So many of us long for authentic community—a place to nurture Christian faith, intellectually, spiritually, and socially. Amid the complexities of life and our disappointments with self, others, and the church, we often venture to events, longing for God's healing touch in Scripture, community, prayer, and worship. For those wearied by their journey, CBE's conference in Colombia was indeed a place of renewal, not only through the loving and wise Christian community that welcomed us but also through the people and place of Medellín, a city filled with warm smiles and flowering trees.
Nestled in a valley of perpetual spring, the Fundación Universitaria Seminario Bíblico de Colombia (FUSBC) enjoys an urban setting surrounded by majestic peaks. Blessed by such beauty, the seminary community is filled with many graces and holds together two essential priorities: intellectual engagement and vibrant Christian community. The school has for its president an extraordinary leader, Elizabeth Sendek, and faculty like Gustavo Karakey, Milton Acosta, and more. CBE staff partnered joyfully with FUSBC staff in hosting our first conference in South America, which was also our first conference in Spanish. While FUSBC chose the theme, "Male and Female in Christ: Toward a Biblical View of Christian Identity and Ministry," speakers, and worship leaders, CBE promoted the event and published resources in Spanish and English.
The result was a three-day conference filled with authentic encounters with biblical educators, activists, students and church leaders—all pressing deeper into God's voice on Christian identity as male and female. My opening lecture offered a theological context for Christian identity, surveying male and female as created in God's image, commissioned with authority in the garden (Gen. 1:26–28), an event repeated in Christ's commission of the disciples, male and female—giving them spiritual authority to retain or forgive sins (John 20:21–23).
Aída Besançon Spencer considered Paul's call for women's silence in 1 Timothy 2:11: did it prohibit or prepare women for teaching? She also led a workshop open to any question on gender and Scripture. Bill Spencer evaluated views of the Trinity as they impact the leadership of women. Milton Acosta explored Jael within the patriarchal, honor-shame culture of ancient Israel. A panel on marriage and singlehood considered the joys and disappointments of relationships.
The challenges of abuse proved a conference-wide theme as Carolina Ocampo assessed gender and law in Latin America, and Cesar Villanueva considered gender-based violence in South American context. Significantly, NGO leaders, pastors, and lawyers met for lunch and discussed the challenges of abuse in their context for two hours. A leading South American theologian joined us and after listening intently, he said: "As a theologian, I read Scripture and make decisions as to what is correct biblically. I work alone, without feedback such as yours. I will always remember your stories. Thank you!"
Lively conversations in Spanish, English, and French erupted throughout the conference during meals and at breaks. Worship was no less engaging and was led mainly in Spanish by recording artists well known among Colombian Christians. Like finely-tuned instruments, each person's insights and ministry experiences contributed to this South American cantata celebrating Christian identity in Christ, male and female.
Guests were delighted to receive so many free resources. All in all, CBE distributed over 500 resources, including 300 Spanish copies of Still Side by Side (Lado a Lado), distributed to attendees without cost, thanks to generous donors. As with most CBE events, our free resources on abuse flew off our book table within the first thirty minutes. This gives you an idea of how important this event was for many! We're praying that the conversations, friendships, and alliances built will be used by God to bring healing and reconciliation to the church.
The event ended as it began, embraced by a warm and sincere FUSBC community. We toured the city center of Medellín and scaled its lush mountains on cable cars, marveling at how the multi-layered dwellings accommodated businesses and extended families with their pets, gardens, and endless lines of laundry. Like them, we too found a home in Medellín, where we were welcomed by the simplicity of love, the embrace of Christian community, and the devotion to work out our faith as brothers and sisters equally commissioned by Christ.