Urban training centers
to ever-growing population
(July 14, 2002)
By Isaac Olivarez
Seven years ago, a typical
day in Billy Sotos life was spent on street corners, in alleys
or at drug houses, scrounging whatever money he could find to get
his next fix. For 35 years, his life spiraled downward as drugs
overwhelmed his body and nearly ended his life.
"I was the epitome of
pathetic," Soto, 55, recalls. "Everything that pertained to the
devil, I was doing." But the night in 1995 that Soto dared God to
change his life would transform him forever.
"I didnt get on
my knees and beg for forgiveness," Soto says. "I had an attitude.
But from the bottom of my heart, I yelled, If Youre
real, do something. "
The next morning, Soto
awoke with no desire to take drugs. Two weeks later, he became involved
with the Los Angeles Dream Center. By 1996, his faith had matured
and he started Under the Bridge Ministries, a food outreach to the
homeless of Los Angeles. In 2000, Soto graduated from the Los Angeles
Urban Bible Training Center, and was recently ordained as an Assemblies
of God minister.
"There is no power on
this earth that could have changed my life except the power of Jesus
Christ," Soto says.
is one example of how Urban Bible Training Centers (UBTC), an Assemblies
of God Home Missions ministry, is helping change lives.
UBTC began in 1993 with
a vision to provide training to city residents so they wouldnt
have to leave their community to benefit from the training. Course
work usually takes place in a church, with classes meeting up to
three times per week. Urban A/G pastors mentor UBTC students as
they work together to enhance class work by volunteering in an authentic
environment such as church ministry.
The main objective of
UBTC is to train church leaders to effectively reach people for
Christ in their community, something experts say is a growing need.
"In the developing world,
where cities are [now] growing fastest, missionaries did wonderfully
in getting the gospel over the ocean, through the jungle and over
the desert," says Ray Bakke, author of A Theology as Big as the
City and The Urban Christian. "We now need that same
kind of commitment to the big cities of the world."
For many, big-city ministry
means inner-city ministry, but Bakke notes that because todays
cities are changing, ministry needs to be tailored to fit the needs
of the city.
"Urban ministry is not
just going to focus on what we would traditionally call the inner
city, " he says. "It is going to be at-risk urban populations
living under bridges, in tunnels and in abandoned cars who need
Christ just as much."
Today, more than 1,000
students of all major ethnic groups are enrolled in more than 35
UBTCs throughout the nation, and more than 200 have graduated. Urban
ministers, as well as retired pastors and missionaries, use material
provided by Global Universitys Berean School of the Bible
to teach Bible courses on a volunteer basis. Those seeking ministerial
credentials with the Assemblies of God may take more than the 16
"Most of our students
cant afford to attend local colleges," says Eldon Brown, director
of UBTC for Tampa Bay, Fla. "They wouldnt go anywhere if it
werent for the existence of UBTC." With five locations around
Tampa Bay, UBTC is filling a gap that wouldnt be reached otherwise.
"UBTC and I were a perfect
fit," says Rich Kinney, senior pastor of Calvary Assembly in San
Pablo, Calif. "I was not able to afford college, and UBTC gave me
the opportunity to train for ministry as well as learn about the
baptism in the Holy Spirit." Kinney, 46, learned of UBTC from an
A/G professor at a community college and has since received his
built in UBTCs across the United States, urban pastors, sectional
and district leaders, and Assemblies of God Home Missions are working
to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to todays cities. As students
are mentored, they gain the knowledge and experience they need to
be effective in lay ministry, pulpit ministry or street ministry,
strengthening the local church.
"Weve seen churches
become more effective in their outreaches by raising leadership
through UBTCs," says Jim Hall, national UBTC director. "It came
from graduates being able to function fruitfully with confidence
in their ability."
With the help of UBTC,
individuals like Soto are being equipped to face the challenges
of taking the gospel to todays metropolises where drugs, prostitution
and crime have escalated and church attendance has declined.
"UBTC showed me that
I wasnt worthless and that I could succeed," Soto says. "I
should have caught every disease known to man or I should have been
dead, but God had a plan."