By Paul Boatman
Gonzalo Flores is president of Colegio Biblico, a college located on the Mexican border in Eagle Pass, Texas. The school has provided Hispanic ministry education for nearly 70 years.
Gonzalo, what led you to your life of international ministry?
I am a product of mission work. I was rescued by Niños de Mexico when I was about 7 years old. I came from a very broken family. My father was an alcoholic, and my mother was in prostitution. There were 10 of us in the family. My oldest brother met Merlin Beeman from Niños. We were just the third group of children brought into the home. As I grew up there I was enabled to understand that one can do better in life, rising above poverty and the lost condition. At 18 I went to Colegio Biblico. After graduation I went to Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University for my master of arts and to Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University for my master of divinity.
Where did that lead you?
I was always focused on returning to serve in Mexico. When I first went back, I worked in connection with Niños, and then did church planting in the greater Mexico City area. I spent seven years developing a church at Texcoco. Then in 1989, I was called to teach at Colegio Biblico.
Could you give us a brief intro to Colegio Biblico?
Colegio Biblico is an international institute training Hispanic ministers from both sides of the border. We serve people from Mexico, as well as from Central and South America. Eagle Pass is 98 percent Hispanic, so the students coming in do not have to adapt to an Anglo culture while they are investing their energy in education. Our location right on the Rio Grande makes it convenient for many Mexican nationals to cross the border to study.
Immigration is a hot discussion topic. How does the issue relate to your ministry?
If anyone fears that our students are illegal immigrants, don’t worry. We abide by rules of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Students who are American citizens or legal residents have no problem, but others have to get a student visa, just like foreign students at any American school. Even a Mexican with a U.S. visitor’s visa does not qualify for enrollment.
In recent years the American government has been more stringent in granting student visas. However, we have developed a second campus just across the Rio Grande in Coahuila state near Piedras Negras. That enables some students to initiate their studies, with our professors offering classes in both settings.
How large is Colegio Biblico?
We are a small college, with about 75 students each year. Most of our students are on scholarship and work-study, so our finances limit the enrollment. We would like to expand our student body through Internet studies, but that would require personnel and finances that we just do not have. Some other Bible colleges might be willing to help us through their online programs, but their courses are in English. We teach all of our courses in Spanish, with careful application to Hispanic cultures.
Do you have any Anglo students?
They are certainly welcome. Some have attended here as a way of connecting more effectively with Spanish-speaking people before they enter their own mission work. Of course, with the growth of Hispanic cultures in the U.S., Spanish-speaking missionaries may be finding their mission field all across North America.
How did Colegio Biblico start?
In 1945 Harland and Francis Cary were on their way to mission work in Brazil when they discovered that Christian churches in northern Mexico were suffering because of no leadership training. They prayed, consulted, and changed their plans to start this Bible college (Colegio Biblico in Spanish). Many other Bible colleges across the U.S. were started around the same time for the purpose of equipping church leadership, but this was the only one that had the Spanish emphasis.
Harland Cary, then later his sons Dean and John Cary, led the school for nearly a half-century. Others, like John Rex Robertson and Jorge Mercado, continued to pursue the vision.
This is still a Bible college in the truest sense. When I was named to the presidency in 2012, it was with a commission to lead a school that has had to adjust its methods over the years, but the central mission is the same as it was nearly 70 years ago.
Gonzalo, we hear troubling reports about widespread criminal activity by cartels along the border. Does this impact your ministry?
The impact is mainly indirect. What is going on is a fight for power, control. We have had work groups who have been stopped and interrogated at gunpoint, but none of our colleagues have been hurt.
There are some difficulties related to the Coahuila campus. One corner of the campus is adjacent to an area controlled by one of the cartels. We had a professor who was so troubled by an occasion when he was harassed at gunpoint by a cartel that he decided he had to resign. It was a case of mistaken identity, but the guns pointed at him were real.
We have seen drugs being loaded and unloaded, but we have been advised not to call the army or the police because the cartels have such deep connections that you don’t know who can be trusted. There have been gunfights very close to the campus that caused our people to “hit the ground” to avoid flying bullets. We have decided that the best protection is to be on our knees praying for protection from the Lord.
I’m confident our readers will want to join you in that prayer. Are there other challenges developing for your ministry?
The proliferation of confusing denominations and sects among Hispanics makes evangelism more difficult. Also, the materialism that impacts all cultures is especially challenging in this setting where wealth and poverty exist so closely to one another. That opens the door for “health and wealth gospel,” which is rampant among Hispanic cultures.
I notice you refer to Hispanic cultures in the plural.
There are many diverse Hispanic cultures. Even the Spanish language that identifies them has its diversity. People from different areas of Mexico sound as different as English-speaking Connecticut Yankees and Louisiana Cajuns. Plus Guatemalans, Hondurans, Argentineans, Bolivians . . . I could go on and on . . . each has its own cultural identity. Cultural pride is sometimes a factor that prevents Christians of one culture from having close fellowship with Christians from another. The problem is as old as the New Testament. Regardless of cultural heritage, we want Christians to find their most important identity in Christ.
Paul Boatman serves as chaplain at Safe Haven Hospice in Lincoln, Illinois.