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Boston church marks 25 years by $100,000 gifts to 2 seminaries

BOSTON (BP)–A Southern Baptist church in Boston celebrated its 25th anniversary March 5, but instead of receiving gifts from well-wishers, the church gave $200,000 to two Southern Baptist seminaries.

Each week the congregation of Berkland Baptist Church gathers in the auditorium of an Episcopal seminary near the campus of Harvard University for worship and prayer. The vibrant, mostly Asian-American church exists primarily to minister to students near the most liberal college campuses in the country, according to its founder and pastor, Paul Kim.

A significant part of that ministry is discipling young people and sending them on for training in ministry. For that reason, the church has paid tuition for numerous students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and at most of the five campuses of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary throughout the West.

Last year the church pledged to send $100,000 each to Southwestern and Golden Gate. Kim is an alumnus of both seminaries. When the church made the pledge, it sent a first payment to the schools of $10,000.

But as the church began to prepare for its anniversary, the pastor and his leadership team felt they should fulfill the pledge early. So the church supplied the remaining $90,000 for each school in a single year. “God has really blessed us,” Kim said. In addition, the church established a church goal of $500,000 for overseas missions. Kim announced to the congregation during the services that more than $1.1 million had been given to date by Berkland members worldwide for the effort.

Representatives from Southwestern and Golden Gate seminaries each received checks during the church’s anniversary celebration in Boston. Jack Terry, vice president emeritus and special assistant to the president for development at Southwestern, said the gift was a demonstration of the church’s love for the Gospel and planting churches.

“You can do only two things with the Gospel,” Terry said. “You can give it away or you can give it up. Yours is a church that gives it away.” He said the gifts would assist students as they prepare to travel around the world with the Gospel. Southwestern has more than 300 Korean students enrolled in its five schools.

Mike Hughes, who succeeded Terry and is now acting vice president of institutional advancement at Southwestern, also attended the anniversary celebration.

Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Seminary, accepted the gift for his school. He said Golden Gate has an Anglo minority for the first time in its history, citing a significant increase in its Asian student population. “Berkland Baptist Church, under the leadership of the Kims, has modeled what it means for a church to be committed to Empowering Kingdom Growth. More than 40 of our graduates have been leaders in Berkland congregations,” Iorg noted.

James Wideman, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, said all of the churches of New England should see Berkland Baptist Church as an example of how churches should give. “You have the Great Commission so deeply engrained that you cannot exist in any other way than to plant churches and give,” he said.

Still the pastor of the church in Boston, Kim has had a hand in planting 20 churches around the world — all of them named “Berkland Baptist Church.” And until recently, all of them were under the pastor’s direction. “Now, all of the churches are autonomous, and they must begin taking on the responsibility for finances and ministry themselves,” Kim said.

The same name for all of the churches can provide more than enough confusion to ordinary churchgoers. Kim and four others founded their first church in 1981 where the University of California at Berkley and the city of Oakland met. Hence, the name “Berkland” for the family of churches.

In California, Kim and his wife, Rebekah, targeted college students, leading many to faith in Christ over a 10-year period. All the while, the couple was planting other churches on or near college campuses around the world.

Andy Pak, pastor of the Berkland Baptist Church in Irvine, Calif., and a Golden Gate alum, shared his testimony of being a new believer at the first Berkland church in Berkeley: “Rebekah Kim’s effectiveness as a Bible study leader is well-known. As a young college student, the Bible Studies challenged me, and the fellowship was always based in the Word of God. The messages always stressed that I should be more than what I should learn.”

In 1991, Kim and several other families felt called to plant a church near Harvard University, so the family packed up their worldly goods and headed across the country. Today, Rebekah Kim is one of two unpaid Southern Baptist chaplains on the Harvard campus where she leads weekly Bible studies.

“This is a very spiritually significant day for the entire family of Berkland Baptist churches,” Kim said. “We started in 1981 in California with five members, and today there are 20 churches with more than 2,000 members. We are grateful that God has given to us so that we can give to Southwestern and Golden Gate so they can train students to send the Gospel all over the world. We want to give from the heart to the seminaries.”

Kim, an International Mission Board trustee, said the gifts to the seminaries were given “with no strings attached.”

Bill Crews, former president of Golden Gate Seminary and now chancellor of the school, told the church members during a sermon that God had only prepared them in the first 25 years of service for what they would do in the next 25 years. He said the church had succeeded because it was a model of a truly accepting church.

“The church is not a museum for those of us who have been saved to be put on display. It is a hospital for the sick and the dying,” Crews said. He said Berkland Baptist Church had welcomed in many of the infirmed and still had a wonderful vision for the future.

“I have every confidence that this church will not live on its memories, but by its dreams,” Crews said.

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  • Gregory Tomlin