November 4, 2021 | Miami, Florida, United States | Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News
A number of Inter-America’s institutional boards continued their reporting to committee members on the state of their organization, the lingering challenges, struggling finances and future plans. Dozens of administrators and board members met online to be updated on the theological seminary, division university, Mexico’s publishing house and educational boards, on Nov. 2, 2021.
Administrators of the Inter-American Adventist Theological Seminary (IATS) began their report with explaining to its board members that the clear-end product of the seminary is for retention of members. “Retaining our members and reaching our goal to have discipled members is the reason of our existence,” said Dr. Efraín Velázquez, president of IATS.
IATS is the postgraduate theological studies institution established by the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a non-profit institution registered under Florida and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. IATS was created to provide fundamental knowledge and values by training people for Christian ministry and proclaiming the hope of the Advent to the world.After switching to online classes, symposiums, and bible conferences at the start of the pandemic, Velázquez reported that this year, some on-site classes have resumed across Adventist university campuses. However, hybrid teaching with some online classes have been implemented permanently to maximize resources, he explained.
IATS leaders reported on the construction of its headquarter office in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. The much-need space will serve as the central office of the seminary and house the PhD program in Biblical Studies that will begin in 2022. Previous challenges of hurricanes, earthquakes and the pandemic had delayed completing the construction, said Veláquez. The IATS center will include an archaeological collection, a media center, and smart classrooms and offices that will connect with all corners of the IAD, said Velázquez. The building is scheduled to be inaugurated in March 2022 as the seminary celebrates its 25th anniversary. The church in Inter-America will be celebrating its centennial next year, as well.
Board members were informed that next summer, a second cohort of a master’s on Systematic Theology will begin in Mexico. The program is a specialized one for theologians and specialists in doctrinal studies. Another new program that will be launched is the doctorate in ministry with an emphasis on leadership.
“The plan we have presented includes for each union to enroll one of their pastors to pursue a doctoral degree focused on leadership, and one pastor with the master’s degree on systematic theology,” Velázquez said.IATS currently teaches 11 professional master’s degrees, 3 academic master’s degrees in systematic theology and two master’s degrees in bible studies. In addition, the seminary offers a doctorate in ministry at four of its campuses.
IATS has been working on creating institutional manuals at the different levels of the seminary, including a teacher’s manual, student manual, and others. Some of the objectives include evaluating every academic structure, campuses and academic program that aligns with accrediting recommendations from the Association of Theological Schools.
Montemorelos University, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in North Mexico, overseen by the Inter-American Division, reported the adjustments and strategies put in place after the school shut down its campus at the start of the pandemic in April 2020 and transitioned to online classes for nearly a year.
The board meeting featured board members grouped in different rooms to listen to professors on some aspects of the pandemic the university has gone through since early last year.Carlos Marcelo Moroni, head of the Psychology Department at Montemorelos University, said that students have had to deal with change and the death of family members during the pandemic. “Because the university has established a guarantee education initiative for every student to finish their career studies once they enroll, many have not interrupted their studies due to lack of financial support from their parents or family members,” said Moroni. For example, if the main source of financial support for a student, such as a parent or grandparent, dies from COVID, then the university will assume the costs of that student completing his or her studies, he said.
So far, the university is taking care of 115 students who have faced challenges with financial difficulties, university leaders said.
The suspension of clinical practices in hospitals and institutions throughout the State of Nuevo Leon disrupted the requirements for psychology students, said Moroni. However, plans were adjusted to coordinate these clinicals through the family care center the department runs on campus in efforts to adapt the social service hours required for the studies, said Moroni. Professors also worked in coordination with ADRA and ongoing projects, and did some consultations with people virtually.
“Students were quick to adapt to online classes and that gave us the opportunity to connect to so many more students uninterrupted with the technological advances the university invested in,” said Moroni. “Now we are finding that students are having difficulties in transitioning back to the classroom setting,” he said. The pandemic at first seemed to add some walls, some difficulties, said Moroni, but “today we find ourselves with still a few challenges but with now we have found some bridges that unite us with the students and further service to the church.”University administrators reported that 2,791 are currently enrolled in the school year. The campus is housing 450 of those students who returned to the campus in Montemorelos, and plans are for students to return at the start of the second semester in January 2022. University leaders reported that strict measures have been ongoing on campus following social distancing guidelines, coordination of the delivery of three-meals a day to students, and improved technological advances on campus, among others.
