TAC Develops Training Partnership with Bolivian Pastors

Date Posted: 2/7/2011

A group of Bolivian Methodist pastors came to Galveston in mid January for an intensive training course in psychosocial ministry titled: “Effective Pastoral Response to Persons in Crisis.” This course was offered by the Texas Annual Conference through a grant made by The Methodist Hospital.


Moody Memorial UMC and its members hosted the group and provided facilities while serving in an advisory capacity to the project. Members of Friendswood UMC, Christ UMC (Howard Street), and Mission Milby also hosted guests for the program.


Director of Missional Excellence, Rev. Diane McGehee said the initial idea came from the Bolivian community. “A number of conference churches have had a relationship with Bolivia for some time. We also have a missionary there – Diane Wimberly – formerly at St. Paul’s (Houston). Through that relationship, we received the request from the Bolivian Methodist Church for assistance with pastoral care training.”


Rev. B.T. Williamson and Rev. Rick Goodrich visited Bolivia in the fall 2010 to offer initial assistance and learn more about the kind of training and relationship for which the Bolivians were hoping.


“What we are developing is a culturally-sensitive training program with Rev. Dr. Ted Smith of the Krist Samaritan Center doing most of the teaching,” McGehee continued. “Through this program, we are offering what we have in the way of expertise, while at the same time, learning from them how our methods can be applied in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner.  It is thus an accompaniment model for ministry – we are learning from each other.”


Dr. Ted Smith described the project as a “multi-phase training process to provide knowledge and skill to Methodist Bolivian pastors about pastoral care ministry to their parishioners who face emergency situations.”


He added that “the content of the training included biblical and theological themes which were implied in the pastoral care concepts themselves. Of course, attention was also given to the practical applications of those concepts for a variety of pastoral settings.”


The sessions included topics such as pastoral identity; identifying and responding to pastoral crises; visiting the ill; ministry to the dying and bereaved and addressing abuse.


“[We] …covered a range of different pastoral encounters – from minor toward more crisis oriented, including hospitalization… bereavement… suicide… and violence,” Smith continued.  


Cultural Context

Much of the discussion also revolved around culturally appropriate responses and was designed to help participants gain a deeper understanding in determining what might be appropriate in a given situation.


“We’re learning about their culture and about ways we need to be sensitive to the application of Biblical principles and pastoral care approaches in different cultures,” said Rev. McGehee.


She noted that the conference has involved local Hispanic leadership in the project and is discerning how to use the training model in other developing communities in Latin America and in Spanish communities in the TAC.


“You can’t apply the material in the same way in any community because each community has different cultural issues to which we need to be sensitive,” McGehee added. “So with this pilot Bolivian program, we are learning from them about cultural sensitivity in developing training for pastoral care so that we can better apply it -- not only in marginalized, economically impacted rural communities, but in urban areas as well.”


Team member Rev. Arturo Cadar, associate pastor at Friendswood UMC, currently leads one of the largest Hispanic congregations in the conference.


“Part of my role is to help serve as a translator – not only of language but also of culture. I can relate more to the culture than anyone else in the group to a certain degree,” said Cadar, who has lived and worked in Latin America. “We are trying to help the pastors in the Bolivian United Methodist evangelical church to become better trained at taking better care of their congregations and become better aligned with the Methodist church as we know it, here in the U.S.


“They still deal with quite a bit of indigenous rituals and customs that we don’t have to deal with here. In essence, it becomes tougher for them to present a solid gospel. It’s hard to present and harder for people to adopt.”


Future Plans

The Bolivian pastoral care project will consist of four modules. Developing the first module is estimated to take about a year. The recent training of pastors was step one.


“They are going to be facilitators for training clergy and lay persons in Bolivia to provide effective pastoral care based upon what they have learned here, while also making cultural adjustments to the method and materials so that they can be more effective in their context,” McGehee said. “They will also add additional Biblical passages that support the materials and are particularly relevant for their community.” 


The next step will be a webinar that will link teachers in the Texas Conference with pastors and laity in Bolivia.


“One of the exciting things about this is fine-tuning our capabilities to conduct training and have interaction through web technologies [to meet the needs of] a larger group of pastors and laity,” McGehee said.


Prior to the webinar, the Bolivian facilitators will prepare materials for their pastors to study and do some reflection based on materials that were covered while they were here, along with additional materials that they supply.


Training materials are being collaboratively developed. Perkins School of Theology has been developing pastoral care resources in Spanish, so with assistance from some of its faculty, a bibliography of additional materials is being created.


A further step in Module I will occur in June 2011, when Dr. Smith and others from the TAC will travel to Bolivia to continue our learning and help with further training.