Spanish Immersion Equips for Ministry
Professor Paul Bases took 37 participants on this summer’s Spanish immersion experience to Argentina.
The annual five-week, six-credit immersion course includes homestay programs, seven hours of daily language instruction, guided excursions, tango classes, and a weekend gaucho ranch excursion.
Most notably, students are required to take a Spanish-only pledge, speaking nothing but Spanish for the entire five weeks.
Since 1995, “Profe” Bases has taken 470 participants on immersion trips to Spanish-speaking South American countries. Any MLC student may sign up for these courses, no matter what their level of fluency. Students from Bethany Lutheran College (Mankato MN) and Wisconsin Lutheran College (Milwaukee) also sign up for the courses, as do current teachers and pastors.
This year, for instance, Pastor Phil Hunter MLC ’11, WLS ’15 and his wife, Andrea (Steinbrenner) Hunter ’10, participated. Pastor Hunter led worship services—in Spanish, of course.
“It’s open to any and all who wish to study Spanish in an intensive high-quality program,” Bases says. “It’s a great way for both current students and called workers to work on their language proficiency skills.”
For those who want additional experiences after their first immersion course, Professor Bases also offers satellite immersion programs in Guatemala, Ecuador, and Chile.
Of the 550 education majors on the MLC campus, 27 are Spanish majors. Another seven students carry a Spanish minor. And preseminary students see the value of the language as well, with 30% (52 out of 172) taking Spanish courses to fulfill their nonbiblical language requirement.
Learning a foreign language is not merely an avenue to greater cultural awareness. It also opens doors for the
gospel. With about 400 million native speakers, Spanish is the second-most widely spoken language in the world, making mastery of this Romance language a ministry training asset. One Spanish course—Communicating Christ—is focused exclusively on sharing the gospel.
(The most widely spoken language in the world, with almost a billion native speakers, is Mandarin Chinese, which is also offered at MLC.)
“Those students who graduate from MLC with Spanish language proficiency are well-prepared to share the gospel with millions of souls, both here in the States and abroad,” Bases says. “What a blessing to share the love of Jesus with people in their own language.”
Breaking Down Barriers
By Phil Hunter MLC ’11, WLS ’15
As a senior at MLC, I took Elementary Spanish I and II and audited Communicating Christ. During my studies at the seminary, I went to Mexico twice for two weeks through the SPICE (Spanish Immersion Cultural Education) program, and each of those mini-immersions gave my Spanish abilities a huge boost. By then I was able to help a local congregation, Trinity-Waukesha WI, with its budding Spanish outreach. In May 2015 I was assigned to Bethel-Menasha WI and immediately began using Spanish on a daily basis.
By God’s grace, I was able to preach, counsel, baptize, and teach Bible Information Class in Spanish, and enjoy meals and grow new friendships in countless Spanish-speaking homes—but just barely! While all the members and visitors, and my associate pastor, were very gracious, I still frequently found myself smiling and listening, completely unsure of what I was hearing. Even basic communication was often a struggle, due to my lack of vocabulary, structures, and forms.
My associate pastor, Sam Degner MLC ’01, WLS ’05, recommended an immersion program, particularly through MLC. With the blessing and financial support of WELS Home Missions, our Northern Wisconsin District Mission Board, and my congregation, my wife, Andrea, and I embarked on an eight-week adventure in Argentina.
We studied at an excellent language academy in small classes with about 30 MLC students, a few Bethany and WLC students, and a couple area Lutheran high school teachers. From mid-May through mid-July, we learned new grammar and vocabulary. More important, we grew in our comfort and fluency with the Spanish language, due in large part to our pledge to speak only Spanish. Conversations, tests, movies, museums, city tours, and the Argentine staples of beef, ice cream, and pizza all contributed to a fun learning environment that strengthened our abilities exponentially.
Some of my favorite moments were spent in worship. I was privileged to create weekly worship services for the group, which introduced the students to the most common Spanish liturgies in use around WELS. The
music was accompanied on guitar by MLC junior Zach Satorius (Grace-Falls Church VA), and nearly all the preseminary students read Scripture lessons. Proclaiming God’s law and gospel, confessing our sins and being absolved, singing and praying—and doing it all in Spanish in a foreign country with so many students training for ministry—made for an unforgettable memory.
The time came to return to our home and ministry in Menasha. There are still times I can only smile, not quite certain about a word or expression, but nowhere near as often as last year. Several members and frequent guests have noticed that my Spanish has improved, and I feel more at ease knowing I won’t tie myself up in grammatical knots.
But it’s not just about feeling better. The goal is to sound a clear call (1 Corinthians 14:8). The message we have is important. Each word of God’s Word is important. His messengers strive to be clear and to break down language and cultural barriers.
MLC’s Spanish immersion program is designed to help future and current called workers do just that, and take it from me—it works!
Pastor Hunter serves Bethel-Menasha and is a member of the MLC Alumni Association Board. He is married to Andrea (nee Steinbrenner) Hunter ’10, who works for WELS Multi-Language Publications and Asia Lutheran Seminary.