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In the early 1990s the need for establishing Hispanic churches in Northwest Arkansas was apparent. When Janie Wead, then a missionary with The Assemblies of God Division of Foreign Missions, went to Arkansas to preach in a missions’ convention, the growing Hispanic population in the area caught her attention. Her concern deepened as she prayed for the Spanish speaking people who were without a witness in their own language. God placed in her a vision for meeting the need. She transferred from Foreign Missions to Home Missions and moved to Arkansas. Under the auspices of the former Gulf Latin American District (GLAD) and the help and support of Northwest Arkansas, a Hispanic Section was established and Janie opened the first Hispanic Assemblies of God Church in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Several Hispanic congregations were formed. The Anglo churches encouraged and supported the effort by offering the use of their facilities.
That was just the beginning. All involved agreed that birthing and nurturing healthy churches requires pastors who are committed and well prepared. In 1998, working with the leadership from the Gulf Latin American District and the Arkansas District, Janie helped organize the first Centro Hispano de Educación Bíblica, Spanish equivalent of Urban Bible Training Center, in Van Buren, Arkansas. The newly formed school chose the outstanding curriculum offered by the Berean School of the Bible, a school of Global University, through which thousands of Assemblies of God ministers have studied and received their ministerial credentials. Classes were held all day, every other Saturday. Pastor Fred Garcia, now serving as pastor at Siloam Springs, became the first president.
Two years later the school started working in two areas, one in Little Rock and one in Northwest, Arkansas. After two years of alternating semesters between Siloam Springs and Rogers, the school moved to a fixed and more central location. Pastor Eddie Cantu of Centro Cristiano Hispano in Springdale, Arkansas, graciously opened his church for a more central and permanent location.
The Hispanic population in the area grew and more churches sprang up. As the section expanded, some students found transportation difficult. In 2007 when the Hispanic Section was divided in two, CHEB opened a second location. Today there are three Hispanic Sections, 25 churches and two schools in Northwest, Arkansas.
While God was detailing and organizing the early years of this vital ministry, far removed and yet tied by the thread of a divine plan, God was at work in a young girl’s heart. Her name is Sonia Rodriguez. Sonia grew up in Guatemala, a sweet little Catholic girl with a hunger for God. When she was fourteen she was delighted to hear that a young man from a local evangelical church had begun a ministry to neighborhood children. Sonia and her brother and sister were invited to attend. All three children accepted Jesus that first night. Her parents were saved five years later. Little did Sonia realize when she walked into that house meeting that she would leave a brand new person. Her life path found direction and purpose. At age 15 she was baptized in the Holy Spirit. Sonia had a fervent desire for ministry and lived to serve the Lord.
Upon graduating from high school, Sonia received a scholarship to study at the Institute of Nutrition for Central America and Panama, under the sponsorship of the University of San Carlos of Guatemala. At age 22, after completing a Bachelor of Arts in Nutrition, the zeal for ministry led her to attend Bible School. She tried three times to enroll in Guatemala, but each time the doors closed. She realized that God was directing her to leave her country and her family to attend Latin America Bible Institute in San Antonio, Texas. There she met her husband, a classmate named Armando Rodriguez from Texas. After graduation they married and pastored a small church in Texas.
In 1993 Sonia and Armando expressed to district leaders of GLAD their interest in missionary work. Assistant Superintendent, Rev. Gale Cisneros, enthusiastically presented to them the challenge of a new frontier. Here is where God’s plan for them merged with His purposes for the Hispanic work in Northwest Arkansas. They moved to Arkansas to pioneer a church in Rogers, and with Janie Wead and several other pastors, the all shared in the establishing of the ministerial training center, CHEB. While serving for several years as secretary for the school in Siloam Springs, God was providing her with the experience she would need for the next step. Sonia was named president when the second school opened.
Though all of the students are Spanish speaking, the school has several nationalities represented. Students are from Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras. Men and women, youth and seniors, new converts and those who have been saved for many years, with varying levels of previous education blend into one body. They have one goal, to be effective in ministry.
Classes are held weekly, with facilitators carefully guiding the students through their studies. The students are responsible to study the courses and prepare the necessary paper work. All grading is done electronically at Global University. Students receive sound doctrinal training through the Berean School of the Bible. Experienced ministers provide wisdom in the practical aspects of leadership. Students also gain ministerial experience during their weekend assignments, helping in local churches. Studying together, class discussions and fellowship result in caring relationships that remain after school is finished and the students go their individual ways to minister.
In miraculous fashion, God has worked congruently in many lives to establish and maintain CHEB. Is it working? Is it worth it? Absolutely! Enrollment averages right at 30 students per semester. 150 alumni, with 60 graduates from Berean School of the Bible, now serve as pastors and evangelists in Arkansas and other regions. Some graduates have started churches in the US while others have returned to their own countries with more knowledge of the Word and better prepared to minister.
God is still calling men and women to the harvest. Global University is honored and humbled with the privilege and the responsibility of helping to prepare them to “impact eternity by winning the lost and training the found…everywhere.”
By Carolyn Hittenberger, University Communications