Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fear or Faith?

We live in a time a great fear.  Yesterday we awoke to a severe earthquake here in Venezuela.  Later in the day we visited with our friend, Yoe, one of the worship leaders at Ondas de Paz United Methodist Church. He shared the pain of the home invasion in his grandfather's home and the brutal murder of his uncle.  The day before we spoke with Ana, one of our staff at the Seminary.  She shared the difficulty of unemployment for her husband who is among the 80% unemployed construction workers in this nation.

This raises the question:  Will we live by faith or by fear? Well, which one?

John Wesley went to the English colony of Georgia in North America to reach the Native Americans and to minister to the British citizens in the fledgling colony.  He was an ordained Anglican priest with a tremendous commitment to live as an authentic Christian.

Yet he was faced with failure in his work in Georgia.  He returned the England on a ship while living under the pall of suspicion and accusation.  He found himself at a low point in his life.

While on board ship, they encountered some severe weather threatening to sink the ship.  Then they were disoriented when approaching the coast of Great Britain and feared hitting the rocks of the shore.

Here are John Wesley's own words: 

"Tue 24 Jan 1738: We spoke with two ships, outward bound, from whom we had the welcome news of our wanting but 160 leagues of the Land’s End. My mind was now full of thought, part of which I writ down as follows:
I went to America to convert the Indians; but Oh! who shall convert me? Who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near: but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, ‘To die is gain!’
I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore!"

Praise God, the following May he encountered the risen Christ and was soundly converted and received the assurance only the Spirit can give.  That transformed his life and ministry.

It is that assurance, that absolute confidence that sees us through the really tough times in life and causes us to be willing to face opportunities and challenges with a fearlessness others cannot comprehend.  "What can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?"  Nothing. Of that we are sure.

It is this assurance and confidence in Christ we are able to share in Venezuela in the best of our Wesleyan tradition unafraid and unashamed of the Gospel.  And it is that strength which empowers the students and alumni of the Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela reach this nation for Christ.

Fear?  No!

Faith?  Yes!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Nirgua Extension A Great Success

 We just had our first off-campus extension class in Nirgua, Venezuela.  25 Students attended the class, 18 of which came for the first time! Praise God!

The class was graciously hosted by a new student and her husband in a beautiful mountain home just outside of town.  She has been a Christian for some time.  He has been a very secular successful businessman.  An accident resulted in him breaking his leg and being confined to bed.  There he met Jesus.  He testifies to a complete change of heart and life. He sold his business and is developing his farm to be a "Refuge for the Saints," as suggested by Bishop Juvenal Perez when he stayed in the beautiful farm house.  They were absolutely gracious and provided everything needed for the weekend class.

Several years ago we looked at buying a small farm house and moving the Seminary from Barquisimeto to Nirgua.  God helped us understand we needed to stay near Barquisimeto because of its role as the land transportation hub for the nation.  However, we have had a warm place in our hearts for Nirgua.  God provided in a way we could never have expected or even dreamed.

Two of our first graduates are pastors from Nirgua.  Dr. Alberto and Professor Wilmer both shaped their ministry after what they learned in the Seminary.  They have both come on the faculty and often teach on the main campus.

It was their dream to have an extension of the Seminary in their town.  They said if we would provide the faculty, they would provide the students and the location.  And they did!  We are so happy with the result, as are they.

Pictured here (L-R) are Chris Cisneros, translator, Warren Lathem, Professor, Dr. Alberto, Professor and Host, and Pastora Nurys, Alberto's wife, Student.

Warren taught 1/2 of the Course: Mission of the Church.  This is one of our Seminary's foundational courses and has been essential in shaping a new and effective way of understanding and being the church in Venezuela.  This course and others like if have resulted in remarkable ministries being done in the churches served by our students.

Please pray for our students, staff and faculty as we work to equip and empower leaders to reach the lost of Venezuela!

You can send a gift for the ministry to::
Venezuela Now, Inc.
PO Box 1655
Duluth, GA  30096

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Teaching in Nirgua and La Piedad

Jane and I will be in Nirgua, Venezuela, Friday through Sunday teaching "The Mission Church I," and preaching in Dr. Alberto's church.  We look forward to seeing all our friends in Nirgua and meeting many new students.  Your prayers are most appreciated!

After Nirgua, we will be doing several administrative projects for the Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela in La Piedad. Then we return to Nirgua for the continuation of the course, "The Mission Church II."

Next we will then teach the course, "Transformational Worship" on the main campus of the Seminary. Both courses are required courses and have been very well received by former students.  We pray these courses will equip the lay and clergy leaders of the church in Venezuela to reach their nation for Christ.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Looking Both Ways

“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 our largest UM congregation, the lead pastors are both 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 it's 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 a significant amount of support through gifts, tuition, fees and the retreat ministry of the Seminary. This is a huge step toward our desire to have a fully Venezuelan controlled and operated 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.
Finally, 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!
*To give via PayPal:
1.       Go to
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3.       click the “send money” tab
4.       enter in the “to” box
5.       enter amount of your donation in the “amount” box
6.       click the “personal” tab under amount
7.       click “gift”.

As you can see, the need is great, the opportunities remarkable and the blessings overwhelming.  Please pray with us about all the above.  Please place the Seminary on your daily prayer list. Also, please send a gift for this very important ministry.  Additionally, please prayerfully consider making monthly gifts to the Seminary through Venezuela Now, Inc, PO Box 1655, Duluth, GA  30096 or through PayPal.
May God bless you as together we reach a nation for Christ.

Warren Lathem