By GLENN HANNIGAN
Warren Lathem calls it “the most exciting thing I have been involved with in 38 years of ministry.”
Now, after a long recovery from two surgeries and a life-threatening staph infection, Lathem has returned to his passion. He, his wife, Jane, along with Dan Dunn, are on a 19-day visit to South American, helping support Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela.
Lathem, who served for 17 years as senior minister of the Mount Pisgah, most recently served for five years as District Superintendent of the Atlanta-Marietta District before taking leave in June 2008. He has been eager to make this return trip to South America.
“Jane and I first got involved with Venezuela when I hired a Venezuela pastor to start the Hispanic Ministry at Mount Pisgah in 1994,” Lathem said. “Carlos Gonzalez was exceptionally gifted.”
Gonzalez, after finishing his degree at Candler, was encouraged to return to Venezuela to help build a United Methodist presence there. In May, 1996, Carlos led a group from Mount Pisgah, including Roger and Dana Lane, and the Lathem’s oldest son, Ray. On May 11, 1996, the group was among 110 people killed in the ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades.
Two years later Bishop Luis Palomo, of Costa Rica, asked Warren Lathem if Mount Pisgah would sponsor a Venezuelan pastor from South Georgia to carry on the work in the nation. Lathem agreed and was invited to preach an evangelistic crusade in Arcarigua, Venezuela.
“It was during that time God burdened me with the need for a seminary in Venezuela,” Lathem said. After several more crusades and visits to Venezuela, the Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela was founded in October, 2002.
“That same week we held an evangelistic crusade in Barquisimeto and started the construction of the Lugar Altissimo United Methodist Church” Lathem said. The church was later dedicated in memory of Ray Lathem, III and in honor of his brother, Jared Thomas Lathem.
Jared was married in the church in August 2005 by his father in law, a graduate of the seminary, and Bishop Lindsey Davis.
On this current trip, Lathem will visit with the Due West UMC mission team in Barquisimeto where they are helping construct a church, pharmacy, crisis pregnancy dormitory, medical clinic and school at the Valle Dorado UMC.
In addition to preaching at a local church, Lathem will teach in the Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela the course, “The Mission of the Church, Part I.” Part II will be taught in August.
The Seminario Wesleyano de Venezula recently completed its first year on its own campus after renting space for six years. The first event on the new campus was the dedication of the property, followed by graduation exercises. Twelve students completed the rigorous six-year undergraduate degree in Theology (Bachelor’s equivalent). The purchase of the property was greatly assisted by the $60,000 offering at the 2008 North Georgia Annual Conference.
The seminary has served as the primary resource in the formation of the United Methodist Church of Venezuela. Not only is it the official seminary of the national church, but it has hosted each annual conference. The organizing conference was held at the end of seminary week, August, 2007 and resulted in the adoption of the Book of Discipline and the election of the first Bishop of the United Methodist Church of Venezuela.
UMC of Venezuela continues to grow rapidly, with new pastors starting additional churches and preaching stations. Even the resident Bishop has three new congregations and another preaching place, in addition to his regular responsibilities. The pastor of the largest UMC in Venezuela has six churches or preaching places.
“They have a passion for the Gospel and the lost of Venezuela,” Lathem said. “The seminary is a critical part of teaching the theology and methodology used in developing this rapidly growing denomination.”
During this current trip, Lathem will also be speaking to the United Methodist Pastors of Venezuela at the request of Bishop Juvenal Perez. After the Methodist Conference, he will be visiting with individual pastors and churches and preaching in a variety of settings until returning to the U.S. on March 23.
It is a busy, demanding schedule for a man who has spent months recovering from surgery.
“Please keep all of this in your prayers,” Lathem said.
For more information,go to: www.venezuelaforchrist.blogspot.com. To plan a mission trip to Venezuela or financially support the seminary, contact Warren Lathem at firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 770-889-6423.