“We were the first university in Mexico that had all or most of its students vaccinated, when state officials offered to provide that service,” said Dr. Ismael Castillo, president of Montemorelos University. “Our general assemblies are taking place with social distancing measures and we are expecting to transition into having all of our students back at the start of the year,” he said.
With less income coming in from different directions, and extensive losses for many months, university administrators said that at the end of September things were looking more positive financially.
Part of their expansion plans include a new research center on campus that is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2022.Board members also voted on the institutional development plan of the university for 2021-2026 which encompasses the philosophical, strategic, operational and evaluative framework derived from the Holy Scriptures and prophetic guidance, as an Adventist Christian Educational Institution. The university has an educational commitment that follows its vision statement and a series of institutional goals and work plans for each program, residence hall, cafeteria and support area. The comprehensive institutional plan will be voted in May 2022.
GEMA Editors, one of two publishing houses in the Inter-American Division, which serves the church in Mexico, reported on the growth of their publications during the early onset of the pandemic. The pandemic shut down many businesses and affected the livelihood of church members who are closely engaged in consuming resources and selling books from its editorial house.
By the end of October 2021, GEMA produced 166 new books, 65 of which relate to the church. GEMA also put out 25 missionary magazines, 18 books for literature evangelists, 10 “Expresion Joven” which is a resource for young people, and more.
Many of the books sold by literature evangelists were on the topic of stress and anxiety, growing in Christ, health, theology, and finding biblical answers and the like, GEMA administrators reported.The social media impact grew significantly during the past few months, increasing to more than 347,000 Facebook users connected to the publishing house platforms, including more than 5,000 followers on its Instagram account.
In 2020, there was a decrease in net sales of 24.5 percent, and numbers are slowly creeping up with an increase of 8.46 percent net sales, GEMA administrators reported. Costs have also significantly increased, but God has seen the publishing house get through mostly unscathed, leaders said.
“We have seen the hand of God bless GEMA and continue to fulfill the mission of the church by sharing publications that offer hope,” said Moises Reyna, president of GEMA Editors.
GEMA Editors board members voted to appoint Jonatan Ponce Andrade as vice president of production and marketing.
Board of Education K-12
Before voting to authorize union requests for schools into Inter-America’s Educational System, Faye Patterson, education director for the church in Inter-America and secretary of the board, shared that the pandemic affected hundreds of schools across the territory. “We were not prepared for distance education and our teachers had to be trained to work in the new setting,” said Patterson.When many schools were closing, “thanks to God, our schools were able to keep operating in spite of incurring costs and with many parents unable to pay for tuition,” she said.
A total of 15 teachers and workers died because of COVID, reported Patterson. “It was painful to lose these teachers who worked in our Adventist educational system,” she said. Schools saw a loss of 12 percent of their students, had to let go of 27 staff and had to close three primary schools which were struggling even before the pandemic, she added.
“Even with all the struggles and adjustments, our teachers and staff have worked hard to be creative in reaching young students who don’t have access to a computer, said Patterson. Teachers have found a way to continue handing out worksheets and assignments to keep students getting through the curriculum, she added. Amid all that, Adventist schools continue their mission of teaching about the love of Jesus. During the past year, 1,020 baptisms took place across the IAD territory, Patterson reported.
Board members approved three new schools into the Adventist Educational System, two in the Southeast Mexican Union, and one in the Honduras Union. Approval of k-12 educational institutions manuals were voted.Board of Higher Education
The Board of Higher Education voted to approve a PhD in Education at the Dominican Adventist University in the Dominican Republic.
In addition, a Master of Arts in Business Administration, Master of Public Health, Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering, Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology, Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics, Bachelor of Science in Radiology Technology, and an associate of Science in Biomedical Engineering were approved to be submitted to the General Conference for approval for the Haitian Adventist University in Haiti.
Board of Ministerial and Theological Education
The Board of Ministerial and Theological Education, which oversees the theology and ministerial education and training for ministers across universities in Inter-America,
voted to accept Dr. Josué Pantoja Barreto, Dr. Lemuel Olan Jiménez, Dr. René Beltrán Félix, and Pastor Samuel Alcántara as theology/religion professors for IATS.
In addition, board members voted to appoint Dr. Raúl Lozano as Dean of Theology at Linda Vista University in Chiapas, Mexico.
A special prayer was offered for families of teachers and staff who died because COVID during the past 18 months and for the rebuilding of the Guanaja Adventist School in the Honduras Bay Islands.
To learn more about Inter-America’s Institutions, its initiatives and activities, visit us at interamerica.org