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Bethel takes education on the road with Dallas writing workshop

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Sometimes the best way for a college to serve its constituency is to ask.

Bethel College has been working for some time to develop a summer term course that will benefit Hispanic Mennonite churches and leaders, particularly in Texas. During a January conference call discussion with the board of directors of the Leadership and Learning Institute, a program of the Dallas Mennonite churches, Bethel president Barry C. Bartel asked what might be an urgent need that Bethel could help LLI meet.

The answer: A class taught in Spanish on how to write a paper for graduate-level credit. Bartel suggested he come to meet with the board in person, and did so the weekend of Feb. 25-27, when he also preached at Peace Mennonite Church and Iglesia Menonita Mi Redentor.

From these two meetings, the idea developed for Bethel professor of Spanish Martha Peterka, who regularly teaches a similar curriculum on writing papers to her upper-level Spanish students, to come to Dallas and do it there in a weekend intensive course.

The class, which Peterka gave April 20-21, came under the auspices of LLI, a nonprofit entity that the Dallas churches founded in 2002 “to enhance the ministry and outreach of urban churches.” One of LLI’s primary goals is to provide educational services, including distance education through Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., for pastors and church lay leaders.

As part of a $1.6 million Lilly Grant for its Engaging Pastors initiative, AMBS launched the Seminario Biblico Anabautista in fall 2006 with the course Misión y Paz (Mission and Peace). John Driver, a long-time mission worker and theological educator in Latin America, taught the course in a two-weekend intensive in Dallas.

The Seminario is a way to provide theological education to pastors and church leaders whose fluency in English and ministerial responsibilities would make a full-time graduate degree at AMBS difficult. The Seminario offers a certificate in theological studies equivalent AMBS’ one-year certificate. However, the Certificado courses will be presented entirely in Spanish, on-site in Texas.

By all accounts, the inaugural course was a success. However, as with any new venture, there were some wrinkles to be ironed out. One was class members’ request for some help brushing up on their term paper-writing skills.

Peterka admitted to some nervousness going into the venture – although she had taught a similar class many times, it had never been in a four-session block over only two days. However, she says, she came home feeling the effort had been worthwhile.

The main thrust of the class was to teach the mechanics of writing a standard academic paper – including format, style, paragraph organization and thesis statement – and a critical review. There were 12 participants, ranging in age from teens to 80-plus, with educational experiences almost as varied.

Peterka did not ask her students for written evaluations at the end of the class but said that already by Saturday morning, she was getting oral affirmation and even hugs from her students. “They told me how much they had learned, and how helpful the information would be in enabling them to succeed in subsequent [Seminario] classes. Several times I was told my being there was a blessing from God.”

“We were very pleased,” said Esther Martinez, LLI executive director. “Martha was an excellent teacher who was able to teach us at all educational levels. She was very well prepared and she was very sensitive to the needs of all. I believe the project was a great success. Thank you for the opportunity of partnering with Bethel College – you have truly been a blessing to our community.”

“Some things you do because they are the right thing to do,” Bartel said. “This was a need expressed by the LLI leadership, and Bethel has a professor with the skills needed. So it was a good fit and a good way to serve the churches. “

He added, “We look forward to furthering this relationship with these and other Hispanic churches. Who knows where that might lead?”

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel web site at

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