MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP) -- A 33-year-old Filipino father who earned his second master's degree of the year was among 52 students receiving degrees at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary's 2012 winter commencement at First Baptist Church in San Francisco.

Rico Marquez, who grew up in the Philippines and moved to the U.S. in 2008, received the William O. Crews Presidential Leadership Award, the seminary's highest student honor.

"This award is given to the student who shows remarkable potential for leadership and has already demonstrated leadership skills," Golden Gate President Jeff Iorg noted.

Marquez preaches at East Bay Baptist Church in Alameda, Calif., on Sunday mornings and teaches a Bible training course for the area's church leaders on Sunday afternoons. He planted and pastors a house church in Pinole for Filipinos, which meets on Sunday afternoons, and he leads a Bible study for adult church leaders in American Canyon on Friday evenings.

The December ceremony included graduates from Golden Gate's five campuses and several of its Contextualized Leadership Development centers across the country, operated in partnership with local churches, associations and state conventions. The graduates, who represented 12 states and four countries, received diplomas, master's and doctoral degrees. Iorg's wife Ann was among the recipients of a master of arts degree in educational leadership

Nine types of degrees were earned among the graduates: the master of arts in educational leadership, master of missiology, master of theological studies, master of divinity, master of theology, doctor of ministry, doctor of philosophy and diplomas in Christian ministries and theology.

Robert Uyeda, a 34-year-old Japanese father of two from Oahu, Hawaii, spoke to the audience of his journey in earning a master of divinity degree.

"It was a humbling experience to follow God's timing rather than my own," Uyeda said. "One of the toughest things to see when you're being humbled is that God is transforming you into who He wants you to be."

During Uyeda's seminary studies, his wife Miki gave premature birth to two sons. Mason, who is now 2 years old, was born four weeks early and Micah, five months old, was born eight weeks early. Both are healthy and developing normally.

"I understand sacrifice and suffering better, and self-centeredness," said Uyeda, who went to the hospital every day for six to eight weeks until Micah was able to come home.

"We received so much love and compassion from our seminary family," Uyeda said, noting that his professors were both understanding and encouraging. The family has returned to Oahu where he will serve as an English minister for Hawaii Chinese Baptist Church.

Iorg, in his address during the Dec. 14 commencement, challenged the graduates to remain joyful in the ministry.

"Joy is a prominent Christmas theme. In this season, and because of your graduation, you are joyful tonight. But when the excitement of graduation wears off, where will you find joy in the ministry?" Iorg asked. "Over the years I've discovered that joy must be more than an emotion. It's something much deeper.

"Joy is the settled conviction that God sees your life circumstances from the end back to the beginning. Hebrews 12:2 says, 'Jesus, for the joy set before him, endured the cross.'" Iorg said, "He endured the cross, His greatest trial, focused on the joy set before Him, which was the resurrection and ascension He was soon to experience. How did Jesus Christ endure the cross? With joy, because He saw the cross experience from the end back to the beginning. His promised resurrection made the cross bearable."

Iorg told the graduates their relationship with Jesus will sustain them through difficult times.

"As we send you out tonight, with the commission to go all around the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are not naïve. We know that for many of you there will be difficult times and for some of you there will be extraordinarily difficult challenges," Iorg said. "But we do not send you out tonight with a sense of gloom or desperation about our commission. Instead we send you out with joy, knowing that whatever you face, the reality of your relationship with Jesus Christ will sustain you."

Golden Gate Seminary, on the Web at www.ggbts.edu, is a Cooperative Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention, operating five fully-accredited campuses located in Northern California, Southern California, Pacific Northwest, Arizona and Colorado.

Phyllis Evans is director of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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