Sunday, August 17, 2008
The First Graduation Festivities of the Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela culminated with the shouts of United Methodists praising the Lord. It was a weekend those present will never forget due to the tangible presence of God.
Friday night the graduates, families and faculty gathered for a celebratory dinner. It was a festive occasion catered by one of the students in the Seminary. The room was beautifully decorated in a Chinese motiff and the menu was an excellent variety of wonderful Chinese food. The highlight of the evening was the sermon by Pastor Wilmer Perez, Valedictorian of the first graduating class. Good fun, food, music, and excellent preaching made the night most memorable.
We thought the weekend may have peaked too soon since graduation was to be the last event on Saturaday morning at 10:00. Were we wrong! As the graduates processed into the building an electricity seemed to fill the air. Again, singing as only Venezuelans can, raised the temperature of the crowd. Awards were given and the students presented special thanks and gifts to the Academic Dean, the Dean of Students, the President and their wives.
As President of the Seminary I delivered the first Commencement Sermon (it was not an address). Diplomas were presented to each of the twelve graduates, prayer was offered and the people began to shout for joy, the shout of the redeemed! What a glorious experience it was. It was in the best tradition of Shouting Methodists and our biblical foundation:
With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD : "He is good; his love to Israel endures forever." And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
Thanks to all who have given and served in the cause of the Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela. What it a joy it is to realized this dream and see it become a reality. You can help by giving to Venezuela Now, Inc for the seminary. Send you gift to the address above in the masthead.
Here is a list of of the graduates: Maria Mogollon de Pirona
Nohely Josefina Hurtado de Perez
Bethsaida P. Villarroel de Morales
Betty Yolanda Caicedo de Rivero
Maritza de Carmen Solis de Lopez
Eugenio Ramon Vargas
Jose Ignaciao Gomez Martiniz
Efrain S. Morales J.
Julio Cesar Lopez Suarez
Carlos Jose Pirona Aranguibel
Wilmer Antonio Perez L.
Juvenal Enrique Perez Ramones (Bishop)
Friday, August 15, 2008
The only way to describe the experience of the Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela yesterday is to say we caught a glimpse of Heaven. What a day of celebration as the students, faculty, staff and friends gathered on the new property in La Piedad, Venezuela to dedicate what Pastora Yolanda Caceida described in her prayer as the "first home of United Methodism in Venezuela!"
Buses transported the students across town from the current rented facility to our new location. A quick tour was given of the 5 existing buildings on the property. Also explanations were given as to how we envision using these buildings and what immediate improvements need to be made in the near future.
We then gathered in the most modern building, what will eventually be the Library (top floor) and Girls Dorm (lower floor), for a great service of Dedication led by our Academic Dean, David. He and his wife, Carol, have worked tirelessly to make a dream become a reality. The event on Thursday was a great victory due in large part to their dedicated work. The United Methodist Churches of Venezuela and North America owe them a great debt of gratitude.
Dean of Students, Dan, introduced the mission teams from North Georgia sharing in the celebration. Mount Pisgah UMC in Johns Creek, Georgia sent a team to work on a Children's Home during the first part of the week, then share in the weekend celebrations of the Seminary as we celebrated buying the property and the graduation of our first seminary graduates (more on that later). Mount Pisgah has provided the annual sustaining budget for the seminary for the last 6 years and by doing so has had a huge impact on the United Methodist Church of Venezuela, the rest of the Evangelical Churches of Venezuela and the even the world as these churches send missionaries to other lands.
Dan also introduced these two young ladies from McEachern UMC in Powder Springs, GA. They have been working with the children of the seminary (this is vacation month in Venezuela, so parents must take their children with them seminary). McEachern has been very supportive of the church in Punto Fijo and the seminary.
Bishop Juvenal Perez preached a dynamic sermon based on Joseph's dreams and shared his dream for the United Methodist Church of Venezuela. He reminded us that as great as is this stop along the journey (the purchase of the seminary and first graduating class) that it is still a journey and the dream continues. He spoke of dreaming of a day when the United Methodist Church of Venezuela will not just have a Theological Seminary, but a University and a Children's Home and a Home for un-wed mothers and a home of alcoholics and other ministries to change the very fabric of the most secular culture in Latin America. What a great episcopal leader and preacher the Lord has provided in the first Bishop of the UMC of Venezuela!
One of the great surprises for our family was when we were called to the front during the service and informed that the Board of the Wesley Association of Venezuela (the Venezuelan non-profit entity that owns the seminary and other property) had decided to name the Library in memory of our son, Ray Warren Lathem, III. More will follow on that at a later date. Needless to say, it was an overwhelming experience of gratitude and grace for all my family present and very much appreciated.
At the end of the service the entire crowd moved outside where they each received a vial of oil. (See the first picture.) We each dedicated ourselves to the work of the Lord in reaching the world for Christ and we dedicated the grounds of the seminary by pouring out an offering of oil on the very soil. The oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit and we claimed that place for Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Glory to God!
Tonight is the Graduate Dinner and tomorrow at 10 is the graduation. Dios es Bueno!
Friday, August 08, 2008
There is a better way. This book, written by Dan Dunn and me, explores the method and power of preaching for response. When properly applied the principles set forth in this book can transform the church and reach the world with the Gospel of Christ.
