Dozens of Seventh-day Adventist leaders gathered to witness the inauguration of the new administrative offices of the Inter-American Adventist Theological Seminary (IATS) during a special ceremony held May 23, 2022, in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.
The spacious two-story facility atop a hill on the campus of Antillean Adventist University will house postgraduate in-person and virtual theological training for ministers who serve throughout the territory of the Inter-American Division (IAD) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The ceremony was part of a special 25th-anniversary celebration of IATS, which was established in 1996.
“This new building will house a vital center in the promotion of ecclesiastical values of an organization that for more than 100 years has endeavored as a movement to sow hope throughout its region,” Elie Henry, IAD president, said. “We do not come to mark a beginning or a change of orientation of the Adventist seminary in Inter-America, but we come to mark a moment and project ourselves toward greater achievements for the knowledge of God, His providence, and what He expects of us.”
The new IATS building is intended to be an administrative and educational center where it will seek to adapt to the challenges of the 21st century without abandoning or compromising its commitments to biblical teaching, well-focused theology, and trust in the church, Henry explained. “This [institution] has a wonderful heritage that has helped to define those basic values and commitments to mission.”
He added, “Inspiration and motivation will have to come out from this comfortable and state-of-the-art building to the 10 IATS sites throughout Inter-America, with the noble task of forming characters to the image of Jesus, the Great Master,” Henry said.
A Unique Seminary
The nonprofit, postgraduate theological studies institution, which was established by the Adventist Church in the IAD and registered in Florida and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, was created to provide training for Christian ministry and proclaiming the hope of Jesus’s second coming to the world, IATS president Efraín Velázquez said.
“As we dedicate this facility to God, we give continuity to the desire to redeem the human race,” Velázquez said. “Every classroom becomes a learning community where biblical teachings are exalted and transformation is generated.”
Velázquez recounted the early coordination of the seminary with the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary on the campus of Andrews University in Michigan, United States, and that school’s support in theological education over the past four decades. “After years of preparation, the Executive Committee of the IAD voted in 1996 to begin the process of establishing its own theological seminary with its official offices at the IAD office in Miami, Florida,” Velázquez said.
After having an affiliation for some years with Andrews University, the seminary began offering graduate programs in 2004 as an independent theological seminary for ministers nominated by their regional church territories for postgraduate training.
The joint efforts of Carlos Archbold, then education director of the IAD, and Jaime Castrejón, then IAD ministerial secretary, gave shape to what would become IATS, he said. “Their leadership opened the doors to new sites in several parts of Inter-America.”
The Seminary obtained accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in 2011 after being accredited by the Adventist Accrediting Association.
IATS functions as a multi-site institution with a unique structure that provides academic programs to ministers at 10 affiliated sites, including Costa Rica, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, and Venezuela.
IATS’s programs include a master’s degree in pastoral theology in the areas of youth ministries, family life, chaplaincy, church growth, mission, and leadership and administration; a master’s degree in biblical theological studies in Old Testament, New Testament, and Systematic Theology; and a doctorate in ministry in the areas of pastoral work, chaplaincy, and leadership.
The seminary has granted postgraduate degrees to more than 1,200 ministers during the past 17 years. IATS will begin teaching its first PhD classes in Old Testament and New Testament with 15 students during the summer term next month, IATS leaders announced.
The new IATS building includes administrative offices, two smart classrooms, a conference room, a large study room, administrative offices, professors’ offices, and a media studio for long-distance learning education. Since 2009, IATS academic offices had been located on the third floor of the Denis Soto Library on the campus of Antillean Adventist University.
Honoring Visionary Leaders
Velázquez unveiled the specially named classrooms in honor of leaders who were instrumental in the establishment and growth of IATS. The large classroom in the building was named after Angel Manuel Rodríguez. He was honored for his contributions to theological thinking and his accomplishments as a teacher, pastor, university professor, academic administrator, researcher, and field secretary at the world church level.
The ministerial classroom on the second floor was named after Jaime Castrejón. He was honored for his contribution as a pastor, evangelist, and educator in the ministerial area. His vision was instrumental in the establishment of Montemorelos University. He also served as that school’s president, which led to the establishment of IATS. Castrejón retired in 2015.
The board room was named after Israel Leito for his visionary leadership and service as the longest tenured IAD president. IATS was established during his administration.
The media studio was named after Herbert Fletcher, a committed educator across the IAD for many years. The media studio will provide long-distance learning and produce documentaries, interviews, and more.
The inauguration ceremony included visits from leaders of the General Conference, Andrews University, Adventist universities from across the IAD, and regional administrators, former IAD leaders, and government officials.
A Dream Come True
“This is a dream come true,” Israel Leito, former IAD president, said, “just seeing what the Lord has done from a very humble beginning to our current building.” The real hero behind it is IAD treasurer Filiberto Verduzco, he said. “When he became the treasurer of the IAD and negotiated with Andrews University to reduce the costs for the pastors who were sent from our territory to study in the seminary, it became clear that we needed to do our own thing and find funds to start it.”
For Verduzco, seeing the new facility was impressive because it shows how large the institution has grown throughout the territory. “This inauguration of the new IATS building has been a valuable strategy of the division to prepare pastors and strengthen the church in Inter-America,” he said.
Resources to keep IATS running come from across the territory as part of operational costs of the IAD, Verduzco said. The seminary covers the costs of visiting professors, the entire academic operation, and the unions and employing organizations in the field to assist in the traveling costs of student pastors to the various university campuses throughout the territory.
“IATS continues to be a fundamental theological unit for the church, and the IAD will continue supporting it,” Verduzco said.