The history below is copied from Hispanic Center for Theological Studies: “In it Together – A 20 Year Journey” by Edward Delgado and Catherine Barsotti.
The movement of the Spirit of God in the Evangelical Covenant Church to inspire and guide our common ministries is palpable at times. Such was the case twenty years ago as Centro Hispano de Estudios Teológicos (CHET) offered its first class to a small group of committed Hispanic/Latino(a) students. The origins of CHET include the head, heart and hands of many Covenanters, guided by the Holy Spirit, across time and space. Such is still the case today as Hispanic/Latino(a), European, Asian, and African-Americans are “in it together”, as our President Gary Walter likes to say, to further the mission of nurturing new life and leader development among the huge Hispanic/Latino(a) mission field in the U.S. and around the world. And such will also be the case for our future “life together” as we are sensitive to the winds of the Spirit to serve this growing group of often un-served or underserved sisters and brothers.
Let’s begin at the beginning of God’s movement among Spanish-speaking peoples within the Covenant, the prelude to CHET’s birth. In 1930 a fifteen year old boy accepted Christ at a revival service held in the First Covenant Church of Los Angeles. A few years later he attended North Park College and then married a young woman who shared his vision for missions. Together, Eldon and Opal Johnson went to Bolivia as missionaries, serving for twenty-three years. When they had to return to the States for Eldon’s open heart surgery, L.A. First Covenant asked them to become “missionaries at home” – they would minister to the many Latin Americans who now populated the church neighborhood.
In 1965 with the Lord’s blessing, and the help of the Anglo membership of First Covenant, a new Spanish-speaking church came into being – La Primera Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico de Los Ángeles. It was among the first such congregations in the Covenant denomination, and eventually grew to be larger than the English-speaking congregation along side it. Included in that ministry were classes that Eldon and Opal started, hoping they would some day become the basis for a Bible Institute. In 1978 when the Johnsons were called to serve the Hispanic Covenant church in San Francisco, their cherished dream of establishing the Instituto Biblico in Los Angeles was left in the hearts and hands of dedicated lay leaders such as Lyle Stokes and Oscar Pierola, from within this Los Angeles hyphenated church. However, the neighborhood in which L. A. First Covenant was situated became highly commercialized and the church had to make a decision. Trusting in the leading of the Lord, the combined membership, Anglo and Hispanic/Latino(a), voted to sell the church. The proceeds would allow each congregation to birth new ministries elsewhere, as well as further prepare the soil for CHET. After the observance of its One Hundredth Anniversary in 1989, LA First Covenant Church closed its doors, but also opened the much bigger doors of God’s Kingdom. Paul Larsen, the former President of the ECC says about LA First, “There needs to be a book written about a great church that gave its life for the new immigrants.”
As the movement of the Holy Spirit was operating on the local level, the need for pastoral and theological training for our new Hispanic churches was also felt by denominational leaders. The first Hispanic/Latino(a) pastors often were from other denominations and had little training. In his centennial volume President Paul Larsen wrote: “As we turn to our Hispanic populations in Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico, we must not forget the exploding Hispanic population in North America. North Park College could establish in Mexico City a center of Hispanic studies. The Seminary could then train its Hispanic pastors and missionaries in the Hispanic World. This writer feels that all of our home, world mission, and educational institutions need such a dramatic shot in the arm” (The Mission of a Covenant: Covenant Press,1985, p. 133). It was not Mexico City, however, but the second largest Spanish-speaking city in the world, Los Angeles, that would soon become host to such a school.
In 1985, a consultation was called by Robert K. Johnston, then Dean of North Park Theological Seminary. He together with the Covenant’s President Paul Larsen, the Covenant’s head of the Department of Ministry Don Njaa, and several other key denominational leaders, met at North Park to discuss how better to grow a strong and vibrant Spanish-speaking Covenant church in the USA. Although there were several such congregations in the Covenant (California-3, Illinois-3 and Texas-1), current leaders had little training, congregational health and sustainability were often lacking, the next generation of leadership was not being developed, and finances were nonexistent. And yet, we as a denomination recognized our call to serve the whole people of God!
