Fernanda Casar Marfil lives in Monterrey, Mexico; works full time; and is raising two young children. But none of those factors deterred her from a dream she will see fulfilled his month: earning a degree from Perkins School of Theology.

Fernanda expects to graduate this month from the Spanish-language Th.M. Degree Program, as a member of the first cohort of students receiving the advanced master’s degrees. This nonresidential program is designed especially for experienced full-time pastors or church/academic leaders. The first cohort began in the fall of 2017 and will graduate in May. A second cohort is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2019.

Fernanda’s journey began several years ago at John Wesley Seminary in Monterrey. While taking a course there, she met Hugo Magallanes, associate professor of Christianity and Cultures at Perkins.

“We kept in touch, and when the Spanish-language program was announced, he encouraged me to apply,” she said.

Fernanda’s English is excellent, but the hybrid program proved ideal for her life situation. She’s married, has young children – ages 6 and 4 – and works at a nonprofit after school program for children in a marginalized neighborhood in nearby Pescaria, Nuevo Leon. The two-year, 24-hour hybrid M.Th. program requires her to be onsite just two weeks each semester, for intensive courses held in Dallas and in Latin America in combination with online class contact and mentorship.

Perkins is the only institution in the U.S. offering this type of program, according to Magallanes; the first cohort includes students in Latin America and South America as well as U.S.-based students who prefer to read, study and write in Spanish. The application process is in Spanish, and all the instruction is conducted in Spanish. The program is designed for those who want to enhance the practice of ministry through advanced study of a particular theological or pastoral discipline; undertake scholarly examination of a specific aspect of the Christian religion/traditions or function of Christian ministry; or prepare for more advanced study at the doctoral level.

Fernanda’s favorite Bible verse is Micah 6:8: What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? That relates to her passion for social justice, specifically with the work of the church within marginalized groups. That’s been a focus of her graduate work; she wrote her thesis on the topic of gender violence.

What’s next after graduation? Fernanda is still contemplating her next move but is considering pursuing a Ph.D.

“I would like to do something that combines academic work and work in the field, so that I can always be in touch with the people who are struggling,” she said.

Fernanda grew up in the church, attending since age 10, and has always had a sensitivity to the needs of others.

“That’s something God put in me,” she said. “That led me to be in contact with people in need, like the homeless and migrants. They show me another part of the Christian life – and another face of Jesus. And it gives me a sense of purpose.”