HAVANA, Cuba (BP) -- More than 70 students in Havana received diplomas July 5-6 through a partnership that has revived a Cuban seminary during the past eight years.

Western Cuba Baptist Theological Seminary in Havana, which was on the brink of extinction, has flourished under its partnership with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, as pastors and church planters receive theological training for spreading the Gospel throughout the Caribbean island country.

Southwestern President Paige Patterson and missions professor Daniel Sanchez presided over the Havana seminary's two graduation ceremonies.

"The interesting thing is that this is more graduates than they had students when we first started helping them, and this does not count all the from the extension centers," Sanchez said. "They were rejoicing over not only the quantity but the quality of students that they have who are graduating, all of them active in churches throughout the convention."

One request the Cuban seminary had was for Southwestern professors to teach courses in Havana so that Cuban professors could get their master's degrees.

"We did that, and now their professors are doing an outstanding job teaching," Sanchez said, "so we've not had to go back and teach those courses to their students because they are the ones doing the teaching.

"With Dr. and Mrs. Patterson going to Cuba, it shows commitment at the very top level of our seminary," Sanchez added. "This doesn't go unnoticed with them. They realize that we are serious about helping them, and that's one of the things that has been so encouraging for them."

Patterson expressed joy over the increase of churches planted across Cuba and the number of pastors being trained.

"The Cuban Baptists are amazing," Patterson said. "They have succeeded in generating a genuine church planting movement, which has produced thousands of churches and baptized tens of thousands of converts. After traveling in 120-plus countries, I know of nothing quite like it."

Patterson, who shares the Gospel at sportsmen's banquets across the United States, also had the opportunity to speak at a game banquet hosted by the Cuban seminary during their visit.

The outreach drew more than 50 people, as pastors from the area brought non-Christians with them to hear Patterson speak. Twenty-six men made professions of faith, all of whom will be discipled by these pastors.

One of the new converts, a man who previously had never attended an evangelical church, is the head of a local hunting club. He asked Patterson to stay in contact so they could discuss ways to reach sportsmen in Cuba with the Gospel.

Hermes Soto, president of the seminary in Havana, said he was surprised to discover more hunters in Cuba than he imagined. The son of a hunter, Soto said the banquet has opened a new ministry area that he will continue to engage.

In addition to the professions of faith at the game banquet, Patterson and Sanchez saw more than 25 people come to faith in Christ through the men's preaching at two local Baptist churches and personal evangelism.

Sanchez said he looks forward to the ongoing partnership between the two seminaries.

"Southwestern has played a crucial role in helping them to continue their ministry," Sanchez said. "And as a matter of fact, they are expanding their ministry.

"They are very grateful that Southwestern Seminary has stood by them all these years," Sanchez noted. "They said they didn't know what they would have done without this partnership during very difficult times."

Thirteen professors from the Cuban seminary will fly to Fort Worth in August to participate in Southwestern's Latin America Summit, an event designed to connect and equip theological seminaries throughout the Americas.

"They are very excited about the idea that we can help them form a consortium of Latin American seminaries that can be a channel through which they can share information, resources, professors, courses and mutual recognition of their degree programs," Sanchez said.

More than 60 representatives from Baptist seminaries in Latin America and Spain will be participating in this meeting.

After the summit, Cuba and Guatemala participants will remain on campus for another week to take classes taught by Southwestern professors on subjects such as youth ministry, evangelism, missions, theology and Christian education.

Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. 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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