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After fighting call to Mexico, he realized he couldn’t leave

GUERRERO, Mexico (BP)–Jim Blackwell was perfectly happy working as a realtor in Phoenix and teaching a Sunday school class at North Phoenix Baptist Church.
When the head of a small seminary in Mexico spoke to the congregation, Blackwell gave to the offering and even volunteered to look for teachers at nearby Grand Canyon Baptist University.
That, Blackwell thought, would be the extent of his involvement. At age 52, he felt that missions work was something that a dedicated young person would love to do. And he could help with occasional offerings.
Omar Bustos Busio, director of Seminario Teologico Bautista del Sur (STBS, Baptist Theological Seminary of the South) spoke at North Phoenix’s Operation Mexico Missions banquet in 1989.
“He spoke through an interpreter, pleading for another teacher, which was desperately needed, although he admitted there were no funds to support that position,” Blackwell recalled. “I intended to help them find a teacher through Grand Canyon University and gave my card to the widow of the founder.
“Unknown to me, she began an investigation of me as a teacher,” Blackwell said. “In two weeks, I got a phone call telling me that I had been accepted as a member of the faculty.
“After considerable resistance, I became convinced that the Lord was leading me to teach in Mexico until they could find a replacement.”
He talked with then-pastor Richard Jackson, who affirmed he also could sense God calling Blackwell to the seminary.
Against the advice of his family and friends, he committed to serve one year. At the end of that year, though, he saw that the STBS was too poor and had too many needs for it to be able to replace him, so he stayed for another year.
And another. It has now been eight years, and Blackwell said now he can’t imagine ever leaving Mexico.
Sponsored by several Southern Baptist churches, STBS is located in Guerrero, a very poor state in southern Mexico. If it weren’t for Acapulco’s tourism income, the state would be completely destitute, Blackwell said.
“It is a state of about 5 million people in a region of about 20 million people that is the poorest region of Mexico,” he said. “It is a region where primitive, semi-primitive and modern societies meet.”
The seminary recruits youth called to the ministry from among Mexico’s poor, and gives them a theological education, Blackwell said. They are trained to be evangelists, teachers and pastors.
“We sense that it’s very important that we grow, because there are only 18 Baptist pastors in a population of more than 5 million,” he said.
Founded in 1956 by Otto Engelmann, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, the Mexico seminary is one of only three accredited by the National Baptist Convention of Mexico, the equivalent of the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States.
“Students are accepted whether or not they can pay the $30 a month for room and board, tuition, medicine and supervision during their three years of study,” Blackwell said. “More than half are unable to pay this amount.”
STBS graduates include an evangelist ministering to Hispanics in the United States, presidents of associations in Mexico and national Baptist leaders. Moises Cabrera Benitez, director of evangelism for the Mexican convention, is a graduate.
While at STBS, Blackwell met his wife, Jael, through one of his students.
Jael’s sister, Sylvia, was married to a Baptist preacher serving in the state of Michoacan, north of Guerrero, who was brutally murdered by townsmen with machetes.
Left a widow, with children ages 2 and 4, it would have been easy for Sylvia to give up on the ministry, but she decided to replace her husband in the ministry. She applied for admission to several seminaries.
Because of the children, the other seminaries refused to admit her, but STBS said she could attend if she found someone to take care of the children.
Jael had been caring for her father, a stroke victim, but he improved enough that she was able to move to the seminary. There, she worked and supported Sylvia and her children, as well as herself, for three years.
While at the seminary Jael met Blackwell, and they were married in 1992. Sylvia graduated from the seminary and started a mission in Ciudad Mendoza, Veracruz, Mexico. She later married a doctor from Scottsdale, Ariz., where she now teaches Evangelism Explosion.
Blackwell said Mexican seminaries show good results for the money invested. STBS has six permanent faculty members, volunteer workers and 18-25 students. Students are housed and fed, and teachers are paid, from a total seminary budget of $44,000 per year.
“I am concerned that Baptist pastors and laypeople catch the vision of the priority of preparing more workers,” he said.

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  • Dave Parker