To order this book, click here.
The laser sharp focus of "Preaching for a Response" is profound and yet simple. Warren Lathem and Dan Dunn intentionally speak in plain language. They believe hearing is not enough. Authentic transformation mandates that pew persons must also comprehend, understand and respond.
However, this helpful and very practical gem moves far beyond one more fill-the-pew formula. Here is a passionate, articulate apologetic by two seasoned pulpit warriors to cut to the core of fruitful preaching. It is do what Jesus did! Offer the transformational Word and open the door for response. Speak the Gospel with a concerted, clear, intentional opportunity for hearers of the Word to become responders to the Word.
The message in this volume is not about slick. It is about the difference between life and death. The difference is Preach for a Response.
Lathem and Dunn are practical. They maintain the every pastor can learn to preach for a response. Every pastor can begin now. A bonus of six illustrative sermons is included in the bargain.
For sure, this power volume will become required reading for my students.
Dr. William C. Goold
Asbury Theological Seminary
Dwight M. and Lucille S. Beeson Professor of Church Music
William Earle Edwards Professor of Church Music
Thursday, August 07, 2008
As the week winds down, the work heats up preparing for the August Seminary and Graduation. Academic Dean David and wife Carol, Ministry Assistant Samuel and others are putting in extra hours each day getting ready for this remarkable and historic event.
While they work so hard, others are moving toward Venezuela to join in the Celebration. First, Dean of Students, Dan Dunn and wife Nancy, are preparing to leave Costa Rica, traveling back through the US arriving in Venezuela on Sunday. They will be living with David and Carol while they are here and Dan will be team teaching next week with Warren an important course for the church in Venezuela: Church Growth. Even now 40% cities and towns of Venezuela have NO protestant ("evangelical" is the word used in Latin America) church.
Also in transit via Bogota are Efrain and Bethsaida Morales from their home in Snellville, GA. They are among the first 12 graduates of the Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela. While they have been in the US for the past year, they have completed the courses via directed studies. They are excellent students and have done superb work. Bethsaida is a retired teacher with a Masters Degree in Venezuela.
Coming into town on Sunday is the Mission Team from Mount Pisgah and McEachern United Methodist Churches of the Atlanta area. They will work at the Lugar Altissimo UMC the first part of the week, then invest the end of the week in the seminary festivities.
We have an extensive schedule for the Seminary Commencement. On Thursday afternoon, we will take the seminary students via bus from our rented facility on the west side of Barquisimeto to our property on the east side. We will have a service of consecration for the property including significant participation by all the students. The service will have worship music led by the Praise Team of the Ondas de Paz Umc, testimonies of some selected students, sermon by Venezuelan United Methodist Bishop Juvenal Perez and the anointing of the land with oil by every student. Warren, President, will close the service with a prayer of consecration.
On Friday, after seminary ends at 12:00 noon, we will have Graduation Rehearsal at the new property. Then at 7:00 we will have a wonderful graduation dinner attended by over 100 people including students and their families and guests as well as the faculty of the seminary. The Valedictorian Sermon will be delivered by our first Valedictorian, Rev. Wilmer Perez, a leading pastor in Nirgua.
Then Saturday morning at 10:00 we will gather at the new seminary property where we will celebrate the accomplishments of the first 12 graduates of the Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela. This is the culmination of a 6 year journey since our first classes in October of 2002. What a great celebration this will be.
Thank you to all who have been a part of making this a realty, especially the congregation of the Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church in Alpharetta. This church has provided the sustaining budget for the Seminary since its inception. There would be no Seminario Wesleyano de Seminary without the faithful support of the Mount Pisgah Church. The United Methodist Church of Venezuela and the many other churches of Venezuela are eternally grateful for this sacrificial support.
Please pray for all who have so much to do to get ready for this wonderful event(s). Pray for the safety of all who are traveling to be a part of this great event. Pray about giving a special offering for the seminary in honor of these twelve graduates.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Years ago I learned that it takes twice as long and takes three times as much money to do business in Venezuela as we were originally t0ld. This has proven to be a conservative estimate. Nothing happens quickly.
Yesterday we thought we would sign the purchase agreement for the Seminary Property in La Piedad. However, the agreement arrived from their attorney at 9:30pm the night before. We reviewed it with our attorney and discovered several issues still to be resolved. Our attorney leaves Monday for a few days in Spain, a trip that both parties knew was scheduled. If we had received the agreement a few days before signing, we might have been able to resolve the issues before her departure. Now we will wait.
An example of the huge amount of time it takes to accomplish business here is we have been trying to close on a private house purchase for over 5 months. It will be another month before all this is complete. This is the purchase by a private individual which will provide a home for our American workers here and guest housing for visiting professors.
So we continue to press ahead, know that all will be done in God's time. We are confident that our Lord is Lord of all including business dealings in Venezuela. In the meantime, we prepare for August Seminary, Graduation and a mission team from Mount Pisgah UMC and McEachern UMC. The difficulties do not make the the work any less rewarding, only more challenging. However, through the training provided by Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela and the work of the United Methodist Church of Venezuela, the church continues to grow, lives are saved and the poor are served. Pray for the work.