Texas Baptists’ first Bible college has changed its name to Baptist University of the Americas and has positioned itself to provide missional answers to the rapidly changing demographic landscape of Texas, the United States and ministry opportunities abroad.
Educational and missional concerns bring the strategic nature of this institution into sharp focus. The future of a Baptist witness in the United States is closely related to the past and present work of Baptist University of the Americas.
Educational and denominational leaders concerned with the apparent lack of Hispanics enrolled in their schools are often engaged in a conversation that pursues a good but misplaced question.
The question often raised is “how can we get more Hispanics enrolled in our schools?” A more strategic question is “how can we get more Hispanics out of high school?”
Due to the escalating high-school-dropout rate among Hispanics, much more effort must be aimed at remediation programs for dropouts, providing access to higher education for those who wish to enter a university or college.
A study published in 2000 by the Public Agenda for the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found that only 20 percent of Hispanics ages 18-24 were enrolled in college in that year, compared with 37 percent of Anglos.
This fact is accentuated by the reality that Latino youth were the fastest-growing of the segment of the youth population in America in the last 20 years and are more likely to drop out of high school than their Anglo, Asian or African counterparts.
Few Hispanics finish a degree program. Only 8 percent of Hispanics nationwide hold an associate of arts degree, 5.6 percent hold a B.A. degree, 3.8 percent earn M.A. degrees and only 4.5 percent hold doctorates.
Hispanics who get to college face financial, academic and social hurdles that keep them from finishing their degrees. Most institutions of higher learning are not poised to provide solutions for these issues.
This is one of the reasons why the South Texas Border Initiative was launched. It infused about $500 million into higher education in 41 Texas counties between El Paso and Brownsville (on the Texas border), including San Antonio, Kingsville and Corpus Christi.
The South Texas Border Initiative sought to make up for decades of neglect in college and university programs for a predominantly Hispanic border region in order to serve a population that is historically underrepresented in higher education.
The U.S. Department of Education paints a dismal picture of educational efforts to prepare Hispanics for collegiate work. Over the past 30 years, the Department of Education can account for $10 trillion spent on educational programs, with a resulting 31 percent national dropout rate for Hispanics.
Several implications for theological education begin to emerge:
First, an exclusive focus on theological education for Hispanics at the graduate level eliminates the vast majority of those called to ministry from the Latino community.
Second, efforts to increase Hispanic enrollment in traditional theological seminaries is a good goal but focuses our best resources to equip a minimal number of Hispanic clergy who have obtained a college degree. Current Hispanic enrollment at all U.S. seminaries is less than 3 percent. Nearly 95 percent of all evangelical/protestant seminaries have no plan to address remedial needs of non-English speaking students.
Third, current funding for Hispanic theological education in colleges and seminaries parallels patterns of funding for higher education among Hispanics in place prior to the South Texas Border Initiative. If current funding continues, Baptists will lose an opportunity to maintain a significant influence among 50 percent of the Texas population in the next 15 years, and perhaps for the next 50 years.
Missional concerns also highlight the strategic nature of BUA for the future of our Baptist witness. Several missiologists have gone on record to observe the strategic nature of the Hispanic community in relation to redemptive activity among Muslims.
A number of God-ordained connecting points exist between Latinos and Arabs that enhance the delivery of the gospel message.
First, there are over 21,000 Spanish words with Arabic roots. Words that start with “al” in Spanish, such as alfombra, alambre, alegre, and alcanzar are derivatives from the word “Allah” meaning God in Arabic. Many words are pronounced exactly the same way in Spanish and Arabic.
Second, Latinos share history, religion, architecture, geography and culture with Arabs, especially in North Africa. We share the same collective, fatalistic and relationally wired worldview with Arabs. Historic, cultural, religious and linguistic connections can be seen in the relationship between Texas and Mexico, Mexico and Spain, and Spain and North Africa.
Third, Hispanics/Latinos share physical features with Arabs. The similarities create natural bridges for sharing the good news of the gospel.
BUA was started as the Mexican Baptist Bible Institute in 1947 to address missional concerns of the Spanish-speaking population of Texas. Later the school became related to the Baptist General Convention of Texas and became Hispanic Baptist Theological Seminary and then Hispanic Baptist Theological.
Since 1999 our student body has grown over 400 percent, with more than 700 students enrolled in B.A. degree and adult continuing-education programs. We have Baptist Bible Institutes in Texas, Alabama and Mexico. Our students come from 15 different countries and speak five languages.
About 90 percent of our students are Hispanic, but we enroll African-American, Anglo-American and Asian students as well. BUA is a predominantly bicultural/bilingual community of learners focused on providing solutions for the harvest and servant leaders for our future.
Phillip Jenkins, in his book The Next Christendom: Global Christianity in the 21st Century, has suggested that the center of gravity of Christianity will shift firmly to the southern half of the globe by 2050. BUA is poised to be at the core of redemptive history and the preservation of a Baptist witness in the world.
Albert Reyes is president of the Baptist University of the Americas in San Antonio.
For more information, visit the BUA Web site.