Story Magazine - Spring/Summer, 2014

AGORA at GMI: Change, change and more change!

by Rollie Martinson

We live in a time of many and massive migrations. These migrations are dramatically impacting large cities and rural areas around the world. Close to home, Minnesota's foreign-born population rose from 2.6 percent in 1990 to 7.3 percent in 2011. More than 400,000 recent immigrants live in Minnesota today. The St. Paul Public School district has students from families speaking more than 70 languages.

AGORA, the lifelong vision of the Rev. Cherian Puhiyottil, was developed with congregations and synods to reach out to people of many ethnicities. These efforts soon led to the mentoring of leaders of recent immigrant congregations. In the fall of 2001, a discipleship and leadership school was developed, meeting at Augsburg College; at Atonement Lutheran Church in Bloomington, Minn.; and at Luther Seminary. More than 65 volunteer instructors have taught these classes. Over the past 13 years, more than 200 Christian leaders from recent immigrant communities and congregations have been befriended and instructed in these classes that today are offered through AGORA's Christian Leadership Training Program. These immigrant leaders have been instrumental in founding 31 new congregations.

In the spring and summer of 2012, AGORA exhausted its funding and was taken into the work of the Global Mission Institute (GMI) at Luther Seminary. The missions and goals of the two programs had much in common as they focused on outreach to and partnerships with people from around the world. GMI Director Robera Battal assumed administrative responsibility for AGORA's programs. He and Vern Rice, an AGORA volunteer, visited congregations, conferences, pastors and synod staff interpreting the newly formed relationship and seeking funding.

In fall 2013 and winter 2014, Battal and AGORA volunteers reached out to immigrant congregational leaders, synod representatives, pastors of multi-ethnic congregations, area college representatives and leaders at Luther Seminary. They gathered them for a day-long consultation focused on identifying the extent of the present as well as imagining sustainable, expanded immigrant leadership education for the future. These developmental conversations are presently in deliberations that imagine a two-year initiative that forges a partnership among institutions across the Southeastern, Southwestern, Minneapolis Area and St. Paul Area synods to sustain leadership training for both immigrant congregations and existing congregations within communities with populations of recent immigrant peoples. AGORA is imagined to be a major administrative and program development participant partner in this network.

As these many changes continue to unfold, we encourage you to pray for these efforts, to support them with your gifts to Luther Seminary and to watch for ongoing developments in this exciting and important venture!

For more information, visit www.luthersem.edu/gmi and www.luthersem.edu/agora.