L-R Pastors Elie Henry, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inter-America, Dr. Jaime Castrejón, former Inter-American Adventist Theological Seminar president, Senator of Puerto Rico Ada García Montes, and Pastor Israel Leito, former president of the church in Inter-America, cut the ribbon at the entrance of the new building in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, May 23, 2022. [Photo: Gamaliel Sánchez/Antillean University]

May 25, 2022 | Mayagüez, Puerto Rico | Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

Dozens of Seventh-day Adventist leaders gathered to witness the inauguration of the brand new administrative offices of the Inter-American Adventist Theological Seminary (IATS), during a special ceremony held May 23, 2022, in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.

The spacious two-story facility atop a hill on the campus of Antillean Adventist University, will house post-graduate, in-person and virtual theological training for ministers throughout the Inter-American Division (IAD) territory. The ceremony was part of  a special 25th anniversary celebration of IATS since it was established in 1996.

Dozens of church leaders, educators and members attended the inauguration ceremony held on the campus of the Antillean Adventist University, May 23, 2022. [Photo: Gamaliel Sánchez/Antillean University]

“This new building will house a vital center in the promotion of ecclesiastical values of an organization that for more than 100 years has endeavored as a movement sowing hope throughout its region,” said Pastor Elie Henry, president of the church in Inter-America. “We do not come to mark a beginning or a change of orientation of the Adventist Seminary in Inter-America, but we come to mark a moment and project ourselves towards greater achievements for the knowledge of God, His providence and what He expects of us.”

The new IATS building is called to be an administrative and educational center where it will seek to adapt to the challenges of the 21st Century without abandoning or compromising its commitments to the biblical teaching, well-focused theology and trust of the church, explained Pastor Henry. “This [institution] has a wonderful heritage that has helped to define those basic values and commitments to the mission.”

“Inspiration and motivation will have to come from this modern and functional building to the 10 IATS sites throughout Inter-America with the noble task of forming characters to the image of Jesus the Great Master,” said Pastor Henry.

Inter-American Division President Pastor Elie Henry addresses church leaders and members during the inauguration ceremony of the new IATS building on the campus of Antillean Adventist University in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, May 23, 2022. [Photo: Gamaliel Sánchez/Antillean University]

A unique seminary

The non-profit, postgraduate theological studies institution, which was established by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the IAD and registered under Florida and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, was created to provide training for Christian ministry and proclaiming the hope of the Advent to the world, said Efraín Velázquez, president of IATS.

“As we dedicate this facility to God, we give continuity to the desire to redeem the human race,” said Dr. Velázquez. “Every classroom becomes a learning community where biblical teachings are exalted and transformation will be generated.”

Dr. Velázquez recounted the early coordination between the Adventist Theological Seminary on the campus of Andrews University, in Michigan, United States, and their support in theological education during the past four decades as fundamental.  “After years of preparation, the Executive Committee of the IAD voted in 1996 to begin the process of establishing its own theological seminary with its official offices at the IAD office in Miami, Florida,” said Velázquez.

IATS President Dr. Efrain Velázquez speaks on the beginnings of IATS and its growth during the past 25 years. [Photo: Gamaliel Sánchez/Antillean University]

After having an affiliation for years with Andrews University, the seminary began offering graduate programs in 2004, as an independent theological seminary for ministers nominated by their regional church territories for postgraduate training.

The joint efforts of Dr. Carlos Archbold, then education director of the IAD, and Dr. Jaime Castrejón, then ministerial secretary of the IAD, gave shape to what would become IATS, he said. “Their leadership opened the doors to new sites in several parts in Inter-America.”

The Seminary obtained accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in 2011 after being accredited by the Adventist Accrediting Association.

Jahisber Peñuela IATS coordinator for the Colombia Adventist University in Medellin, listens in during the inauguration ceremony on May 23, 2022. IATS coordinators from throughout several Adventist universities in Inter-America attended the ceremony. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

IATS functions as a multi-site institution with a unique structure that provides academic programs to ministers at 10 affiliated sites, including Costa Rica, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, and Venezuela.

