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47 students from as far away as Japan begin new Southwestern doctoral program

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–It’s 3 in the morning in Japan and also to Ron Capps’ body clock. But the Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionary to Japan is in the United States preparing for an evening of studying.

“I am seriously in jet lag, and this is exhausting physically,” Capps said. “But spiritually, you might as well plug me into the wall.”

Capps is one of 47 students to start on the new doctor of educational ministry degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. While the thousands of miles of time-zone-traversing travel wasn’t easy, Capps appreciates the degree program that will allow him to further his education without extended time away from the mission field.

Southwestern hosted the students as the degree program officially kicked off Aug. 29 at its Fort Worth campus. After two years of preparation, the degree was approved by the Association of Theological Schools in January 2000. Bill Caldwell, associate dean of the new program, said the program has gotten off to a great start.

“It’s been real smooth,” Caldwell said. “We had a lot of things to do this summer getting things into the registrar’s office. But everything has started off great.”

Part of that great start is the number of students in the program.

“We got all these students without really doing any publicity,” said Judy Stamey, adjunct professor of administration at Southwestern who worked with Caldwell in implementing the degree program. “We never even had a chance to make up a brochure to send out.

“When ATS was here we told them we were expecting about 50 students and they just sort of smiled at us.”

Capps, who ministers to young singles in Japan, feels like the new degree will have an immediate impact on his ministry.

“It’s more than just academic, but it’s also applied to where you are and what you are doing,” the missionary said. “So it’s very practical. I think it’s a great balance between the two.”

Capps said the new degree will help to equip ministers working among different cultures.

“It deals in the leadership of people,” Capps said. “What you are doing is fine-tuning the skills and the gifts God has given you to lead and then, while you are leading, you are also mentoring others to lead others. That’s very much the heartbeat of the Great Commission and the first church.”

Capps was a part of the two pilot programs for the degree before it was granted approval from ATS. Those pilot seminars were held at Southwestern and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Picking up various seminars when he can is important for Capps. He has served in the international mission field for 14 years, and trips back to America are hard to come by.

“In the future, if approval is given, I would love to come back. It will be difficult, sometimes almost impossible,” he said. “But the degree is set up so you can study at other places and not just [in Fort Worth].”

Capps said he will continue his degree work by taking advantage of the latest technology in distance learning.

“The International Mission Board is pushing to retool and to be on the cutting edge,” Capps stated. “So with Internet connections … you have that for study, prayer partnering, communication, training and information … that’s not real hard.

“Then, of course, online studies and education, that’s brand new. There are a lot of shifts happening in that area.”

Capps also wants to see some of the doctoral seminars come to Japan.

“My hope and prayer is that the Southwestern extension in Tokyo could provide some of that for missionaries and nationals in Asia,” Capps said. “Faculty travels to Oxford, why not Tokyo?”

Even with high-tech ways of learning and trips back to the United States being a rarity, Capps said it is very important to be able to come back and work on the degree in Fort Worth.

“There is just a real spirit here. When you are doing things in a different language, among a different people in a completely different way, sometimes you just have to step back and retool, refresh and redraw,” Capps said.

To earn the degree, students must complete the required number of hours in seminars and workshops; professional development, directed studies, project preparation and special independent assignments; and a professional ministry project. Seminars are offered in one-week formats on the Fort Worth campus. Students in the Fort Worth area can also attend once a week or weekend studies. The seminary plans to offer some seminars in locations where there are clusters of students, in leadership centers and at professional meetings.

Intended for people in educational ministry, the program is designed to keep students up to date on how the field is changing and to equip them to minister in light of the changes.

“This is professional development; it is a continuing education degree,” Caldwell said. “These students want to remain fresh and on the cutting edge. I think that’s the real motivation for many of the students.”

Mary Watkins is an administrator with Houston’s 10,000-member Brookhollow Baptist Church, also known as “The Church Without Walls.” She said she knows the degree will help her and her ministry.

“I think it will give me a little more credibility as a woman in the field,” Watkins said. “And it will help out with so many parts of administration. I handle the church bookstore, the day care and building maintenance among other things, so I think it will just help me manage those areas a little better.”

The next session of seminars is scheduled for the week of Oct. 23 centering around the Baptist Religious Education Association of the Southwest conference.

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  • Adam Myrick