VALLEY, Calif. (BP) — A 48-year-old Chinese woman with a Ph.D. in botany was among 52 students who received degrees at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s 2011 winter commencement.
Students came from the seminary’s five campuses to First Baptist Church in San Francisco for the ceremony. Also on hand were several students receiving diplomas from Golden Gate’s Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD) centers across the country operated in partnership with local churches, associations and state conventions.
The graduates represented 13 states and six countries. Nine types of degrees were awarded: doctor of philosophy, doctor of ministry, master of theology, master of divinity, master of theological studies, master of missiology, master of arts in educational leadership, diploma in theology-CLD and diploma in Christian ministries-CLD.
Chinese-born Lee Chow*, who came to the United States with her husband 12 years ago, was among the M.Div. graduates. She and her husband are from southwest China and both have Ph.Ds. They became believers after moving to the States to pursue further academic development.
“When I heard about Jesus, I said, ‘This is the goal, the object we have been looking for all our lives,'” said Chow, mother of two children.
Chow’s journey to Golden Gate Seminary began after she left her research position at the California Academy of Sciences. The family moved to San Francisco from Boston in 2003 when she accepted a position at the Academy of Sciences as a senior scientist and project manager for an international science project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
“I first attended Golden Gate in [the] fall 2008 semester, commuting from San Francisco to try two classes,” she recalled. “Then our family moved on campus so I could work on my degree full-time.”
After graduation the family will be moving to New England, where Chow has been called to a full-time ministry position at a Chinese church near Brown University.
The seminary’s highest student award, the William O. Crews Presidential Leadership Award, was given to Drew Austin Cunningham, a master of theology graduate from the Northern California campus. “Drew was a cynic about the local church when he came to seminary and is now committed to pastoral leadership,” GGBTS President Jeff Iorg said. “He well represents Golden Gate’s commitment to training pastors and our priority on shaping local church leaders.”
Cunningham, who hails from Oklahoma, is associate pastor of worship and discipleship at New Life Christian Fellowship in Pacifica, Calif. His master’s thesis was titled “Membership Matters: An Evaluation of the State of the Doctrine of Regenerate Church Membership with Particular Reference to Baptists within Historic Evangelicalism.”
Two graduating students shared the story of their journeys toward earning their degrees during the Dec. 9 commencement.
Megan Fraser, a Virginia native who received a master of arts in educational leadership, told the crowd, “I am overwhelmed by the goodness and greatness of God and all that He has done in our lives in the four years we have been at Golden Gate. For my husband and I, this journey has been one that is testing and growing our faith.”
Fraser described how the birth of her second child, born with a rare genetic syndrome during her final semester, enabled her to clearly see God’s call on their lives. “He is amazing us with His provision, both financially as we start our ministry and also with a community that could not have been a more precious blessing. I would not have wanted to start this journey of faith in any other place.”
Jon Neuenschwander, who received a master of divinity degree, described how his seminary education enabled him to take on the senior pastor position at aCROSS Marin Christian Fellowship in Novato, the church planted by his parents seven years ago.
“Before my dad died in March, and I was asked to step in as pastor, my wife Leah [a 2010 GGBTS graduate] and I planned to be missionaries to Mexico. We realized when Dad was diagnosed with cancer, that this was something God wanted us to do — take over the ministry for an interim period.” A California native, Neuenschwander discovered a passion for learning and teaching while at seminary, saying, “I’ve benefitted so much from my time at Golden Gate. It’s been an awesome experience.”
Iorg, in his commencement address, offered words of challenge based on the actions of the wise men in the Christmas story, from Matthew 2:1-12.
“Following the Lord is the essence of Christian discipleship, and it is also the essence of Christian leadership,” Iorg told the graduates. “It is a striking contrast that leadership begins with ‘followship.’ In the story of Christmas there were some men who model what it means to follow the God’s plan.
“These wise men, or magi, illustrate following the Lord in two ways,” Iorg noted. “First they demonstrated endurance,” he said, explaining how the magi overcame geographic, time and political obstacles to follow the God’s plan.
“In addition to endurance, following God’s plan requires submission,” Iorg said. “In the Christmas story, after the wise men arrived, they opened their treasures — gold, frankincense, and myrrh — and presented their gifts to the small child. They bowed down, they worshipped, they gave gifts. Their submission to Jesus was profound.
“We are proud of you tonight,” Iorg concluded. “We celebrate your accomplishments and challenge you to lead with endurance and submission.”
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary is a Cooperative Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention and operates five fully accredited campuses in Northern California, Southern California, Pacific Northwest, Arizona, and Colorado. For more information: www.ggbts.edu.
*Lee Chow is a pseudonym used for security purposes. Phyllis Evans is director of communications at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (ggbts.edu).