More than 1,500 guests packed the church's auditorium to witness as one of the seminary's largest classes -- 110 in all -- was awarded degrees. In noting the size of the congregation, seminary president R. Philip Roberts said the school hopes to hold next year's graduation ceremony on campus in the new chapel complex under construction. The ceremony saw a first: Midwestern Baptist College's first graduate from the fully online master of arts in theological education program.
Daniel Lee, who recently retired as senior pastor of the Global Mission Church in Seoul, South Korea, gave the commencement address and encouraged the graduates with testimonials of how dedicated missionaries remained faithful and persevered in spreading the Gospel in Korea. He also told of his own personal journey that eventually led to the planting and growth of Global Mission Church.
Lee told how the Gospel was introduced to Korea: young seminary graduates-turned-missionaries Henry Appenzeller and Horace Underwood arrived on the same boat at the port of Incheon, Korea, on Easter Sunday in 1865, and immediately sensed the darkness and "terrible condition" of the land. However, as a result of much prayer and faithfulness, over the next 126 years a radical transformation has taken place.
"These two young men arrived in 'The Land of the Morning Calm' with just their own copies of the Bible, yet today Korea is the number two missionary-sending country in the world -- second only to the United States," Lee said. "You can see red crosses on every street and in every area of Korea. It is the richest country in the 10/40 window, and through the two universities established by these young missionaries, Korea has become a leader in science and technology. I believe all this success is a result of the Gospel's penetration into Korea, so to my American brothers and sisters, thank you for bringing the Gospel to my country, Korea. I am truly grateful."
Lee described how, after graduating from high school in 1963, he was abandoned by his father and was left to care for his family. It was an "unimaginable task for someone who had just graduated from high school, and I felt like I had no future."
Lee's family's religious background was Buddhist, but their faith was nominal at best. Despondent, Lee said he considered ending his life, but then went to a Buddhist temple to pray.
"On that day as I prayed to Buddha, one question came to my mind," Lee said. "Even though the Buddha seemed to be peaceful, could he understand a young man in his early 20s who had lost his dream and had no hope for the future? Simultaneously, from nowhere an image came to my mind unexpectedly. It was the image of Jesus Christ on the cross crying out to the Father. This blood-covered young Jesus, this suffering Jesus surely could understand a young man like me with all this frustration, broken heart and pain."
Soon thereafter, Lee said he got involved in a Bible study led by Korean Billy Kim, who's been described as the "Korean Billy Graham." Lee admitted that his motive of going to the study was more to learn English than to learn about Jesus. However, in the midst of the study, he memorized Scripture, and the powerful Word of God would eventually lead him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in 1965.
"From that point on I didn't look at the Bible as an English book or a religious book, but rather as the Word of Life."
Lee began to share his faith daily with as many people as he could. He then realized that it was "something I could do for the rest of my life." In 1973, Lee came to the United States to study theology, and from there pastored a Korean church in Maryland. Eventually, he said he felt the Lord calling him to spend the rest of his life ministering to his native people by planting a healthy, influential church there. He did so in Seoul in 1993, and today the Global Mission Church holds seven services on Sundays reaching and has more than 400 missionaries throughout the world.
Lee wrapped up his address by directly encouraging the graduates.
"If God can work so mightily through someone like me, I truly believe He can do even greater things through all of you here," he said. "There are so many unfinished tasks waiting for us in this world in this generation. I hope as all of you graduate that you can look beyond North America and into the global community just as two missionaries did 126 years ago toward Korea to share the Gospel of Christ. I pray that, just like them, you too will venture off to new territories ... because the world is waiting for church leaders and Kingdom builders. I hope you will be these builders!"
Roberts charged the graduates to "love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and all your strength. To do justly; to love mercy; to walk humbly with your God; to deny yourself; to take up your cross daily and follow the Lord Jesus Christ; to be filled and go on being filled with the Holy Spirit." He also added that they "let the prayer of missionary explorer, evangelist and servant of God, David Livingston, be yours: 'Lord lead me anywhere, but go with me. Lay any burden upon me. Only sustain me. Sever any cords that bind me, except the one that binds me to you.'"
In addition to the awarding of degrees, the seminary and college announced the recipients of 16 academic awards, with the honor of the Wanda J. Keatley Award being shared by Vicki Hauser and Daniel Watson, both master of arts in biblical languages majors. The prize was an all-expenses paid trip to the Holy Land.
In other awards, Larry Cornine, associate professor of pastoral care and counseling, was named professor of the year. There were also two presidential medallions awarded, given to recognize significant contributors and supporters of MBTS. They were presented to Lee, and to Leighton and Kay Clemmons, the Missouri Baptist Builders state co-coordinators, who've spent significant time since May 2010 volunteering on the school's chapel construction project.
T. Patrick Hudson is a writer for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Kan., online at MBTS.edu.
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