by Larry McNeill, D. Min.
LAC Leadership Development
Which country of Latin America/Caribbean is celebrating 75 years of theological education this year?
Due to circumstances beyond their control, for 35 consecutive years, they labored through untold hardships as they continued to train pastors without any help or influence of U. S. missionaries. This national educational program is currently serving over 1,000 students from Bible Institute through master’s degree level. The motto of the educational program is “Sapientiam solus sapientiam, “wisdom only wisdom.” Which country is this?
Think you know?
Make your guess before reading further about the amazing story of this rock solid work.
The grace of God and diligent efforts of many of God’s choice servants over three quarters of a century have brought the Cuban Assemblies of God to the impressive educational program the national church conducts today. In recent years, God has opened the door for limited missionary participation. God miraculously opened the door for my involvement starting in 1994. Master´s College and Seminary (MCS) of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada has conducted occasional Bible college courses since 1996. Participation by the Assemblies of God World Missions of the U. S. has steadily expanded–ISUM (Bible College level) since 2001, Facultad de Teología (Master´s degree program) since 2004 and Global University since 2010. These ministries are performing a valuable role in cooperation with the national church and are received with overwhelming appreciation by the Cuban brethren. These ministries provide their own reports of their work in Cuba. The present article focuses on the national church educational program, Universidad Teológica Pentecostal de Cuba (UTPC). The institution currently serves over 1,000 active students at the college and graduate level.
This work is all the more amazing in light of many circumstances unique to this country that no other Latin American country has experienced. For half of these 75 years the Cuban AG bravely struggled against untold hardships with no contact with churches outside their country. Isolated and alone, they often wondered what God was doing in other countries and if the churches in those places had forgotten about them.
The 75 year history of theological education in Cuba is marked by three distinct historical periods, each of approximately a quarter of a century:
The years of solid foundational efforts and the faithful perseverance of those stalwart servants of the Lord who suffered long years of privations and harsh conditions paved the way for 25 plus fruitful years of remarkable expansion and development enjoyed since 1987.
In 1939, U. S. AGWM missionary Lawrence Perrault announced the beginning of the Instituto Bíblico Pentecostal in Santiago de Cuba, the country’s first. He persuaded a pastor in Havana to send a young man by the name of Eolallo Caballero, who although a fairly new convert, had a burning desire to study for the ministry. That first year Eolallo was the only student. The following year Perrault relocated to Havana and continued the effort with four additional students. Such an inauspicious beginning did not dampen the desire to train Cubans for the work of the ministry. The vision that birthed this tiny nucleus would continue year after year through many changes of venue, leaders, curriculum, modes of study and institutional names. There would be decades of struggle and hardship with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Through the dedicated efforts and faithful perseverance of saintly men and women of God, that which began as a tiny spark 75 years ago has spread like a prairie fire across the length and breadth of the entire nation. Today, that which began in a back room with one student has developed into an inspiring nationwide educational program.
As the institution grew a 150 acre farm, known as Finca la Perla, was acquired in1947. Its location in the center of the country, on the outskirts of Manacas, facilitated continued growth and development. The school thrived for more than a decade, then political conditions made a sharp change in 1959. Although matters were tenuous at first, God was at work maturing national leaders and preparing His church for change.
Missionaries served as General Superintendents until the 1961 General Council. When the election for Superintendent stalemated, one of the pastors spoke privately with Floyd Woodworth who was presiding the convention, and told him that God had revealed to him the man He had chosen to lead. Independently, another pastor reported the same. Floyd asked each of them to write the name on a slip of paper. Floyd explained this to the ministers assembled and they all agreed that if the name was the same on both slips of paper, that person would become the Superintendent. Remember Eolallo Caballero, the only student that first year at the Bible Institute, back in 1939? By now he had served 22 years in effective pastoral ministry. His name was on both slips of paper.
Caballero served faithfully as the first Cuban General Superintendent for the next 18 years (1961-1979), leading the pastors and churches through extraordinarily difficult circumstances, when at times it seemed that the church might not survive. Troublesome circumstances in 1963, beyond the control of the national church and contrary to their desires, brought about the closure of the Bible Institute campus and forfeiture of the property. All missionaries had to leave the country. For the next 14 years the national church was unable to publish their equivalent of the Pentecostal Evangel, which had been printed and circulated for years. But as General Superintendent Hector Hunter would say 50 years later, “We never, never, never stopped training our pastors.” These brave saints of God always found a way. In 1964 some 55 Bible Institute students quietly gathered in the basement of a church to continue preparing for the ministry. Later, finding it necessary to abandon the location, the operation was moved to the basement of another church. Following this, they used another method. Year after year they always found a way. Present leaders recount amazing feats of courage and God´s miraculous intervention in the midst of impossible situations, bringing protection and provisions.
