by Jolene VonGunten for Mennonite Education Agency
ELKHART, Ind. — A project of Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) Hispanic Ministries was recently awarded a $15,500 grant from The Schowalter Foundation. The purpose of the project is to adapt the Instituto Bíblico Anabautista (IBA – Anabaptist Bible Institute) digital resources to better serve participants in virtual settings.
Hispanic Ministries Director Marco Güete is excited about the project. “IBA is constantly renovating itself to serve as a transformative biblical educational entity,” he said. “In this case, IBA is adding virtual study centers with the guidance of tutors to carry out the educational work of preparing leaders in Anabaptist Hispanic congregations in any geographical location.”
Since 1988, IBA study centers have been planted and growing in local congregations across the country, offering biblical and theological education to train Hispanic Anabaptist men and women for ministry within the church. The COVID-19 pandemic forced all study centers to close in 2020, a blow for students wanting to complete their education. In response, IBA created an experimental virtual study center with one of the tutors teaching from Maryland. The response was overwhelming. So many students applied from around the country and beyond that participation had to be limited. It was an important lesson.
“Accessibility is a priority for Hispanic Ministries,” said Güete. “The pandemic taught us the importance of digital tools in education. Virtual IBA study centers improve access for students from many locations to participate.”
As the impact of the pandemic eased, some study centers resumed operations while new centers opened. At the same time, IBA leaders began exploring how to offer virtual study centers effectively. Today IBA offers thirteen in-person study centers, a hybrid center for in-person and remote study, and one fully virtual center. More virtual centers are in development, and Güete expects the trend to continue. The Schowalter grant will help equip the program for this new direction.
“J.A. Schowalter wanted his legacy to continue on beyond his lifetime, supporting the missional work of Mennonite churches and organizations with similar faith and values,” said Schowalter Foundation President Diane Yoder. “We are pleased to support the efforts of Mennonite Education Agency through his vision and generosity.”
The project will digitalize the IBA curriculum for migration into virtual systems and train students and tutors to use it. IBA leaders also plan to step up communication efforts within the Hispanic community to inform and recruit new students. They will also partner with seminaries and theological institutions in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, and other parts of Latin America in the use of digital education programs.
“The tutors and students create an online Anabaptist-Mennonite learning community, an effective global collaborative, using sound pedagogical principles for a very low cost,” Güete explained.
The Schowalter Foundation was established in 1954 from the estate of J. A. Schowalter, a Mennonite from Newton, Kansas. The Foundation supports initiatives that follow the Mennonite convictions of service and missions, peacemaking and social concerns, and other programs and projects carried out by Mennonite Church USA and the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, as well as Mennonite higher education institutions. To learn more about the life and legacy of J. A. Schowalter and The Schowalter Foundation’s mission and grants, visit www.schowalterfoundation.org/.
Mennonite Education Agency is headquartered in Elkhart, Indiana, and partners with Anabaptist Mennonite educational institutions and programs affiliated with Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) to provide resources, networking, and dedication to an Anabaptist educational vision. As the education agency of MC USA, MEA connects church and school together in a complementary and cooperative way to strengthen the church through education.