on Friday evening, October 9. If you are in the Princeton area, I would love to see you there. Earlier that day I will be speaking to a course on ecumenism about the importance of the ecumenical movement for Central America during the 1980s and beyond.
On Sunday, October 11, I will have the privilege of sharing God’s Word in worship with the folks at the First Presbyterian Church of Dutch Neck. This congregation has been providing support for my service in mission for several years, but this is the first time I will have a chance to be with them for worship. I will also be leading an adult Sunday school class.
I will be leaving New Jersey on October 13 to return to Costa Rica. I am hoping for a bit of library time while I am in Princeton, but I would also love to see folks. I will have my US cell phone with me, so write if you would to have my number.
I will have only two nights here Costa Rica before I take off for Guatemala. I will be representing the UBL at the assembly of CETELA, a community of theological institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean. We will be exploring pedagogical trends in theological education, an important topic as more programs move on-line. I am looking forward to this chance to be with colleagues from around the continent.
I will also have a couple of days in Guatemala with my former colleagues and students at CEDEPCA, the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America. I will be sharing some thoughts about how we can contribute from Latin America to reflections on the Protestant Reformation as we approach the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses. I also want to talk with people there about what possibilities they see for the future of Guatemala now that the former president, Otto Perez Molina, is in jail awaiting trial on corruption charges. As I write, I want to ask you to pray for two former students of mine in Guatemala, Joel Ramirez and Jocabed Requena, whose newborn daughter, Margaret, is in intensive care with lung problems.
I will fly back to Costa Rica on the evening of October 22. I am sure there will be lots of work waiting for me here. I am also thinking that around the time I return the lettuce in my garden will be ready for eating. I have so enjoyed having both flowers and vegetables growing here at the house. After two years, it feels more like a home.
My husband, Javier Torrez, has been here in Costa Rica with me for most of September. We are glad to report that the rains have finally come both to our farm in Nicaragua and here in Costa Rica, though not enough in either location to reach normal levels of precipitation. When I go to the US, Javier will go back to Nicaragua both to work on our farm and spend some time with his siblings. Our daughter, Tamara, is enjoying her work with an immigration attorney in Portland. She hopes to come to Costa Rica for Christmas. We thank you for your ongoing prayers for our family.
The Emmaus church community in which I participate studied the book of Galatians in September. As I reread Galatians, I remembered the work of Mark Baker as he studied this Pauline letter with a group of folks in a poor barrio in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. In Religious No More: Building Communities of Grace and Freedom Mark explores how religion, or religious ideology, distorts our understanding of God and gets in the way of building authentic community. The book allows folks outside of Central America to understand more about the religious dynamics in the region as well as to reflect on their own ways of looking at the church. This is a wonderful example of the kind of contextualized Bible reading we encourage here at the Latin American Biblical University.
Juan Hernandez has been taking distance classes with the UBL for several years, but in late August he finally had the opportunity to come to our campus from his home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras to work on finishing his bachelor’s degree. I worked with Juan for three distance courses, but it is a delight to have his gentle presence with us in San Jose. Juan tells me that throughout his life he has related his faith to social action. He grew up in the Roman Catholic Church and became very involved in the social action of the church following the meeting of the Latin American bishops in Medellin in 1968. However, in the early 1980s he became disillusioned with Roman Catholicism because of the indifference the priests showed to the problems in the barrio. Juan continued his social activism and eventually he became involved in the church described in Mark Baker’s book. He decided to study theology after he saw the way many church leaders manipulated the faith of the people to justify the military coup in June of 2009. After the coup, he told me in Honduras it has become “a danger to think and a crime to speak out.” The murder rate in Honduras is now one of the highest in the world. For Juan, theology is part of the struggle for human rights. He and his wife, Isida, have two daughters who are 11 and 16 years old. Juan asks for prayers for his family and their safety. Last year they considered going into exile because the death threats they were receiving. Most of all, he asks you to pray for Honduras, that ways might be found to overcome the violence and corruption that have taken hold.
As I work with my colleagues at the Latin American Biblical University (UBL) on plans for future programs, I hope and pray that the Presbyterian Church (USA) will maintain its commitment to accompany these processes of theological education. I would like to continue to serve here as long the UBL wants me on their faculty, but that will only be possible if churches and individuals support Presbyterian World Mission. I thank those of you who support me now with your prayers and gifts. If you haven’t given to my support for some time, please consider doing so before the end of the year. There is so much that we can do together in mission.
In the hope of God’s coming Reign,
Karla’s web page @pcusa.org
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Rev. Dr. Karla Ann Koll
Latin America Biblical University
San Jose, Costa Rica