The year 1929 was not an auspicious time for new enterprises anywhere in the world. But as the Central American Theological Seminary in Guatemala City celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this February, it was apparent that it had not only survived, but prospered. What began as the Central American Bible Institute in 1929, with nine students in borrowed quarters, has become one of the leading evangelical centers of theological preparation in the Spanish-speaking world.

Several hundred of the 802 graduates, along with local Christians, took part in the February week of festivities, which included special meetings, workshops on various topics relating to ministry, and alumni reunions. There was also a unique Bible exhibit which featured a number of valuable manuscripts and early editions along with copies of New Testaments or portions in twenty of Guatemala’s Indian languages, as well as a live demonstration by veteran translator Edward Sywulka and his Mam informant. Also included in the celebration was the dedication of the seminary’s new 500-seat chapel building.

The seminary program was added to the Bible institute in 1966 as the need for a higher academic level of preparation for pastors became apparent with increasing urbanization and a general rise in education across the continent. “The social structure of Latin American Protestantism has been changing,” says Dr. Emilio Antonio Nuñez, rector (president) of the seminary (known as SETECA from its name in Spanish). “More and more, professional people are found in the churches. In addition, young people who feel a call to the ministry are looking for an institution that will respond to their academic aspirations.”

Operated by CAM International (formerly the Central American Mission), SETECA has a current enrollment of 132 representing 17 countries, as far away as Argentina and Spain.

The seminary’s drawing power internationally underscores the basic paucity of high-quality, conservative theological education in Latin America as a whole. There are perhaps a half-dozen interdenominational institutions on this level to serve the rapidly growing evangelical churches among the 300 million Spanish-speaking inhabitants of the world.

While SETECA celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, the evangelical church in Guatemala is approaching its centenary. Presbyterian missionary J. C. Hill arrived in the country in 1882 in response to a call by President Justo Rufino Barrios, a liberal reformer who was seeking to counter the entrenched power of the Catholic church. Guatemala has been one of the countries in Latin America most responsive to the gospel, and evangelicals are estimated to make up at least 10 percent and perhaps as many as one out of the six million population. The largest groups include the Central American Evangelical Churches, which relate to CAM International, the Assemblies of God, and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). Some sixty missionary agencies with more than 400 foreign personnel work in Guatemala, and there are 110 Protestant denominations in the country.

The current vice-president of Guatemala, Francisco Villagrán Kramer, identifies himself as an evangelical, one of the few in high government office in Latin America. His uncle was a pioneer Plymouth Brethren missionary.

Given the theological and ecclesiastical situation in Latin America, it would seem that SETECA and the other conservative seminaries have their work cut out for the next fifty years.

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