Key to the success of the meeting was the preliminary work of David Mark, presently Regional Coordinator of our mission work in Latin America. At the time, David was a student at North Park preparing for ordination. He already had served as a pastor and had done extensive research for his doctor of ministry on the Hispanic church in the United States. David was invaluable in helping this group of leaders understand the possibilities and challenges connected with moving forward. As is often the case, the list of challenges came easy: a lack of Hispanic/Latino(a) Covenant clergy to serve; a lack of Spanish-language churches to send young graduates to; a lack of money to resource existing churches and plant new ones; and most importantly a lack of vision and structure as to how best to further this mission. In short, the group asked itself, “How do we begin to meet the challenges?” By first locating outside pastors who fit the Covenant? By first seeking to train new pastors who would know and understand the uniqueness of the Covenant church’s mission? Or, by first pursuing financial resources to plant churches? All were important, but leadership had to decide how God was leading the Covenant to best break the log jam?
Out of the consultation came a clear sense that God was calling the Covenant to move forward in developing a creative, contextual and sustainable Covenant Hispanic/Latino(a) ministry by training a new generation of pastors and church leaders. Paul Larsen made the suggestion that we might talk to the Los Angeles Covenant Church as they were committed to Hispanic/Latino(a) ministry, even though their English-language congregation was diminishing due to the changing demographics of inner-city Los Angeles, and the church was considering whether it could continue in ministry. Jim Stayboldt, one of the congregation’s most respected leaders was a friend of Paul’s and of Rob’s, and suggestions were made that he should be contacted. At the June 1985 ECC one hundredth anniversary celebration in Minneapolis, Rob happened to meet Jim in the elevator and a conversation began. God has his timing!
After discussion with the local church by Jim, and key dialogue with President Larsen, the Los Angeles church decided to end its present ministry and to sell its assets which would be split three ways between: 1) a new church home for the Spanish language congregation in Bell Gardens, CA; 2) an initial endowment to help fund the start up and continued operations of CHET; and 3) continued ministry by the English congregation through gifts to significant Covenant ministries in which they were involved. Covenant Trust Company was vital in lending its expertise to help the congregations and CHET manage their funds and be good stewards of God’s provision. Again, God’s timing was clear, for the property was put on the market and sold at what would prove to be the peak of the 1980’s Los Angeles real estate bubble. The property remains a vacant parcel to this day.
Of course, money is not enough for a school to flourish (though it is a good start!). Leadership is crucial. The planning committee thus contacted Dr. Jorge Taylor, a Latino pastor and seminary professor who was presently serving at Northern Baptist Seminary. Though his wife Miriam was not happy about moving into earthquake country, both the Taylors sensed God’s strong call to help birth a school and lead the Covenant forward into a more vibrant Hispanic/Latino(a) ministry. As Johnston remembers, “Jorge’s leadership, pastoral sensitivity, church loyalty, and educational expertise were just the right combination for us.” And thus CHET was born.
Given their common parent (The First Covenant Church of Los Angeles), CHET began (and still continues) its ministry out of the Primera Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico in Bell Gardens. Both ministries were the children of the vision and dedication of those hard working sons and daughters of Swedish immigrants who continued to reach out to their neighborhood long after any Swedish immigrant had remained living in the inner city of Los Angeles. What Eldon and Opal Johnson had begun, now gave birth to two, vibrant Hispanic/Latino(a) ministries: a self sustaining Spanish-speaking Covenant church with its own fully paid building and a new Covenant school for the equipping of Spanish language pastors, evangelists, counselors, missionaries and lay leaders.
