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Bethel regularly hosts seminars for Spanish-speaking church leaders

As a high school student, Paúl Aguirre ’21 attended a Hispanic Pastors and Ministry Leaders Seminar at Bethel. After that, he ended up enrolling as a full-time undergraduate student.

By Jason Schoonover '09, content specialist

October 17, 2018 | 1 p.m.

Professor of Biblical Studies Juan Hernández Jr. leads a Bethel Hispanic Pastors and Ministry Leaders Seminar on the Gospel of Mark.

Professor of Biblical Studies Juan Hernández Jr. leads a Bethel Hispanic Pastors and Ministry Leaders Seminar on the Gospel of Mark.

As a senior in high school, Paúl Aguirre ’21 and his parents attended a Bethel Hispanic Pastors and Ministry Leaders Seminar on the Gospel of Mark. He was struck by how Professor of Biblical Studies Juan Hernández Jr. highlighted Mark’s unique ways of telling stories to bring a deeper meaning and reflection. “It was great,” Aguirre says. “It was, like, eye-opening for me. At least, I’ve never seen the gospels in that kind of way.”

That experience is one of the reasons Aguirre is now attending Bethel, where he’s majoring in engineering and minoring in music. As the seminars continue to grow and generate buzz around campus, Hernández sees them as a chance for Bethel to reach new audiences and “an opportunity to reverse stereotypes and expectations,” he says. The popularity of the seminars speaks for itself: In April 2018, more than 100 people braved a historic Twin Cities blizzard to attend the spring seminar.

Bethel brings lessons of the gospels to new audience with seminars for Spanish-speaking church leaders.

Bethel regularly hosts seminars for Spanish-speaking church leaders.

Many, including Aguirre, credit Hernández. “He makes it really fun,” Aguirre says. “It’s, like, a fun way of learning, I guess. As believers, you just want to keep going deeper and deeper. That’s a great way. Plus, it’s in my parents’ language, so it’s really nice.” 

The idea for the seminars in Spanish sparked after National Hispanic Leadership Conference  President Samuel Rodriguez spoke in Chapel in 2015. Ralph Gustafson '74, S'78, S'13, retired executive minister for seminary and church relations, remembers posing the question: “What can we do as a university to better serve the folks that are first- and second-generation Hispanic Latinos in our city?” The answer highlighted a need for more in-depth Bible teaching and training for pastors and church leaders in Spanish. 

Enter Hernández, the bilingual son of Puerto Rican parents. Hernández agreed to teach the seminars—in Spanish, in addition to his own course load—starting in 2016. The seminars immediately exceeded initial attendance goals. “The first time we had it, instead of 30, we had 140 people register,” Hernández says.

“I really believe this has potential to extend Bethel’s reach and its influence for the kingdom of Christ and to grow up Godly, biblically-grounded leaders within the Hispanic church that can effectively teach the word of God and lead people into a greater understanding of God’s word and how it should be applied in their life.”

— Ralph Gustafson '74, S'78, S'13, retired executive minister for seminary and church relations

The seminars, now held three times a year, draw 80 to 130 people. The next in the series "Christ Through the Four Gospels"—this time on the Gospel of John—will return October 20 in CC313. 

Hernández loves seeing a unique group of church leaders and even some Bethel students attend the seminars. Some leaders bring their children to the seminars, which is introducing Bethel to new people. 

Aguirre, for example, applied to Bethel and other schools before attending the seminar. But he hadn’t followed up with Bethel because he planned to take a semester off to work and save money for college.

Aguirre’s parents are church leaders at Dios Habla Hoy—or God Speaks Today—and heard about the seminars after Hernández spoke at the church. At the seminar, Aguirre and his family learned more about Bethel and decided to move forward. “My parents really like the atmosphere,” Aguirre says, adding they appreciate Bethel’s faith-based environment. 

“I reopened my application and ended up coming here,” Aguirre says. He was also able to secure financial aid to make Bethel financially feasible. “They made it affordable for us,” he says. 

Hernández helped the family during the application process and remains accessible to Aguirre. “From the beginning, he made himself very available to us,” Aguirre said. 

He’s extended that welcoming spirit to others attending the seminars. Gustafson says Hernández spends his seminar breaks fielding questions and in discussions, which often continue during lunch in the Monson Dining Center. Gustafson says Hernández’s great sense of humor and infectious smile make him an approachable figure. “He’s just a loveable guy, and I think he exudes a warmth and an openness to people,” he says.

Gustafson sees a bright future for the seminars. He hopes Bethel will continue to be a source of continuing education for the Hispanic and Latino church leaders attending the seminars, possibly through a degree program or coursework. Attendees receive a certificate for attending the classes, which Gustafson says are taught at a college, if not graduate, level. “They really treasure those,” Gustafson says. “They see that what Juan has put into this is of high quality.”’

Converge officials have expressed interest in hosting similar seminars in other states, Gustafson says about Bethel’s founding church denomination.

“I really believe this has potential to extend Bethel’s reach and its influence for the kingdom of Christ and to grow up Godly, biblically-grounded leaders within the Hispanic church that can effectively teach the word of God and lead people into a greater understanding of God’s word and how it should be applied in their life,” Gustafson says. 

Attend the next seminar on October 20.

The next in the series "Christ Through the Four Gospels"—this time on the Gospel of John—will be held on October 20 in CC313. .

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