The Holy Spirit birthed in the national church leaders yet another strategy for ministerial education in 1986. Educación a Distancia de Superación Ministerial (EDISUB) was initiated in January 1987. Course materials had to be prepared, then laboriously duplicated on a hand cranked mimeograph machine at a tiny wooden shack in an orange grove far in the country. Ink and paper, not readily available, were acquired through a variety of strange means, and always in answer to fervent prayer. Conditions made it necessary to avoid the mail and hand distribute these materials across the country.
Within little more than a year it became abundantly clear why God had led them to develop this highly successful new approach. Simultaneously, in many different places throughout the country God began to send a Book of Acts revival with supernatural sign and wonders. There were instantaneous, miraculous healings of incurable cases. Overnight, the churches, which had suffered for decades under fierce trials, were filled to overflowing. Multiplied thousands and tens of thousands were saved and added to the church year after year. New pastors were needed by the hundreds. Armando Trujillo Padrón led EDISUB from the 1990s through the first decade of the 21st century. Soon they were serving more than 4,500 students enrolled in six levels of study. Quite a change for a man who years earlier was held prisoner for 18 months because of being a minister.
Sixty-five eager pastors gathered in Camagüey in June of 2000 for the launch of a fourth year Bible college B.A. level, Faultad Teológica de Estudios Superiores (FATES). I was there to teach the first course at Armando’s invitation and the Cuban government had authorized my participation. In the opening session he made a joyous announcement that this was an historic event for the Cuban Assemblies of God.
The educational program continued to flourish as the Instituto de Superación Ministerial (ISUM) joined the effort in 2001 and the Facultad de Teología de las AD de América Latina, master’s degree program in 2004 and Global University in 2010.
In 2009, Armando left the country with his family to do missions work in Guatemala. The national church restructured the Education Department that same year by combining the Bible Institute level, Bible College level and graduate program into one institution. The name was changed to Universidad Teológica Pentecostal de Cuba (UTPC). Rev. Dr. Dadonim Vila Morales was selected as the President.
The motto of UTPC is “Sapientiam solus sapientiam, “wisdom only wisdom,” based on the anointed instruction of James to the Jewish believers of the first century Diaspora. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit James wrote, “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full or mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness“ James 3:17-18. The national church executives and leaders of the Education Department have selected as their guiding axiom, “que seamos uno,” “that we may be one,” drawn from Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17:21-23. This combined Biblical description characterizes the prevailing attitude of the Cuba’s entire educational enterprise: national church leaders, Department of Education, UTPC, President, Administrators, Staff, Faculty and student body.
Given this history and the guiding educational philosophy, it is not surprising that God has abundantly blessed this great ministry and continues to do so. The President of UTPC, ordained AG minister Dadonim Vila, is a gracious pastor in his mid 40s with a humble spirit, who may be the most extraordinarily capable person I have ever known. If you were to meet him he would identify himself as a minister of the gospel, although in the past he was jailed for this very reason. He would not tell you that he is also a medical doctor craniofacial surgeon. In addition, he holds a Ph. D. in medical sciences and is a tenured professor at the University of Havana School of Medicine. He holds several other academic degrees in theology and other fields, and he is an attorney. After being selected to serve as President of UTPC, thinking it would be wise to meet the meet the government´s qualifications, he enrolled in a Doctor of Education program. He only lacks the final writing of the dissertation to complete the requirements for his third earned academic doctorate.
Since 2012, UTPC occupies a beautiful, debt free new campus centrally located in Havana where 13 persons work together diligently in a beautiful spirit of harmony to carry out the administrative and other tasks. The principle building on campus is an elegant, large older home of masonry construction that was acquired three years ago and completely renovated inside and out. Sparkling chandeliers grace the entry foyer and reception room. The building is highly functional, attractively designed and equipped throughout. Most areas are air conditioned. It features offices for the President, Academic Dean, Administrator and the Deans of the institute level and college level. There are two comfortable guest bedrooms for visiting professors, each with a private bath. It has a large dining room and kitchen, and an air conditioned classroom to accommodate 50 students with built-in video projection installed. The storerooms and bathrooms are maintained in top shape. On the backside of the campus they have built a dormitory to house 30 men, and a large workshop and storage shed. They have plans to acquire an adjacent building which they will convert into a dormitory for women. The grounds feature several productive mango trees and coffee bushes.
