Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary
Building a New Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is best known as an architectural wonder crossing a magnificent expanse of water, but some recent graduates and current students of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary are building a new bridge to help the city get to God.
"We want the church to be a natural fit for someone from the area and still be true to God's Word and Jesus Christ," said James Atherton, founding pastor of The Bridge, a Southern Baptist church plant in the city.
The church offers ministries that speak to the needs of a wealthy, multicultural city population. Atherton started pastoring the church as part of his "field education" requirements at seminary.
While many "ethnic" Baptist churches are booming in the Bay Area, Southern Baptists have had little success at planting English-speaking churches in San Francisco over the last thirty years.
Atherton and his team sent out 30,000 colorful flyers with pictures of the already multicultural core group and quotes from some members about what they envisioned as a church. At the launch service, more than 100 people came.
"It was as if the pictures came to life," Atherton said. "Biracial couples were in the flyer, and biracial couples came. Asians and Latinos were in the flyer, and Asians and Latinos came. The people who came reflected the people who were in the flyer."
The Bridge set out from the beginning to be a church from which people launch out in ministry in the Bay Area and the rest of the world. "We want to be a sending church," Atherton said. "We have connections throughout the country and on a few continents.
"In a church plant setting, we really have to stay focused on outreach," Atherton said. "We want to set that into the DNA of our church."
To Atherton, though, the shining moments come from the very personal times of ministry to individual attendees at the Bridge. "There are lots of hurting people in the congregation, and there is real evidence of God's presence that is making a significant difference in people."
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Putting Feet to Their Faith
Fulfilling the mandate to put "feet" to their faith, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students find ways to share the gospel in a practical way through the Midwest Missions program. Short-term assignments include holding weekend revival meetings, leading backyard Bible schools, conducting surveys, or helping build church facilities, all with the goal of spreading the gospel and helping meet community needs.
Three Midwesterners, Daniel Brown, Vitali Malinousky, and Bill Griesbach, spent time ministering in the Chicago area last spring. Brown and Malinousky worked with the Chicago Metro Baptist Association as part of the Strategic Focus City Movement, conducting surveys to gather information which could lead to the beginning of a Russian ministry.
"This trip to Chicago reminded me again of the great need for the gospel among people from the former Soviet Union," said Brown who had served as a short-term Southern Baptist missionary in Russia before coming to Midwestern to study. "So many have never heard the gospel in their own language. Most of them have not experienced a relationship on any level with a Christian and almost certainly not with an evangelical Protestant."
A renewed focus on sharing the gospel impressed Malinousky, a native of Belarus. "Studying in seminary, it is very easy to forget that there are a lot of lost people," he said. "The mission trip helped me to see that we are to be witnesses to people who don't know Christ."
Making phone calls and handing out literature in Chicago, Griesbach came away with a renewed sense of purpose for his own ministry. "It encouraged me and reminded me that God is at work," he said. "I simply need to join Him where He is working. The trip brought the desire for missions very firmly back into my heart. It brought back a sense of urgency."
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
Trading Sorrows for Joy
As the Louisiana State Penitentiary inmates sang, their faces shined. With hands raised towards heaven, the men clad in black gowns and caps celebrated the first four-year graduation service ever to be held at the Angola maximum-security prison.
"I'm trading my sorrows," they sang. "I'm trading my shame. I'm laying them down for the joy of the Lord."
Trading as many as two to four years of intensive biblical studies in exchange for diplomas adorned with their names, twenty-one inmates from Angola received undergraduate degrees on January 31, 2000, from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, one of six seminaries owned by the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Angola extension center, set amidst 18,000 acres of farmland enclosed by barbed wire and steel bars, is one of nineteen centers that the seminary currently operates. The center was started in 1995 after hundreds of prisoners had completed the Experiencing God Bible study and wanted more education to prepare themselves to minister within prison congregations.
"The extension center at Angola was birthed out of a dream to reach our entire state of Louisiana for Christ," said Thomas Strong, NOBTS dean of the College of Undergraduate Studies, pointing to the tri-partnership between NOBTS, the Judson Baptist Association in Baton Rouge, La., and the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
"The students who graduated are men whose faith in Christ is genuine and who are determined to reach the world in which they now find themselves for Christ," Strong noted.
Now with more than 100 students, the seminary's teachings "benefit not just [the graduates], but the rest of the population," said inmate graduate John Sheehan. "Angola is probably one of the best evangelized prisons, but it needs people to be shepherds."
Since the January graduation, Warden Burl Cain, a Christian himself, has helped develop a chaplaincy program in which each graduate has been assigned a section of the prison to serve as an inmate assistant chaplain.
