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By faith they have come; by faith others have given

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–When God calls men and women to prepare for ministry, oftentimes they do not know how they can afford to quit their jobs and go to seminary. But they do, just as Abraham and Sarah picked up and moved by faith to a new land.
Such was the case five years ago when Carson Whitehead, a state’s attorney and children’s advocate in Mississippi, felt God’s call to the ministry. Whitehead, his wife, Marion, and their two daughters, ages 14 and 9, were enjoying a comfortable living as he traveled from county to county helping children in one of the nation’s poorest states.
Such was also the case for Rowland Babatunde, pastor of the Second E.C.W.A. Church in Ilorin, Nigeria, when he felt God’s call to train local pastors. Babatunde, his wife, Alice, and their four children would have to rely on much support from other Nigerians to pay their expenses, as most international students do.
Whitehead and Babatunde picked up and moved, as thousands of other men and women have, to Fort Worth, Texas, to attend the largest evangelical seminary in the world. Whitehead, who graduates in May from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with a master of divinity in biblical languages, currently pastors Barnett Road Baptist in Wichita Falls, Texas. Just as he used to go from county to county helping people, he now envisions serving from church to church for a few months to help those that have plateaued or are in conflict.
Babatunde is working on his Ph.D. so that he can teach in a seminary in Nigeria, “the gateway to North and South Africa,” he says.
Both men, and dozens of other Southwestern students, say they could not afford to stay in seminary if it were not for the scholarships they receive. At a special scholarship donor luncheon Feb. 11, almost 50 Southwestern students, representing the hundreds who receive scholarships every year, met the people who gave the money to create the scholarships they received.
Students hugged, shared stories and posed for pictures with donors from across the country to say thanks for making their ministerial training possible.
Like many students who shared testimonies at the luncheon, Babatunde said being awarded a scholarship was a confirmation of God’s leading him to seminary.
“I was convinced that the studies needed to be done; God wanted me to do it, but the means …” His voice trailed off as he reflected on God’s provisions for his needs. “I just trusted God for it, so it’s part of answer to [a] prayer.”
Whitehead said the scholarship “turned into souls.”
“There have been dozens of souls and dozens of families and four churches that are back on track because the Lord permitted me to have the time to work with those churches and to work through that situation so those churches could regain strength, and the families with it,” he said.
Lavon Gray, a native of Linden Hall, Miss., graduates in May with a Ph.D. in music ministry. He said he came to Southwestern for the degree, “the Ph.D. in music ministry, which is not offered at any of the other Southern Baptist seminaries. … It’s such an honor to be at Southwestern anyway and then to be able receive a scholarship.”
Gray said meeting the donors gave him an “expectation that [the donors] have for you as a student. It’s not pressure as much as it is an honor to be able to do the very best that you can for that [expectation].”
Other students said the scholarships and meeting the donors challenged them to strive for excellence and godly living.
“We don’t talk about giving,” said Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill. “We talk about investing. These donors are investing in ministries that will not only impact the next generation but will also have generational impact until the Lord returns.”
Just as the students did, Hemphill thanked the friends of the seminary who “make it happen here for so many of our students.”
The idea for the donor luncheon came two years ago after a couple called Hemphill to learn how their scholarship could be awarded before it reached the required $10,000 level. David McQuitty, Southwestern’s director of student financial aid, reported that the stock market had taken the fund from less than $9,000 to $11,000. Having surpassed the required level, the scholarship was awarded to a financially needy Chinese student.
“I called them back and told them what God did and within weeks they sent me a $3,500 check,” Hemphill reflected. The encounter gave him the idea to “get these kids together with these donors.”
McQuitty said students are coming with more debt than in the past. Southwestern currently has about 300 scholarship funds representing approximately half a million dollars. Income for an endowed scholarship cannot be dispersed until the fund reaches $10,000. Then each semester financial aid personnel conduct personal interviews “to match the right student with the right scholarship,” McQuitty said.
Hemphill said the scholarships help Southwestern continue to offer “practical, daily ministry, not just theory.”
“These gifts allow seminary students to go serve in smaller churches that cannot afford to pay big salaries,” he said.
James McKinney, who served as dean of the music school and voice professor from 1950-94, died April 12, 1998. Friends and former students donated to the fund established in his name to help it reach the required level. His widow, Elizabeth, attended the luncheon and said McKinney would be “absolutely astonished” that the fund reached the required minimum so quickly.
Echoing the sentiment of all the donors, she said, “I hope that [the scholarship] will help people in the education of music ministry, and that was my wish and my family’s wish.”
Daryl Eldridge, dean of Southwestern’s school of educational ministries, established a scholarship in his parents’ names. It is awarded only to students from Africa. This year the scholarship went to Babatunde.
“Carol and I have had a real love for Africa, for the work that’s going on over there,” Eldridge said. “We know how difficult it is for key leadership to come here and get training. Perhaps the greatest need in the churches in Africa is trained leadership, so we feel like if we can invest ourselves in Rowland, he will go back and invest himself in hundreds and thousands that we could never touch. Because of his trained leadership, he’ll be a mover and shaker in Nigeria; he’ll make a great impact in that country.”
Whitehead said the church he currently pastors has caught the vision. They cannot afford to start one of the $10,000 scholarships, so they plan to adopt a seminary family every year “and not only help with their finances but also their car needs, their housing needs, whatever emotional support they might need.”
“The needs of seminary families are almost benign but extremely important,” Whitehead continued. “It may be as simple as with one family we helped one time. One child wanted a pair of stonewashed jeans and the other child wanted a model, any kind of model, and a tube of glue. There are needs that we can meet and really help them and give them the strength to go on and say ‘Hey! Somebody believes in me.’ That’s what we want to do.”

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  • David Porter