LA PUENTE, California — Students attending classes at Latin American Bible Institute (LABI) College, located in the calm industrial neighborhood known as Avocado Heights, are glad they are here.
“We experience beautiful moments together,” Victor Solorzano says. “We go through ups and downs together as a family, being discipled spiritually and educationally.”
Solorzano is from Fairfield, California. His Mexican-born father, Jose Solorzano, is a cabinetmaker and his Mexican-born mother, Clara Beleche, stays home. Solorzano says he didn’t know if he would attend college until his senior year in high school, when a teacher convinced him the experience would help develop his character.
He started attending LABI in the spring of 2020, pursuing an associate’s degree in Bible and ministry. Although as a teen he attended Templo La Hermosa, an Assemblies of God church in Vacavillle, Solorzano says he didn’t start living as a Christian until after he arrived at LABI.
“Community is a big thing for me,” says Solorzano, 22. “I’m learning a lot from the people around me.”
In addition to singing on the LABI worship team, Solorzano is a children’s ministry leader at Iglesia Primitiva Juan 3:16 in La Puente. After LABI, Solorzano plans to transfer to another school to study music or psychology. One of his challenges is keeping up with homework; the load is heavier than high school.
LABI librarian and faculty member Steven Valdez, 43, helps students such as Solorzano make the transition easier.
“Some LABI College students may not feel prepared for university-level studies,” says Valdez, a 1998 alum. “But this is a hands-on training facility. There is a lot of person-to-person interaction.”
“Students can learn to be studious,” says Valdez, who also is associate pastor at The Connection Church in Huntington Beach. “Many rise to the occasion.”
Salmai Guzman, 18, is a first-year student at LABI. She initially didn’t plan on attending the school, but her 20-year-old sister, Ruth, who also is enrolled at LABI, talked her into coming.
“I wanted to go to a Christian school and I discovered LABI would lay a good biblical foundation,” says Guzman, who is from Highland Ranch, Colorado. Her Guatemalan dad, Abel Antonio Guzman, is in the heating-air conditioning business, while her Mexican mom, Rebeca, baby-sits.
Guzman served on the worship team at her home church, Nueva Esperanza in Commerce City, Colorado. While enrolled at LABI, she is on the social media and worship teams at Fullerton Journey Church. After graduation, Guzman wants to serve in ministry, although right now she isn’t sure how.
“It was a little scary moving away from home,” Guzman says. “But I’ve learned how to get along with other people in the dorm. I’ve learned how to love myself more so I can give grace to others.”
LABI President Marty L. Harris knows the small LABI can’t compete with the amenities offered by other schools.
Yet Harris is bullish on LABI’s intangibles.
“There is a sense of family here, a sense of community of language, culture, and food, a place to receive attention from faculty,” says Harris, 54. “If a student feels called to the missions or church leadership, LABI is a good fit.”