Perhaps the final step in this start-up process was the work of Njaa, Johnston, Larsen, and Taylor to develop and implement a denominational process whereby CHET became an alternate Spanish-language pathway to full ordination within the Evangelical Covenant Church, both for those receiving their education there, and for those transferring their ordination from other denominations.. The Covenant could now begin to develop a large group of Covenant trained clergy who knew the Covenant, were theologically and biblically trained, and who were rooted in the Hispanic/Latino(a) communities that were burgeoning throughout the States.
Since that historic meeting, ministry among Spanish-speaking peoples in the US has grown significantly in the Covenant. There are at present 50 Spanish-speaking churches. CHET’s influence in shaping ministry among Spanish speaking peoples in the US is validated by the fact that 68% of all of the Covenant pastors leading these congregations in the United States are either graduates of CHET or have received their pastoral orientation studies through CHET. In addition, CHET has taught more than 5000 students and has graduated over 700 persons through its lay leadership, Ministerial, Lay Family Counseling and Bachelor of Christian Ministry Degree programs.
Throughout the twenty years of CHET’s ministry, common student characteristics include: 75% are married with families and have a combined income of less than $35,000; on average 50% are women; and during any one semester, students will represent at least 17 Latin-American countries and an equal number of denominations and independent churches. Furthermore, over 90% are leaders in their local churches and engaged already in some form of ministry. Carlos De La Roca of Guatemala is typical of our students. A father of five and a construction foreman, he is the co-pastor at the Covenant Church of the Redeemer in Los Angeles. Says De La Roca, “Never have I imagined that I would be preparing for ministry in ways that are so simple, so profound and so practical. I can sense the hand of God and know that God has a plan for my life.”
During its first 20-years, CHET’s influence has grown from serving 25 students in 1989 to serving 550 students in spring quarter 2009–50% of that growth has been through satellites and distance/online courses, while CHET’s main campus has grown from 25 to 190 students. Much of this growth came under the passionate and entrepreneurial leadership of Dr. Jorge Maldonado who served effectively as its president for 13 years. Again, it is important to observe God’s hand at work in preparing Dr. Maldonado for this leadership role. Jorge was in one sense not “new” to CHET; he had preached and taught classes at La Primera Iglesia de L.A. during the pastorate of the Johnsons while he was attending Fuller Seminary.
CHET alums currently serve throughout the United States, and some have even ventured outside of its boundaries. Connie and Javier Carrillo, after having completed their CHET studies served as short term missionaries in Argentina prior to going to North Park Theological Seminary to earn their masters degrees. The Carrillos now pastor the Iglesia del Pacto de Monticello, MN. Bernardo and Irma Urbano pastored Hispanic/Latino congregations at Rolling Hills and Oakland (Irma was the first CHET graduate ordained in the ECC and first Latina pastor). Alum Danny Martinez went on to complete his M.Div. at Fuller Theological Seminary and has recently been admitted into the Fuller Doctor of Ministry program. Danny serves at Grace Covenant Church in Spring Valley California. Alum Daniel Anabalon, also a Fuller M. Div graduate, serves at El Encino Covenant Church in Downey California and teaches at CHET. Roberto Ghione pastors Nueva Esperanza Covenant Church in Simi Valley California. Gricel Medina was recently ordained and now serves the Rain Covenant Church in Carrolton Texas. Yacid and Javier Cardenas are serving Iglesia del Pacto Evangelico Peniel in Chicago, while Roberto and Ana Espinoza pastor the Iglesia Pacto Evangelico Douglas Park, also in Chicago. The list of Covenant alumni is both long and growing. As former President Paul Larsen, who occasionally teaches at CHET, put it, “As I have taught orientation and theology courses from time to time, I have seen how many Latino/a believers from other traditions are also now enrolled. CHET appears to becoming a major center for Hispanic believers in Southern California [and beyond].”
