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MILL VALLEY, Calif. -- A 71-year-old retired 747 pilot earned a master of divinity, and a 20-year-old woman who grew up in a Burmese refugee camp received a diploma in Christian ministry bracketing the most recent class of graduates from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. These were among the 198 students, representing 22 states and 11 countries, who graduated at the Seminary's five campuses in May.

Richard Long, born and reared in New Mexico, traveled 5 hours one-way from his home in Grand Junction, Colo., to attend seminary classes. He participated in the seminary's distance learning program for seven years at Golden Gate's Rocky Mountain campus to earn his master of divinity degree.

After retiring from a 36-year career flying 747s for United Airlines, Long began to take Hebrew classes at Golden Gate.

"Initially, I just wanted to take some Hebrew and Greek classes to expand my understanding of the Scriptures, plus I wanted to improve my teaching," said 71-year-old Long, who has taught the same adult Sunday school class since 1981. "Steve Veteto, , encouraged me to apply for a degree. It was like God was giving me an opportunity and opening the door."

In just a few months Long will begin the church planting process in Grand Junction.

Lah Say Wah is from the Karen people group, and lived with her family in a refugee camp in Burma, near the Thai border, for the first 16 years of her life. Today at 20 years old, her diploma in Christian ministry -- earned at the Rocky Mountain campus -- is just one of many accomplishments. In addition to taking seminary courses, she translated from Karen to English for the professors in five Contextualized Leadership Development classes. At the same time, she was also completing her last year of high school and was taking courses in her first year at the Community College of Aurora. She now serves the 300-member Karen Bible Church of Denver in a variety of leadership roles, is a pre-med student and works full-time at a medical research lab.

The seminary's highest student award, the William O. Crews Presidential Leadership Award, was presented to Michael McCoy (Oregon), a master of divinity graduate from the Northern California campus and John Moreland (Texas) a master of divinity graduate from the Rocky Mountain campus. McCoy is currently associate pastor of a church in San Francisco and leads weekly street evangelism outreach in nearby urban cities. Soon he and his wife hope to serve in international mission work. Moreland is currently the senior pastor of Community Christian Church in Denver, and his long-term plan is to continue his education and pursue a Ph.D.

"This award is given to the student who typifies, both now and in the future, the mission of Golden Gate," said Jeff Iorg, president of the seminary. "Mike and John strongly demonstrate the leadership training Golden Gate is committed to provide to pastors and to our priority of shaping leaders who expand God's kingdom around the world."

Two graduating students shared the stories of their educational journey at Golden Gate Seminary. Meredith Brunson, a North Carolina native who received a master of missiology degree, told the crowd how she felt two years ago during orientation with a room full of students just like her who had answered God's call to attend seminary.

"It was amazing to think that each person in the room had received a specific calling from God and one day we would be scattered across the world, proclaiming the name of Jesus to those who need him," she said. "And yet, God had brought us together for this season of our lives, to learn and grow and become the people that he designed us to be."

Noe Garcia, a master of divinity graduate from Texas who was also the recipient of the LifeWay Pastoral Leadership Award, explained that seminary was more than an academic experience for him.

"It was a spiritual journey in which I learned to depend on God to sustain and carry me," he said. "Through his grace he has provided me with incredible professors who provided not only academic but personal support to help me be a better man, a better husband and a better father." Garcia thanked the professors for "teaching me to be a man of God, to be a reflection of Jesus Christ."

In his commencement address, Iorg described Christian leaders as troublemakers.

"We preach absolute truth," he said. 'We teach ethical standards. We confront moral depravity. We urge non-Christians to consider the Gospel and we urge Christians to more earnest discipleship. And all this troublemaking can sometimes get us into trouble."

Iorg summarized the incidents in Acts 16 and Acts 24 describing how God worked through Christian leader and "troublemaker" Paul.

"In Acts 16, Paul made some trouble in Philippi," Iorg said. "He started a prayer meeting, won some people to faith in Christ, delivered a demon-possessed girl, confronted greedy businessmen, delivered a person from human slavery, then was beaten and imprisoned."

Iorg told how Paul and his co-worker Silas started singing and seeking the glory of God, witnessing to the other prisoners.

"Then God sent an earthquake," Iorg said. "The ground trembled, the doors flew open, the stocks fell off and the chains were released."

He added, "Sometimes when you get put in prison, and things are looking bleak, you'll get an earthquake and God will do magnificent things through those circumstances."

The president continued with a second story about how Paul persisted with his ministry and was imprisoned two years for doing so.

Iorg told his listeners how he responded when reading this: "Two years, God? What were you thinking? Here is the most gifted preacher alive at that time, the most insightful missiologist on the planet, the person with more spiritual power than all of us in this room combined. Here is a man whose theological mind produced a good bit of the New Testament. And he was allowed to wait two years in a Roman prison?"

Iorg then summarized Paul's accomplishments while imprisoned -- including writing a significant portion of the New Testament.

"These two stories teach us this lesson," Iorg said. "As Christian leaders when you make a little trouble or you get into trouble - sometimes you'll get an earthquake. And sometimes when you make a little trouble or you get into trouble, no earthquake happens. It is the immature leader who thinks God is obligated to bail him or her out of every difficult situation. But whether you get an earthquake or whether you don't, the mission matters most."

The president urged the graduates to consider, "What matters in every circumstance of life, in every arena of life, in every location of life, in every way possible is to find the means to advance the gospel message and expand God's kingdom all around the world.

"The mission matters more than your comfort," Iorg said. "It matters more than your safety. It matters more than your circumstances. It matters whether you are healthy or not, married or not, prosperous or not, seemingly blessed or not -- the mission matters most in every external circumstance you will encounter."

Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary is a Cooperative Program Ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention and operates five, fully-accredited campuses in Northern California, Southern California, Pacific Northwest, Arizona and Colorado. For more information: www.ggbts.edu.

Phyllis Evans is director of communications at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net

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