This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

New Bible institute building empowers community education

After seven years of offering classes in churches, the Toba-Qom Bible Institute in Castelli, Argentina, will soon have its own space.

José Oyanguren, left, and Cornelio Castro, members of the Toba-Qom Bible Institute committee, stand in front of the classroom being built in Argentina. — Photo by MMN
José Oyanguren, left, and Cornelio Castro, members of the Toba-Qom Bible Institute committee, stand in front of the classroom being built in Argentina. — Photo by MMN

Supported by Mennonite Mission Network, the institute offers leadership development training and deeper biblical understanding for Toba-Qom people in and around the towns of Castelli and Miraflores located in the Chaco region of Argentina.

The new building for the group in Castelli will have a room for the institute’s classes and community-led workshops, a radio station, and a recording studio for musicians from Toba-Qom churches.

Francisco Marcial, a musician and student who helped construct the building, said the project would open new opportunities for his people.

“We’ve never had a recording studio or our own FM radio station,” he said. “This place will be a gathering place for lots of people: making radio programs, recording their music, studying the Word of God. It gives our community strength and energy.”

Construction started in 2012 and has proceeded with funds from local donors, from the provincial government, and from Sonnenberg and Pike Mennonite churches in Ohio.

The institute paid community members who had construction experience to build the structure up to the roof. At that point, community volunteers added the roof.

José Oyanguren said the idea to build the classroom came “from conversations with Toba-Qom people about getting an independent space for our vision.”

Oyanguren is an international partnership associate with MMN whose family is sent by Bragado Mennonite Church to serve in the region.

“Our faith alone inspired us, because we didn’t have anything else,” he said.

For many years, the group of MMN workers and associates in the Argentine Chaco, called the Mennonite team, sought culturally appropriate and structured ways to respond to a need for leadership development.

In 2007, Oyanguren and Toba-Qom leaders developed the Bible institute focused on keeping students within their communities, used indigenous teachers, and operated mostly from student contributions.

Now that the institute is well established and has 50 students enrolled, the leaders want it to have its own building that could also function as a community space to support education and cultural expression.

The radio station and recording studio will give the Toba-Qom people access to communication media.

Oyanguren said the institute also hopes to host an accelerated high school program for adults aged 18 and up. Already, 80 people have signed up.

Church and local donations of funds and raw materials are moving the building closer to completion. Construction will continue as funds are available.

Energy from the construction project spurred the formation of the community-led Qom Knowledge Educational Center. Its motto is “Knowledge empowers.”

The center will share the space with the institute and will offer cultural strengthening, language preservation and Christian ethical formation.

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