This week I returned for the fourth time to a town named Ahuachapan in the north part of El Salvador. I am one of the faculty members who teach the Course of Studies here for Methodist churches from all over Central America and beyond.
Our students come from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Bolivia, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Every session we have on average 35-40 students, and there are three sessions per year. In 2020, the Course of Studies in Ahuachapan will celebrate their 10-year anniversary!
Our students are women and men who God has called to ministry in the churches in Central America.
They are pastors, preachers, teachers, and leaders of youth and children’s ministries. They are incredibly gifted and overcome tremendous difficulties to pursue their call to ministry and grow the kingdom of God in their communities.
For most of the students, it is an incredible financial sacrifice to lose a week from work to come here to study. They leave their families behind, worrying for their safety.
Needless to say, the travel through Central America is not safe for them, and they face a lot of dangerous situations crossing borders to come to their classes.
When they get here, they have five days of a very intensive program. Classes start at 8:30 am and last until 6:00 pm, with an hour break for lunch and two-hour study break in the middle of the day.
When they get to their rooms, they have books to read and papers to write. Most stay up until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning to finish their homework.
The homework for my class only is 30 pages of reading, a group project, Bible research, and a 1.5-page paper every single day. Each student takes three different classes each session.
Today in my class we covered historicity of the Old Testament, establishment of Israel in Canaan after the exodus, feminist interpretations of different passages in Judges, and we dipped into the role of Babylonian exile in the shaping of the Bible.
The program is very intense, but nowhere else have I ever had students who are more eager to learn than they are!
I teach Old Testament. This session I have 19 students and a teaching assistant, Fernando Pineda, (what a blessing)!
Fernando was a student in my class back in 2014. Now he is a law student here in El Salvador and a leader of the praise band — among a million other ministries that he carries at the church.
This week he grades homework, keeps attendance, tutors one-on-one, teaches part of the class, and helps me with Spanish. Watching him grow, in only a matter of a few years, into these leadership roles is incredible.
And Fernando is not the only former student of mine to surprise me this year. Five other former students are teaching assistants in other classes, and one former student is teaching a Formation and Discipleship class on his own.
I am also very moved by the women who participate in the program.
As you probably know, the patriarchal culture in Central America is very strong. Women experience a lot of aggression and resistance when they answer God’s call to pursue leadership roles in their churches.
During our women’s lunch today, Elizabeth, our new student, shared that for several years she listened to the classes from the outside while setting up food and drinks. We keep all the doors and windows open for the breeze, so some knowledge apparently also escapes the classroom.
It took Elizabeth years to overcome her fears and doubts and enroll in classes. In her words: “I am here because God has a plan for my life and I can produce fruit in the kingdom of God. We are victorious just because we are here. It is a battle for us, but it is all worth it.”
When I first came here in 2014, we had a handful of women in the program. This session we have fourteen female students and two female teachers: one is Salvadoreña and one is Russian (of course)! This growth is a strong witness to the new generation of church leadership that is altering the existing culture.
I wish I could share with you all the amazing testimonies and blessings that I have experienced in the last few days. Overall, I thank you for supporting me in my ministry here in El Salvador — and for praying for me and my students. I am looking forward to seeing y’all on Sunday! Now it’s time for me to go get some yummy pupusas.
Dr. Zhenya Gurina-Rodriguez
Associate Pastor of Grace Groups & Discipleship