CHET Celebrates 20 Years of Preparing Hispanic Leaders

Post a Comment » Written on December 8th, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

ORANGE, CA (December 8, 2009) – Laughter and serious reflection were abundant during graduation ceremonies for students at Centro Hispano de Estudios Teológicos (CHET), extending throughout the school’s 20th anniversary celebration Saturday.

Eighty-one students received diplomas or certificates during the afternoon graduation service, which was held at the Women’s Club of Orange. In his address to the gathering, Evangelical Covenant Church President Gary Walter expressed his gratitude for their work.

“Because of the investment you have made in your development as a leader, you are now more effective in helping people to know God’s love, to grow in God’s love, and to unleash God’s love in the world,” Walter said.

WalterThe gathering responded enthusiastically to Walter’s remarks and offered loud applause when he declared, “The power of the church is not perfect people. It is imperfect people serving a perfect God.”

The audience laughed when he told the graduates, “If today you think you are a perfect student, I am sorry, there is no future for you.” They shouted their “amens” when he added, “But if you are an imperfect person willing to be faithful, you will see special things. Doing big things for a big God is always the accumulation of little things done for people.”

He recited a roll call through biblical history of imperfect people through whom God had done extraordinary work: “Noah was a drunk, Abraham was too old, Jacob was a liar
Moses stuttered, Rahab was a prostitute, David was a murderer, Isaiah preached naked, Jonah ran from God, Job was bankrupt, Martha worried about everything, Zaccheus was too small, Timothy was too young, and Lazarus was too dead.”

Walter honored the past even as he spoke of the future. “This school is the result of faithful people,” he reminded the gathering.

He recalled the genesis for the school was the closing of First Covenant Church in Los Angeles – that building was sold and much of the money was used to seed the formation of the school as well as the Hispanic congregation in Bell Gardens. Attendance had dropped significantly at First Covenant over several years, but the value of the property had skyrocketed.

“They could have asked a selfish question? How can we stop the decline, but they asked a bigger question of God,” Walter said. “They asked, ‘How can we advance the kingdom?’”

He added, “Now 20 years later, God has done extraordinary things.”

Walter opened his remarks in Spanish, telling translator Deanna Alarcon (top photo) that he didn’t require her assistance for the moment. The audience laughed when he concluded that portion of his talk two minutes later by saying, “Es todo que you puedo decir Espanol,” (That is all the Spanish I speak), and acknowledged that his wife, Nancy, had translated his remarks. The lower photo shows participants preparing to march into the auditorium. Click here to see additional photos.

MarchAlarcon provided translation throughout the day and evening, another reminder of the church’s history, present and future. Alarcon’s father, Dean Erickson, was pastor of First Covenant in Los Angeles when the people voted to make that donation. She teaches at CHET’s satellite campus in San Diego.

The anniversary celebration included different styles of Latino music by two groups made up of Covenanters or students from the school. Robert Johnston, dean of North Park Theological Seminary when CHET was formed, interviewed three other people who were instrumental in founding the school: Oscar Pierola, a CHET board member who has been a member of the Bell Garden’s church from its beginning; David Mark, who is now regional coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Department of World Mission; and former Covenant President Paul Larsen.

The celebration also focused on the future. Evelyn Johnson, Pacific Southwest Conference superintendent, said a search is under way to find a permanent home for the school. The Bell Gardens church and the school increasingly need the same space due to growth in both organizations.

Many of the attendees were children or were not yet born when CHET was founded, and Johnson encouraged them to consider how important the school will be for the future. Although the school currently is suffering financial difficulties, Johnson said, the institution has come a long way from its beginnings with a few students. She believes it will continue to be a vibrant training center.

“Hope is stronger than memory, although memory is rich and gives a foundation on which to build,” Johnson said.

The school also honored Johnson, who will be leaving her position next year. Cathy Barsotti, consultant to the CHET president and to the board, presented a print by artist John August Swanson whose art, she said, “reflects the strong heritage of storytelling he inherited from his Mexican mother and Swedish father.”

Swanson’s work has been displayed at the Smithsonian Institution and the Art Institute of Chicago. He signed the print, “A Centro Hispano De Estudios Teológicos, con la esperanza por la justicia económica” (To the Hispanic Center for Theological Studies, with hope for economic justice).

Barsotti said, “We thought that his art and words bring to life how we think about Evelyn and her work on our behalf, and how much we are grateful for her, and for God’s work through her.”

Click here to read a previously published feature in The Covenant Companion about the school.

To hear the audio clip of Walter’s remarks, please click the play button above.

Gary-Walter---CHET-Remarks.mp3 Gary-Walter—CHET-Remarks.mp3

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