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LABI College Teams Up, Receives $5 Million Lilly Endowment Grant

Latin American Bible Institute College partnered with two other schools and has received a multimillion-dollar grant to assist Hispanic students in attaining a ministry degree.
Latin American Bible Institute College (LABI) partnered with Azusa Pacific University (APU) and Life Pacific University (LPU) and have been awarded a $4,999,904 grant as part of the Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative. The grant’s focus is to make attaining a ministry degree in Spanish more affordable and accessible for Hispanic students.

“For over a year, my grant team and I worked closely with leadership from Azusa Pacific University (lead grant institution), and Life Pacific University, to cultivate a $5 million dollar grant proposal that was recently accepted, reviewed, and funded by the Lilly Endowment,” stated Marty Harris, president of LABI.

“This grant from the Lilly Endowment is a huge blessing, said Bobby Duke, interim associate provost and principal investigator of the grant. “Our partnership with LPU and LABI will help us advance and elevate Hispanic theological education in Southern California and around the country.”

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 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. The trio of schools — LABI, APU, and LPU — was awarded a third-phase grant alongside other prestigious institutions, including the University of Notre Dame and Emory University.

LABI, APU, and LPU 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 Harris. “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, 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.”

A unique aspect of this partnership stems from the cross-denomination collaboration. LABI is an Assemblies of God institution, APU’s theology is centered on a Wesleyan Holiness tradition, and LPU is sponsored by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. 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 as online courses will be offered to benefit students across the country and potentially around the world.

The grant will be divided in a 30/30/40 split with APU getting the largest share. John Ragsdale, former School of Theology dean at APU, explained that the grant’s purpose includes 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,” Ragsdale stated. “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. This grant and partnership are going to transform theological education in Southern California and beyond."

Note: Azusa Pacific University media contributed significantly to the information found in this article.