Ok, I know the title is a bit cryptic, so I will explain. ASELSI stands for Association for Equipping the Saints International. The acronym is actually created from the Spanish way of saying it (in case you were trying to figure out where the “L” came from). You can see more about their program on their website. As we mentioned in our most recent newsletter, our first class graduated in February! Now, this might not seem like big news but if you have been following us since we first got to Guatemala, you might have heard us use the term ASELSI quite often (almost as much as we use the term CR) even if you didn’t fully know what it was.
ASELSI or more specifically EBA (Bible Education of ASELSI) is a Guatemalan born seminary program of different levels to help pastors and church leaders know more about how to minister the Word of God without the huge price tag. Even though Guatemalan seminary costs might seem nominal to those of us who have gone to college in the United States, even $6/month has proven to be difficult for some students here. The classes are on different levels, but each course takes about 2 years to complete. The basic level, the one which I taught over the past two years, does not require any specific level of prior education but it is helpful if you can read and write. Some students have gone through the course without knowing how to read or write and the directors gave all their exams orally! The course is now certified up to the collegiate level and now they are branching into specialized courses like world missions. They are teaching in many other Latin American countries and have even begun in the U.S. as well.
We started the course with 6 students. Within the first year, one dropped out as she started attending a different church and began taking their discipleship courses. The second student was doing well but he had to stop taking the classes because he couldn’t afford them, and he did not have the time to dedicate to his job, family, and ministry responsibilities in the church. However, these 4 students proved their grit and stuck it out, even though each one encountered times of trial to do their work, show up to class, and pay their tuition! We are so proud of all of them! In fact, for two students, this was the first time they ever “walked the stage” as a graduate as they haven’t even completed the 6th grade.
So now what? One of the things Pastor Jorge and I were evaluating is the next level. The level after the basic course requires that each student has completed middle school. Only 1 of the 4 students has. We talked with the administration and they said we could run the course and they could attend but wouldn’t receive an official diploma unless they complete middle school and then they could retroactively issue them a diploma. As we were assessing the situation and debating how to proceed, God opened another door and we are excited to be walking through it right now!
For the past couple years, Missy and I, our team on the ground here in Guatemala, and some of the Servants staff back in the US have been going through a series of Spiritual Formation Exercises. They are based on the work of Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) and have been modified for current day Christianity. Well, I shouldn’t say they conform to modern day Christianity, rather they are transforming us to be Christians living in the modern day. They are more like Transformational Exercises. We are being personally mentored through the exercises and I am specifically working towards being a spiritual director myself. Mike McComb, the international director of ASELSI has also gone through these exercises.
The challenging element of these exercises is that they don’t focus on our Bible knowledge or necessarily make us experts in “Christianese”. Rather, they challenge us to grow in our relationship with God. They focus on the heart stuff, not the head stuff. You know I’m always up for a challenge, but as I frequently admit to my mentor, there are some days I sit down to work through a lesson and I push it away saying, “not gonna happen today.” They challenge our traditions and head knowledge by encouraging and sometimes forcing us to take a deep hard look at our heart condition and how close we are with the Lord. In other words, they are exercises designed to help us grow in our relationship with God the way He created us to be in communion with Him!
While our ASELSI class learned some interesting things about the bible they didn’t previously know, we found that they, as well as many others in our church here in Guatemala, know a lot about the bible and Christianity. They grew up in it. There isn’t a fight for “separation of church and state” in this country, so bible knowledge is prevalent. Whether you are Catholic or Protestant in Guatemala, you know all the prayers, all the rituals, and all the right things to say. In our first months of teaching Celebrate Recovery, I was often challenged by men who were quite intoxicated who could repeat to me bible verse after bible verse. However, when I asked, “how are you applying that to your life today?” everyone fell silent. This is where the brokenness lies in this over-churched culture. Everyone (including myself) knows what the bible says, but we don’t know what to do with that knowledge.
These books have recently been translated into Spanish! Pastor Jorge, myself, and Dr. Mike McComb had some discussions about this with each other as well as with the leaders of the organization that publish these lessons about how we can apply this to Guatemala. Mike would love to find a way to integrate these courses into the ASELSI program as it would not only help leaders and pastors teach this to their congregations, but also help them in their personal relationships with the Lord! Jorge and I agree that the congregation knows a lot about the Bible and through our teachings on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, will continue to learn about it. But we want to see the people learn how to be close to God, be attentive to the Holy Spirit, and be obedient to Jesus Christ. So, this month I have started teaching these lessons for the first time in Spanish to see its effectiveness in this culture and find ways to adapt it to be more understandable in this context.
I tell you all of this to ask: WILL YOU PLEASE PRAY FOR ME??? While I love teaching, love growing closer to God, and love a good challenge, this is definitely a daunting task for me. When I stop to contemplate the enormity of what God has me doing, I am humbled that He would consider me worthy enough to do such a thing. While I feel I am certainly in my element as I prepare, teach, and critique these lessons, I know that I will only be successful if I allow God to lead me every step of the way. I’m very sure that’s the whole point, but it’s a new level for me. I’m honored and grateful to be surrounded by so many supportive people who encourage me and are helping me as I go, but it is very tempting to back down or worse, do it “my way.”
The goal is to use this new program to incite and inspire deeper spiritual transformation not just in City of Refuge church or the ASELSI program, but the entire country and anyone else we encounter. As we continue to be transformed by God’s grace and mercy, we desire that others around us can be touched profoundly by His presence within us.