As part of the Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, Azusa Pacific University received a $4,999,904 grant to fund a partnership with Life Pacific University (LPU) and the Latin American Bible Institute (LABI) that will strengthen pathways for theological education for Hispanic students. “This grant from the Lilly Endowment is a huge blessing. Our partnership with LPU and LABI will help us advance and elevate Hispanic theological education in Southern California and around the country,” said Bobby Duke, PhD, interim associate provost and principal investigator of the grant.

Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative is a three-phase initiative designed to help theological schools strengthen and sustain their capacities to prepare and support pastoral leaders for Christian churches. In the first phase of the initiative, 234 theological schools in the U.S. and Canada, including APU, received funding ranging from $38,676 to $50,000 for planning and assessment purposes. In the second phase, Lilly Endowment made 105 grants between $500,000 and $1 million to implement programs. In the third phase, Lilly Endowment made 16 grants, ranging from $4,999,792 to $7,950,555 to support large scale collaborative programs involving multiple theological schools, congregations, denominations, and other organizations. APU was awarded alongside other prestigious institutions, including the University of Notre Dame and Emory University.

The grant seeks to make attaining a ministry degree in Spanish more affordable and accessible for Hispanic students. All three schools—APU, LPU, and LABI—are Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI). To receive HSI status, an institution must have Hispanic students represent at least 25 percent of its undergraduate student body. There are only 559 HSI’s across the nation. “There are fewer universities that truly cater to first generation Hispanic students. We do that and have been serving Hispanic students since we opened in 1926,” said Marty Harris, PhD, president of LABI. “Our partnership with APU and LPU enables us to create pathways for our students to receive an associate’s and bachelor’s degree fully in Spanish. It also makes it much easier and more affordable for them to continue pursuing a Master of Divinity (MDiv), Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), or Doctor of Ministry (DMin) at Azusa Pacific Seminary. This is a trailblazing opportunity.”

The partnership between APU, LPU, and LABI will help develop a shared curriculum designed fully in Spanish, not translated from English. An integral component is providing cultural context in the curriculum. “Contextualizing is so important because Hispanic church leadership in the U.S. is very different than in Latin America, Europe, or other areas,” said Daniel Ruarte, EdD, vice president of academic affairs at LPU. “There’s a strong desire among Hispanic students to learn and grow theologically. There just haven’t been programs that have gone about it in the right way, until now.”

APU became one of the first universities in the country to offer graduate degrees for Hispanic ministry leaders when it started its MDiv, MAPS, and DMin programs in Spanish. The program has grown rapidly in recent years, with more than 100 students currently enrolled. “In my 30 years at APU, we’ve grown to offer a truly multicultural, multilingual theological education,” said Enrique Zone, EdD, director of Hispanic Programs and founder of the Centro Teológico Hispano at APU. “All professors in the program were born in Latin America, whether South America, Central America, or Mexico. They live in the U.S., but have a background in Spanish culture. I’m grateful for this grant and how it will allow us to expand our program to reach more Hispanic students who will in turn have a greater impact in their churches.”

A unique aspect of this partnership stems from the cross-denomination collaboration. APU’s theology is centered on a Wesleyan Holiness tradition, LPU is sponsored by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and LABI is an Assemblies of God institution. The shared curriculum and resources will prepare students to make a difference in a variety of churches and denominations and although all three schools are located in the San Gabriel Valley, the impact will extend far beyond Southern California. “We’re going to make attaining a Hispanic theological education more accessible than ever before by offering online courses so students across the country, and potentially across the world, can benefit from this partnership,” said Matthew Elofson, PhD, acting dean of the School of Theology (SOT).

The grant will be divided in a 30/30/40 split with APU getting the largest share. John Ragsdale, former SOT dean, led the team in developing the proposal and will continue to serve as a consultant for accreditation and other matters. A focus of the grant is to include dedicated funds for coaching. “A big critique of theological education is that schools don’t prepare pastors for the stresses that come with the job. By offering coaching to these students, they'll have someone to come alongside them, mentor them, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and prepare them to make a difference through their ministry,” Ragsdale said. “This grant and partnership are going to transform theological education in Southern California and beyond.”

Azusa Pacific Seminary provides advanced preparation for practical, effective ministry in the Church and in the world. Whether pursuing work in ministry, leadership, teaching, or community engagement, students benefit from a supportive and vibrant community dedicated to transforming the world with Christ.

Article Image


Rachel White
Executive Director of Strategic Communication
Phone: (626) 815-4502
Email: [email protected]