Inmate graduate Joseph Stevenson, who has already served twenty-two years of his life sentence, thanked NOBTS for their faithfulness to the Lord. "Your work adds academic integrity and doctrinal reliability to our proclamation of the gospel," he had said in the student response portion of the commencement.
"Thank you for your obedience in following the Holy Spirit into this penitentiary where few other missions have dared to come," he expressed. "After Paul's conversion, many were skeptical and would not associate with him, although the Lord had prepared him an encourager named Barnabas. It was he who helped Paul advance in the ministry to which God had called him."
"To us, you are the Lord's Barnabas," Stevenson shared.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Confronting New Agers with the Gospel
A metaphysical bookstore is the last place one would expect to find a former television news anchorman - or even a Southern Baptist seminarian. But, because of a class on the New Age religion and instruction from Ted Cabal, Dan Odle felt entirely at ease sharing his faith amid tarot cards, talismans, and treatises on witchcraft.
Odle, a master of divinity student in church music from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., joined other students for the special class taught in connection with the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando. Cabal, dean of Boyce College, the seminary's undergraduate program, was a principle instructor.
"I really hope this leads to taking the gospel to the world - not just the world that looks like me," said Odle, a West Frankfort, Ill., native, and who served as news anchorman for the CBS affiliate in Cape Girardeau, Mo., before coming to seminary.
The seminary students received class credit for the conference. Class requirements included eight hours of witnessing experience with New Agers.
Odle completed his hours the next day, presenting the gospel to three New Agers, including a Wiccan owner of a metaphysical bookstore. Odle spent two hours witnessing to the 29-year-old soon-to-be high priestess.
"We were able to discuss the existence of God, the truth of the Bible and the concept of sin," Odle said.
Because of the conference, Odle felt completely comfortable presenting Christianity to a woman with a drastically different worldview.
"Before the class on witnessing to New Agers, I had a vague understanding of New Age philosophy, but had no idea of how it has permeated culture," said Odle. "Dr. Cabal's teaching helped to open my eyes to the drastic impact the New Age movement has on society, the church, and on me."
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Equipped to Return
For Nicholas Muteti, studying at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., has been spiritual preparation for a passionate return to his homeland.
Now 36 years old, he has known since age 17 that he was called to minister to the people of Kenya. Three years after becoming a Christian at age 14 through the witness of a Southern Baptist evangelist, Muteti began having recurring dreams that would waken him with tears. God was telling him, Muteti said, to take the gospel to the Maasai, savage enemies of his own Kamba tribe.
Armed with only a New Testament, Muteti went to Maasai territory, stating, "God, who created you and created me, gave me a message." Instead of killing him, elders allowed Muteti to explain the gospel, and twenty-seven accepted Christ as Savior. Tribal leaders sent for people in other villages to come and hear. Over the years his ministry eventually resulted in a truce between once fiercely warring tribes.
Muteti worked with the Maasai for ten years before coming to the U.S. to attend college and seminary, to equip himself to minister more effectively to his people.
In 1997, Muteti enrolled at SEBTS, which "has helped us (a great deal) spiritually," Muteti said, struggling for the words to appropriately convey his family's gratitude.
After his graduation, Muteti wants to return to Kenya, continue his work with the Maasai, and teach at Kenya Baptist Theological College.
"God is doing great things in Kenya (and) people are responding," but Kenya has a great need for trained pastors, he said. Muteti is grateful for educational opportunities Southern Baptists have given him, enabling him to have a part in evangelizing and discipling his beloved homeland.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Good News for Romania
When Cristina Bodor graduated from college in Romania in 1995, she knew she either wanted to go into social work or teach in a Christian college. She did not know her studies would take her to the United States and to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
A missionary visiting Romania called Bodor shortly before she graduated and told her a Christian agency in Texas was looking for help in starting a ministry in her hometown of Oradea. Soon Bodor met with leaders of that agency, Buckner Baptist Benevolence in Dallas. They sponsored her and recommended she enroll in Southwestern Seminary's church and community ministries program.
Cristina says she has very much enjoyed being at Southwestern Seminary where she has grown in her knowledge of church ministry, God, and her spiritual life. While she has earned a master of arts in church and community ministries, she has also earned a master of science in social work from the University of Texas at Arlington.
In her free time Cristina has taught unchurched preschool children in an apartment ministry of Fort Worth's University Baptist Church. The ministry is now a Hispanic mission.
"This summer I went back home and I did an internship with Buckner. They have started their ministry in Romania with orphaned children. They asked me if I could help them start the foster care program in Oradea."
Cristina laid the groundwork for that ministry this summer by translating Buckner's policies and procedures manual.
Southwestern has become the SBC's global seminary with more than 210 international students enrolled this year, more than the average U.S. seminary's total enrollment.
After she graduates in December, Cristina plans to go back to Romania and work in foster care or child adoption.