Interview with Rosalee Velloso Ewell, New Testament Editor of the Latin American Bible Commentary (LABC)
Please share a little about yourself.
I was born and I grew up in São Paulo, Brazil in the Southeast. My dad is Brazilian, and my mom is from Northern California. She went down to Brazil 40 years ago for a summer missions trip and here we are! We grew up here in São Paulo, and I have one brother. My dad is a prominent evangelical leader and somewhat well known in Brazil for his expository preaching.
After graduating from high school in Brazil, I went to Westmont College in Santa Barbara for a BA in Religious Studies. From there I went to Fuller Seminary and did the MA in Theology. Then from Fuller I went on to do my PhD at Duke in Biblical Ethics and wrote the dissertation on the identity and mission of the people of God. I wish I had known about Langham back then!
In North Carolina I met Sam, my husband. We now have three children and we’ve been in Londrina, Brazil since 2003. We came down to teach at the South American Theological Seminary (SATS). Sam was on the faculty until 2006 and I taught New Testament, Theology and did administrative work at SATS until 2008. We still live in Londrina but now we’re involved in other projects.
How did you get connected to Langham Partnership and the LABC project?
Langham found me at about the same time I found Langham. The project had been a dream of René Padilla, the General Editor, and others, from a long time ago. Somehow my name came up in discussions about it. Though I had heard of Langham before, I got connected through the LABC. It worked out really well because editing and writing are what I like doing most. And to work on a project that has such an incredible vision, goal for ministry and for impact on the church, then it made it even more wonderful to be involved.
What is the greatest joy and the greatest challenge in this kind of work?
The greatest joy is meeting these Christians from around South America and Central America, and learning about how there are similar struggles, similar blessings, and what God is doing in the continent. Brazil tends to be isolated from Spanish-speaking Latin America. This project has really been instrumental in bringing leaders, theologians, and writers together even though they’re not physically in the same space. We have a web site set up where they can exchange thoughts with one another and prayer requests and that’s been really great.
The greatest challenge: You start working on these things and you just want to say “Why can’t Christians just get along?” Sometimes, but thankfully not often, it’s hard to find people who are willing to put their internal politics, seminary politics, or denominational squabbles aside and really think about what kinds of blessings this project can bring to the church in Latin America. We’ve been really fortunate. There are wonderful people working on the LABC. And there’s the financial challenge of raising funds for the project. In North America or Europe there is a tendency for people to think that Latin America is “doing ok” so they’re not as interested in giving to projects focused here. They don’t know, for example, that Brazil is one of the top 5 countries listed for its gross inequality or that Colombia has one of the highest rates of displaced peoples on the planet, and that violence and racism are rampant in Latin American countries and in our churches. I think it’s also hard for people to give because of the turbulent political and economic ties between the US and Latin American countries. Central and South America are a bit too close to home for many in North America. Related to this challenge is the one of raising funds from within Latin America. There’s a lot of money here but there isn’t a history of Christians giving to the church or to any other Christian project. It’s a challenge in Latin America and it’s a challenge with Christians who are connected to Latin America but who live in the States.
What kinds of resources are pastors using now?
It really depends on where they are. A lot of pastors are in urban areas…so those pastors, at least theoretically, have access to seminary libraries, bookstores, etc. For those pastors and leaders in rural areas, frankly I have no idea what they use. Most of the tools are old, dating back to the 50s and 60s, like translated Bible dictionaries from English or German. It varies by denomination but they usually don’t have much and pastors are on their own. A related problem is that some of them have never been encouraged to read or study in the first place. Strong biblical training in general isn’t necessarily valued as a tool for preaching.
In that sense the commentary project will be very useful because it will get people engaged again. Part of why there isn’t much interest is because even the seminary professors have so few tools to work with. You couple that with big publicity campaigns for what are generally pretty bad books and then you’re really out of luck. The prosperity gospel is huge, they have a lot of ads, they own TV stations, etc. For a pastor it’s a challenge to preach the truth because in the neighborhood there might be ten churches and nine of them are preaching prosperity gospel sermons, and that’s where people go because they want to hear that. The guy who’s not preaching that could lose his church just for lack of people. That all adds to the culture of not having many tools.
How will a one-volume Bible commentary impact the level of biblical preaching in Latin America and other Spanish or Portuguese speaking nations?
On its own, it will be a one of a kind tool. There is no such resource that is geared to the different contexts within Latin America and that’s written in a way (we’re being really strict with our writers in this sense) that will also help people fall in love with the Bible again. The idea is to get them to want to read, to study more and to see how that study can be incredibly transformative for their ministries. For example, one of the things is unique in the LABC is that we have three or four guiding questions right at the beginning of the commentaries that readers can use for Bible study, discussion groups, etc. They are meant to make people curious and to read on. Giving pastors and leaders a useful study tool that also encourages them to read more is one of the best features of the LABC and shows how it can most impact biblical preaching in Latin America.
Secondly, it will be very important for it to be used alongside things like the Langham Preaching programme because then you’ll have the best of both worlds. We’ll have the best literature and capable instructors that can explain to those small groups how to use the commentary, how to take their preaching to the next level, and how to develop things using this excellent tool.
How did you identify the contributors? Who are they, in broad terms?
They are evangelicals/protestants from all over the continent and their backgrounds vary a lot. But they are all in agreement with the vision for the commentary and with the Lausanne Covenant, our main theological measuring stick. We’ve worked hard at getting denominational and country representation. We will probably have at least one person from every country. They are all scholars but not all have PhDs (that would be impossible and it wouldn’t be a fair representation of the church) and we’ve also tried to represent all the major seminaries. Men, women, younger people, older people. Even the editors are from different countries.
Please share two or three specific prayer requests for the project.
a) Timeliness. That people will continue to get their work in by the specified deadlines. We don’t want any delays or extra costs. We’re very aware of the need to get this done within the timeframe we’ve set out.
b) Health and encouragement for the writers. A number of them have family members or who themselves are suffering from various illnesses. Some have cancer and others have lost loved ones recently. They are really excited and they are working hard but these matters weigh heavily on them. Some are stuck out in the middle of nowhere, and one of the reasons why they like this project so much is because all of the sudden they have people elsewhere praying for them. We pray for our writers every week in general and for specific requests regularly.
c) Financial support from the US, Europe, but also from within Latin America, where a change in mentality is needed. People aren’t trained to ask people for money and people aren’t used to being asked for money. The prosperity gospel movement has dominated the financial ethos of church giving; and there’s already not much of a tendency to give. There is a lot of suspicion. It’s a big wall. But it’s important to raise more money from within Latin America so there’s a sense of ownership of the project by those in the churches that will benefit so much from the commentary. The LABC board is aware of the importance of that.
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