Post-graduate programs

IATS’s programs include a master’s degree in pastoral theology in youth ministries, family life, chaplaincy, church growth, mission, and leadership and administration areas; a master’s degree in biblical theological studies in Old Testament, New Testament, and Systematic Theology; as well as a doctorate in ministry in pastoral, chaplaincy and leadership.

L-R: IAD Administrators Pastors Filiberto Verduzco, treasurer, Elie Henry, president and Leonard Johnson, executive secretary, with Efraín Velázquez unveil the large plaque that will be placed on the building commemorating its inauguration. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

The seminary has granted post graduate degrees to more than 1,200 ministers during the past 17 years. IATS will begin teaching its first Ph.D program on the Old Testament and New Testament program with 15 students during the summer term next month, IATS leaders announced.

The new IATS building includes administrative offices, two smart classrooms, a conference room, a large study room, administrative offices, professor’s offices, and a media studio for long-distance learning education. IATS academic offices were located on the third floor of the Denis Soto Library on the campus of Antillean University since 2009.

A group tours the Angel Manuel Rodríguez main smart classroom on the first floor of the IATS new building, on May 23, 2022.[Photo: Gamaliel Sánchez/Antillean University]

Honoring visionary leaders

Velázquez unveiled the special named classrooms in honor of leaders who were instrumental in the establishment and growth of IATS:

  • Dr. Angel Manuel Rodríguez was named after the large classroom in the building. He was honored for his contributions to theological thinking, and his accomplishments as a teacher, pastor, university professor, academic administrator, researcher and field secretary at the world church level.
  • Dr. Jaime Castrejón was named after the ministerial classroom on the second floor. He was honored for his contribution as pastor, evangelist, and educator in the ministerial area. His vision for being instrumental in establishing Montemorelos University and serving as its president led to the establishment of IATS. Dr. Castrejón retired in 2015.
  • Pastor Israel Leito was named after the board room for his visionary leadership, and service as the longest tenured IAD president. IATS was established during his administration
  • Dr. Herbert Fletcher, who was a committed educator across Inter-America for many years, was named after the media studio that will provide long distance learning, documentaries, interviews, and more.

Edmond Seneque, president of the Haitian Adventist University in Carrefour, Port-au-Prince, tours the Israel Leito Board Room on the second floor of the new IATS building.  Forty persons graduated from the master’s in pastoral ministry through IATS in 2019 and there are 42 students currently enrolled in the same post-graduate program this year in Haiti, said Seneque. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

The inauguration ceremony included visits from leaders of the Adventist world church, Andrews University, Adventist universities from across Inter-America, IAD administrators, former IAD leaders and government leaders.

A dream becoming a reality

“This is a dream come true,” said Pastor Israel Leito, former president of the church in Inter-America. “To see what the Lord has done from a very humble beginning to see now our own building to continue in this very unique seminary which continues to grow.” The real hero of it all is Filiberto Verduzco, he said. “When he became the treasurer of the IAD and negotiated with Andrews University to reduce its costs for the pastors to study who were sent from our territory to study in the seminary, it became clear that we needed to do our own thing and find funds to start it.”

For Filiberto Verduzco, treasurer of the church in Inter-America, seeing the new facility was impressive because it shows how large the institution has grown throughout the territory. “This inauguration of the new IATS building has been a valuable strategy of the Division to prepare pastors and very important in strengthening the church in Inter-America,” he said.

Pastor Israel Leito, former president of the Inter-American Division, who through his visionary leadership led to organizing IATS, prayed during the inauguration ceremony. [Photo: Gamaliel Sánchez/Antillean University]

Resources to keep IATS running come from the territory as part of operational costs of the IAD, said Verduzco. The seminary covers the costs of visiting professors, the entire academic operation and the unions and employing organizations in the field assist in the traveling costs of student pastors to the different university campuses throughout the Division territory.

