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Hispanic Pastor Multiplication

First Southern Missouri ethnic School of Ministry reaps church planting benefits.
U.S. missionary Virgilio V. Fortin, serving with Intercultural Ministries, and his wife, Marsha, have opened the first Hispanic School of Ministry, Instituto Teológico Latinoamericano (ITLA) in the Southern Missouri District. With 18 students in attendance, the school is expanding the district’s ability to minister to Hispanic individuals in the region.

The Fortins say they began the school in 2017 in order to equip leaders with solid biblical doctrine and to prepare students to plant churches. In the past two years, multiple students from ITLA have applied their learning to start new Hispanic congregations in Missouri.

ITLA student Mario Lopez began Ministerios Pentecostes Emanuel in Diamond, Missouri. The congregation has grown to 45 in less than two years. Prior to ITLA, Lopez had little educational background, so joining the program stretched him.

“We have seen him grow so much,” says Fortin, 59. “He used to be shy and quiet, and now he fully participates.” The program also has impacted the church Lopez pastors, as two congregants have enrolled and are studying at ITLA.

Student Jaime Córdova started Peniel Church in Carthage while studying at ITLA. Córdova considers the school to be an answer to prayer. He desired to increase his understanding of the Bible and the functions of the church. He previously sought other options, but found them to be too expensive and difficult to participate in while working full time.

The Fortins are able to keep the cost of the school low by using the district office for classes at no charge and by relying on volunteers. The teachers receive an offering from the money the students give every month to help provide for gas and incidental expenses.

Fortin says the school’s teachers include pastors, former missionaries, and a student from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary who is writing a thesis about starting a Hispanic fellowship.

Córdova believes the teachers truly care about the Hispanic population because they served as missionaries in Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Spain.

“They have a connection with us, and they really want us to learn,” Córdova says. “We are being trained to continue the work they started.”

The students develop spiritually and academically through their studies and the support of the instructors.

“Whenever we have problems as students, the teachers pray for us and follow up later to ask how the situation is progressing,” Córdova says.

Classes meet on Saturdays in order to accommodate the busy schedules of the students. Each semester is 16 weeks long, with breaks at Christmas and during the summer so that attendees can have time off with their children. Marsha Fortin, 55, recognizes the dedication of those enrolled.

“All of our students are adults who are married with children and jobs,” she says. “It’s their only day off, but they come because they want to be there.”

The Fortins hope to expand the work by starting extensions in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Rebecca Burtram

Rebecca Burtram is an Assemblies of God pastor in Charlottesville, Virginia, a pastor's wife, mother to three, and an English teacher. She is the author of Our Broken Hallelujahs, and she blogs at rebeccaburtram.com.