The denomination and the Pacific Southwest Conference under the visionary leadership of both John Notehelfer and Evelyn Johnson have come along side CHET as it has grown its mission. North Park has continued to offer collegial advice and to serve as CHET’s member institution, so that CHET might be, as President Larsen suggested “tied in perpetuity to our central mission.” In the beginning CHET’s presidents, Jorge Taylor, and later, Jorge Maldonado, both served as unofficial heads of the Hispanic ministries in the Covenant. Now, Walter Contreras is Director of Outreach and Hispanic Church Planting for the PSW Conference; Wilson Herrera gives leadership through the Dept. of Christian Formation and Discipleship; and an active Latino/a clergy organization under the leadership of Samuel Galdamez (Iglesia Del Pacto De Turlock, Turlock CA.) coordinates Spanish-language ministry for the denomination.
But all of this would have been impossible without CHET, as it created the synergy and critical mass to jump start the Covenant’s current multi-faceted approach to Hispanic/Latino(a) ministries. Furthermore, ECC President Gary Walter’s motto of “In It Together” continues to find expression at CHET, as board members and consultants come from all over our Covenant family—ECC administrators, superintendents, pastors, educators, and lay leaders. They come from as far away as Miami and Minnesota to as close as south central LA. CHET’s list of those who are “In It Together” also includes teachers from North Park Seminary, supporting churches like Rolling Hills, Montecito and Walnut Creek, and key individuals like Catherine Barsotti whose leadership and direction has spanned both decades.
Edward Delgado, CHET’s Dean and Vice-President from 2000-2005, and since 2007, its third president, looks to the future of CHET: “The future of the ECC’s ministry to, for and with Hispanic/Latino(a) communities will require intentionality in connecting with the fastest growing segment of our nation’s population. In 1950, when the first US based Covenant church serving Hispanic/Latinos(as) became a member church there were 2.3 million Hispanic/Latinos(as) in the US. By 2000, there were 17 Hispanic/Latino(a) Covenant churches, but the population had grown to 35.3 million. Currently, there are 50 Hispanic/Latino(a) Covenant churches and the Hispanic/Latino(a) population is estimated to be 46.9 million. We are not keeping up as a church. But even if the current percentage rate of growth in the number of Hispanic/Latino(a) Covenant churches in the last decade only continues at its present rate, there will be 150 Hispanic/Latino(a) Covenant churches by 2020 needing leadership and training. The Evangelical Covenant Church through NPU and CHET has a primary responsibility for recruiting and equipping pastoral leaders for these churches.”
On Saturday, the 5th of December, 2009 CHET celebrated its 20th year of ministry and its 16th graduation. Both a child of, and a ministry from and to the Evangelical Covenant Church, CHET grew out of the Covenant’s commitment to move beyond its ethnic borders, to better express the mosaic that is the whole people of God, and to take seriously our biblical responsibility to include the new immigrants among. While the future is bright, Delgado reminds Covenanters that “there is much to do. Finances are very tight given the crisis in America that has particularly effected the vulnerable. The school has outgrown its quarters. Additional staff, resources and professors are needed to serve distance learners, online course registrants, and national and international CHET satellites. But God is faithful.”
Philosopher George Santayana was right when he declared: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Even more so when the idea is God’s, and the whole people of God are “in it together.” We invite readers to join others across the Covenant in recognizing their part in this exciting life together.
- CHET satellites are located in Oaxaca, Guadalajara and Tijuana Mexico, La Coruña Spain, San Diego, Wilmington, Westminster, Delano, Porterville, Rialto, Claremont and Walnut Creek California, Carthage Missouri, Hanover Park Illinois, and on the North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago Illinois main campus.
- CHET’s professional affiliations: CHET is a member of AETH, the Hispanic Theological Education Association, of FIET, the International Faculty of Theological Education, of EIRENE International, the Latin American Association for Pastoral Care and Family Counseling, and is registered with the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education of California. It has been endorsed by the Associacion Teologica Hispana (ATH), an initiative of the Association of Theological School (ATS).