“IATS continues to be a key theological unit to benefit the church and the Division will continue supporting it strongly to ensure that its operations continue, especially now with the new academic doctorate about to begin,” said Verduzco.

A miracle of God

The establishment of IATS was credited to Dr. Jaime Castrejón several times during the ceremony. After those 19 years, Dr. Castrejón said he felt a feeling of ultimate appreciation to see a beautiful building and testament to God’s providence and guidance.  “This [facility] is a miracle of God,” he said. “Even if there is not budget and small plans, the Lord makes it into a paradise.”

Dr. Jaime Castrejón and wife Gloria stand at the entrance of the Ministerial Classroom named after him for being instrumental in establishing IATS. [Photo: Courtesy of Gloria Castrejón]

The church, Castrejón said, “is as strong as the leaders who lead it, and equipping our ministers to lead during the uncertain path in the world today is the best thing we can do on their behalf and on behalf of our brothers and sisters across Inter-America and around the world.”

Ada García Montes, member of the Senate in Puerto Rico, who oversees education, tourism and culture on the island, praised the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on the island, the Adventist university and the Christian training that IATS provides not only in Puerto Rico but to many throughout the countries and islands in Inter-America.

“Puerto Rico is in the midst of great battles and we may all think that these are strictly economic and social, but those of us who have knowledge of the Word of God know that they are spiritual battles,” she said. “We see that God has given a vision to IATS and provided for it to become a reality and a blessing to all who will be able to come here and find the Lord.”

Senator Ana García Montes pins Dr. Wesley Taylor, associate education director for the Adventist world church, after her speech congratulating and praising the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church  through IATS.  She pinned distinguished leaders from the world church and the Inter-American Division. [Photo: Gamaliel Sánchez/Antillean University]

Senator García presented church leaders and educators with a special pin from the office of the Puerto Rico Senate, during the ceremony.

Greetings from world church leaders

“Today we see this dream represented in a physical structure but also a symbol of permanence,” said Dr. Angel Manuel Rodríguez, theologian, author and former director of the church’s Biblical Research Institute. “This is a symbol of hope that will see thousands of dedicated workers, if the Lord does not come before, to proclaim the coming of Christ.”

Dr. John Wesley Taylor, associate education director of the Adventist world church, congratulated IAD and IATS leaders for their great accomplishment. He said that the new building declares that ‘God is good’ and that it is a commitment to further the work of the Lord throughout Inter-America and the world.

President of Andrews University Dr. Andrea Luxton speaks during the inauguration ceremony May 23, 202, on the deep ties the Inter-American Division has had with Andrews University throughout the years. [Photo: Gamaliel Sánchez]

Associate Director of the church’s Biblical Research Institute Dr. Frank Hasel said the new facility reminded him that buildings and schools have two important functions, “to be representative of who we are, and what we want to do for others.” He encouraged the leaders to ensure that teachers be known for their living faith in God, for their love of the Word of God, their desire to follow God’s will lovingly and commitment to the mission of the Adventist Church.

Dr. Andrea Luxton, president of Andrews University, said that the university and its seminary had deep ties with Inter-America.  “Seminaries are particularly important in the future of the church, she said. “It is our seminaries where theological unity is developed around the world. It is the seminary here, in South America and Andrews University all collaborating together to make the church stronger. “I congratulate you on the development of the seminary as it deepens its mission and this building is just a representation of your mission to this part of the world.”

Group photo of leaders on the side of the new IATS building. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

Additional leaders from several Adventist universities across Inter-America and leaders of the Latin American Adventist Theological Seminary in South America also congratulated IATS for its accomplishments during the ceremony.

The inaugural ceremony included the unveiling of a plaque, prayers, video presentations, a time capsule segment, a banquet reception and tour of the new facilities.  IATS leaders thanked architect Miguel del Rio, contractor Javier Vega and original sketch designer Nery Crúz for their contribution in completing the new facility.

For more information on the Inter-American Adventist Theological Seminary, its programs and resources available, vist iats.interamerica.org

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