What prevents indigenous learners from access to pastoral education?
How can we bridge the gap so they can succeed?
Oaxaca, Mexico is one of the most linguistically diverse places on the planet. Geography and culture conspire to separate people groups from the majority culture. This is true within the church as well. The local church consensus is, we need to empower and educate pastors to minister in their own people groups. This is usually done through the Bible Institute system. But what about those who don’t, or can’t, fit into the traditional framework of full time Bible Institute?
In education, we talk about “access” for all types of learners. What prevents these learners from access to pastoral education? The primary obstacle we encountered here centered around language and literacy. The language of academia in Mexico is Spanish, and this is true for Bible Institutes as well. Less than a year ago, we received national approval to start a pilot program called C.A.P.E., to begin to respond to the needs of indigenous pastors who lacked Bible Institute education.
C.A.P.E. (Centro de Adiestramiento para Pastores de las Etnias,) specifically targets those populations where Spanish is the secondary language, and students’ first language is that of their region, sometimes referred to here, as a dialect. All of the C.A.P.E. students are, by requirement, bilingual. For us, they are a living linguistic and cultural bridge to their communities. There are, however, some challenges.
Access to Content
If the content level is too high for a student, they won’t be able to engage. Our duty as teachers is to either adapt the content level, or provide the helps they need to access it. Literacy instruction is built into the program, and also directly taught. This is a critical component for many in the indigenous community, who may have only a grade school level of reading. We have found the “Faith in Action” manuals in Spanish, to provide a content level accessible to the students, but with guidance and help. It is helpful to evaluate students’ reading levels when they come in, and routinely evaluate them. One of our teachers is a former Mexican grade school teacher, and is able to lend us her expertise. We have audio recordings of all printed text, so students can listen independently to model reading, while following along in their manuals. This has been an indispensable study aide for them.
Practical and Financial
Many bread-winners and heads of household will find it difficult to meet the expense of travel and Institute cost. As missionaries working alongside local leadership, we are able to help in this area by keeping registration minimal and cover printing costs. The students do give free-will offerings. Secondly, we only offer one class per month on the weekend. Since this is a modified program, they receive 16 hours of direct instruction, and 16 hours are independent study at home. The point is, we should provide a flexible schedule that works for the region we are in.
A Missionary-Educator is uniquely equipped to identify cultural considerations in teaching, (such as linear thinking vs. oral tradition, cultural norms and values) and personal modes of learning such as auditory, kinesthetic, visual, ect… We have five different language groups/cultures represented in one class. We as teachers are constantly assessing if we are presenting in a culturally appropriate way, and in a way that speaks to varying personality types. We encountered some culture “dissonance” regarding the “cut and paste” practice commonly used here with essays or other homework. Or goal is always to move gradually higher in the Bloom’s taxonomy of higher level thinking skills that demonstrate learning. Particularly as it pertains to academic learning, one of our goals is to prepare our students to enter higher level training programs such as ISUM and Facultad.
We as a ministry body we need to evaluate ourselves in regards to the expansion of indigenous education. While we don’t yet have an ideal model, we strive to provide a practical alternative to the traditional Bible Institute. If we refuse to address the obstacles of the indigenous learner, and their ability to access pastoral education, then we have essentially decided to exclude them. We have the freedom, and the mandate, to provide access to those who have been waiting to take the Gospel to their communities.
By: Catherine R. Figueroa
Catherine has been working among the indigenous of Oaxaca, Mexico since 2007 where she and her husband, Efrain, started C.A.P.E Bible Institute. They have been active in the training of new commanders for Royal Rangers, and have had opportunities to preach the Gospel in many small towns across Oaxaca.