Earlier this year I enjoyed the pleasurable experience of living on campus for two weeks. This afforded an excellent opportunity to observe and participate in daily activities. After breakfast, the first activity of each weekday is a one hour devotional attended by the entire staff. They begin by singing worship choruses, followed by reading from the Scripture, then at least half the time is spent in prayer as one by one they pray out loud. The prevailing sense of unity accompanies them as they go their separate ways and each one tackles his or her work for the day. There is no wasted time as each person works diligently. They are always respectful and accommodating. Though each has his or her own area of personal responsibility, they are quick to help each other in special moments of need. Professors and students will come and go at scheduled times. Students and teachers who are present at lunch time will join the staff for a tasty meal and delightful time of interaction in the dining room and adjacent covered patio. An atmosphere of brotherly love and family spirit is present at all times.
Currently, UTPC has 1,024 students actively studying in three different levels: Bible Institute (diploma), Bible College (B.A.) and Graduate School (M.A.). The programs of study comply with the Plan Básico. A series of 10 textbooks have been written and published by highly qualified Cuban pastors. In the last two years they have developed and launched an extensive Website, http://www.utpccuba.org/. They created a semi-annual, digital theological journal, “Revista Cubana de Teología,” (Cuban Theological Journal), and have published two years of issues http://www.utpccuba.org/revista/.
A well appointed extension site is located in the center of the island at Ciego de Ávila and another in the east at Santiago de Cuba. AGWM missionaries Mike and MonaRe Shields spearheaded the effort to develop these sites. The UTPC maintains study centers and trained representatives in every province. There are more than 40 libraries scattered throughout the country, thanks to the monumental efforts of AGWM missionary Everett Ward and the Latin America Caribbean Library Services. The libraries are especially beneficial for the students since there have been no evangelical bookstores in the country for the last 50 years.
UTPC is accredited by the Caribbean Evangelical Theological Association and has applied for accreditation with ATAL. Over the past few years the Cuban government has expressed appreciation for the educational program. A few months ago they asked the national church executives to apply for government accreditation of the institution. Last month UTPC took the last step of the lengthy and complicated process and was accredited by the Agencia Cubana de Estudios Teológicos (Cuban Agency for Theological Studies).
October 24, 2014 the President of UTPC, Rev. Dr. Dadonim Vila Morales was featured on Cuban national television as he received the distinguished honor of the nation’s highest literary scientific award for his recently published book, Teoría de derecho médico, Theory of Medical Law. This was the first time in the history of evangelicalism in Cuba that such an honor has been conferred upon a pastor. http://www.utpccuba.org/anuario-2014/
The educational level among Cuban pastors is high due to a high quality public education system and the seriousness of students. As a result, it is likely that more Cuban pastors hold college and graduate degrees than do pastors of other LAC countries. A high percentage of Cuban pastors have earned master´s degrees and many have earned doctorates. Combining this reality with the quickly expanding number of pastors due to the rapid growth of the church* in the past 25 years has produced a large demand for theological higher education. None of the educational entities presently at work in Cuba–UTPC, MCS, ISUM, Facultad de Teología, Global University– would be capable of meeting the need alone. But all of them cooperating together in harmony as one team, anointed by the Holy Spirit, will see even greater days of evangelism, church planting and world missions by the Cuban church than we have seen in the past!
Earlier this year the Cuban AG national executives took leadership of the Education Department and named a Commission to review and restructure the theological education program. For the past six months the Commission has prayed fervently and worked diligently to restructure the program for maximum effectiveness. They have fine tuned a proposal that will unify all educational efforts into one team with one plan and one goal. They have submitted the proposal to the pastors throughout the country for their careful consideration. Final decisions will be reached at the coming National Convention in January 2015.
For almost 35 years I have been involved in ministerial education in LAC and Spain. Twenty of these years I have worked closely with the Cuban national church theological education program. I have had the privilege of doing extensive research on Latin American higher education, religious and secular. In many countries, I have visited on site and interviewed college administrators. I have worked with academic accreditation evaluators. On the basis of personal observations I find the theological education of the Cuban AG to rank high on the scale. When the proposal is enacted at the National Convention, with the current leadership in place, the full support of the national church executives, and above all, with a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit, Cuba is ripe for the next Great Spiritual Awakening!
* Cuba was the fastest growing AG church in the world in 2011.
Larry McNeill, D. Min.