Leavell College, the seminary's undergraduate program, held its commencement ceremony May 11, graduating 235. The graduate program commencement on May 12 issued 154 master's and doctoral degrees.
The school's previous high graduation mark was 367 in May 2005.
The students who received degrees during the two commencement ceremonies offered a snapshot of the New Orleans Seminary's identity and commitment to making theological training accessible to as many men and women as possible, regardless of where they live.
NOBTS President Chuck Kelley focused on that commitment to reach people where they are.
"We are the people who go," Kelley said. "We are NOBTS."
Of the 235 Leavell College graduates, 145 were students from NOBTS training sites in Cayes, Port-au-Prince and Port-de-Paix, Haiti. In addition, the seminary issued two associate's and one bachelor's degree to students in its Louisiana State Penitentiary program.
NOBTS has partnered with the Florida Baptist Convention to provide ministry training in Haiti since early 2004, teaching courses in the students' heart language of French Creole. Many of the graduates were impacted by the deadly January 2010 earthquake that caused significant damage to Haiti's capital city of Port-au-Prince and surrounding communities.
Inseparable from New Orleans Seminary's mission is its location, Kelley said.
"It is typical whenever a denomination establishes a seminary in a place surrounded by large numbers of where the graduates will serve," Kelley said. "But we are NOBTS, and they put us in the most un-Baptist place on the planet."
When NOBTS was founded in 1917, there were only five Baptist churches in the New Orleans area, and most of those were missions.
"But we are NOBTS. We don't have to have ideal in order to be fruitful. We don't have to have in order to do the job the Lord has given us," Kelley said. "What we have is the realization that God has given us a mission, and therefore we will do it, because we know it doesn't matter what the world looks like around us. It matters that God will do whatever needs to be done for us to be faithful to Him."
The seminary's physical location can be a source of anxiety, with hurricane seasons each year. But going where God sends and not shying away from hardship is an important characteristic of NOBTS and its graduates, Kelley said.
"We run to trouble, not away from it. We go where He sends us. We go where He wants us. It doesn't matter where that may be. We will serve," Kelley said.
Kelley emphasized the seminary's tenacity in adversity just after Hurricane Katrina, when the seminary continued teaching and 85 percent of students finished the fall 2005 semester even though the campus was lost for a full year.
Encouraging the graduates in their ministries, Kelley asked, "Do you remember how it started? How Jesus found you, called you to salvation, how you began to follow Him and began to hear that mysterious voice calling you to ministry? ... Then slowly you came to realize that idea, that thought, that voice was God calling you, calling you to His Kingdom's purpose."
Kelley quoted a series of Scriptures related to a person's relationship to God and the call to take the Gospel to the world.
"Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up," Kelley said, quoting Psalm 139. "Search me oh God and know my heart. Try me oh God and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me. And lead me in the way everlasting."
Faced with personal shortcomings, it's easy to ask, "Am I really someone who could be a Kingdom servant?" Kelley said, reminding the graduates of God's faithfulness and His love and plans for them, reading Isaiah 40:28-31:
"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Kelley also referenced God's faithfulness as reflected in Jeremiah 29:11 and Isaiah 43:2.
"And so we know we have this glorious Gospel to take to the ends of the earth," Kelley said, moving to New Testament passages like John 3:16, Mark 1:17 and Matthew 28:18-20.
"This is why He called you," Kelley said. "My last word to you in seminary is: Never forget, always remember, we are NOBTS."
Frank Michael McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
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