Training Faithful Gospel preachers in Latin America
The Bible School of the Americas began as the Pan American Bible School, a preacher training class conducted by the Balboa congregation located in the old Canal Zone of Panama, in September of 1965. It became too large for the space at the Balboa church building and relocated several times ~ a room above a chicken coop ~ a large building in old Panama ~ a small campus in the Rio Bajo area of Panama City ~ before settling on 25 acres in the Mañanitas area outside Panama City in 1993. Men from countries throughout Central and South America have studied and graduated from the Bible School in Panama.
The Bible School of the Americas offers a comprehensive study of the Bible, with emphasis on teaching and preaching. The campus is equipped with a reference library and computers to assist students in completing course requirements. Wives are also involved in the development of a preacher. They attend classes in Bible, Teaching Methods and Family Values.
Men are able to study in their own language and in familiar cultural areas. The plan of study covers the span of two years, where they complete more than 56 courses during their two year study. During this time, they receive intensive studies that prepare them to confront, in an effective manner, the evil that faces this society without Christ.
While attending school, men are involved in many activities such as: personal evangelism, medical campaigns, seminars, work with local congregations, evangelistic campaigns, conferences, devotionals, sports, and trips. Life “on campus” is Christian Family oriented in living, in social activities and in studies. The entire focus of the school is “Training Faithful Gospel preachers in Latin America!” Following graduation, the men and their families return to their own countries to preach the Gospel to those who are lost.
“The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few”
Since 1963 we have had a program to train native preachers to preach in their own language in their own culture, to their fellow citizens in their own country. While the core of this training is invested in our full-time school, we also have a secondary school that enhances our main system. It is called the Satellite School System.
It had its beginning shortly before the building of our current main campus in Panama City, Panama, the home of Bible School of the Americas. We were, at that time conducting schools in Panama City (the old Rio Abajo building near downtown Panama City), San Jose, Costa Rica, and Tegucigalpa, Honduras. At that time, Manuel Noriega had just been apprehended and a new government took over the country of Panama. We enjoyed a close relationship with this new government and as a result we were asked, “What do you need?” by the Director General of Health, Dr. Steve Morales. He asked us if we needed a hospital, a clinic, etc. We responded that what we needed was to have a campus where we could house our preacher training school, a Children’s Home, and perhaps a clinic. With that, we were shown the former military facilities at Fort Gulick on the Atlantic side of the country for what was called “School of the Americas.” It was a large facility containing three buildings on a peninsula in Lake Gatun. They asked us to make a plan on usage and then it would be given to us. We made the plan and were told we would get it, but unfortunately it got turned over to some lawyers because a large predominant religious group opposed our obtaining the property. After waiting for about six months, we opted to take our plan and find land to develop the project to be called “Bible School of the Americas.” We purchased the 25 acre property where the campus is currently located, and the rest is history.
In our development stages we determined that we would take all the students from the current school in Panama City along with the students in San Jose, Costa Rica and Tegucigalpa, Honduras and have them all move to the new facility. We did not want to leave a void in Costa Rica or Honduras, so we put together what is now called our Satellite School System. We wanted to achieve four goals with the Satellite School System:
- Train men who were not ready to attend a full-time, two-year school to be able to preach.
- Encourage fundamental Bible training that would train helpers for the local preacher who could go outside the urban areas and help preach and teach with smaller congregations.
- Provide a system where local congregations would get a Bible class that would be a foundation for future leaders of the local congregations (elders, deacons, and teachers).
- Finally, look at potential prospects in a two-year setting to see if they had the capacity and attitude that would make them good prospects for our full-time school.
A Satellite School System allowed us to keep training in Costa Rica and Honduras as well as all the other countries we were working in at the time as we consolidated our three full-time schools. The nature of the Satellite School was a part-time school where students volunteered to go three hours a week for 39 weeks over two years. We provided the materials for the students (three separate books) but would not supply any other funding.
One of the major advantages of the Satellite School System was to be a “feeder” school for our full-time program. We must find men who can become the next generation of preachers. To have the best men preaching in years to come, we must find the best prospects to invest in. Our Satellite School System is basically designed to do just that. While we can never be certain how a young man will turn out, we can at least work with those who demonstrate qualities that potentially will be favorable to producing faithful, dedicated Gospel preachers. While this is a simple, inexpensive concept, it is a critical part of the overall process in accomplishing the goal of training preachers in Latin America.