News Articles

Kelley sees ‘manna principle’ in God’s provision at NOBTS

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–“God is doing amazing things on the campus of your seminary in New Orleans,” Chuck Kelley told messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention during the evening session June 15. “Living on the campus is something like living inside a miracle.”

Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said the doubling of the seminary’s enrollment over the past eight years has been among the most surprising miracles.

A key factor in the growth has been the multiple scheduling options NOBTS has given students, Kelley noted. The seminary now offers courses six days a week, along with night classes, two-week workshops and Internet courses. He said NOBTS is continuing to make theological education even more accessible to those who have been called to the ministry.

Kelley assured the messengers at the Indianapolis convention that the seminary is making the most of every dollar received from Southern Baptists.

In the process, students, faculty and staff are learning about God’s provision, the NOBTS president said. “We are doing the best we can to be good stewards of our Cooperative Program money,” he said. “God has been teaching us the ‘manna principle’ — it’s more than just being good stewards.”

Explaining the manna principle, Kelley said God faithfully meets the seminary’s actual needs but never gives an abundance. Trusting in that provision, God has met need after need with “just enough,” Kelley said, sharing two such “manna” stories with the convention.

In planning a new construction initiative on campus, NOBTS officials hoped to buy the bricks one building at a time as the money came in, Kelley said. However, the seminary’s contractor advised that all of the bricks be purchased at the same to ensure a color match. The added cost of $50,000 was not in the budget, but the brick was purchased on faith. The next day a first-time donor sent a check for $50,000 to the seminary, Kelley said.

Another example of the manna principle came when the Baptist General Convention of Texas attempted to defund the six SBC seminaries, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Executive Committee in 2000. Kelley recounted that the projected $125,000 shortfall put an important construction project in jeopardy.

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention took a special offering in 2001 to offset the loss. Kelley said through the sacrificial giving of the SBTC churches, NOBTS received a gift of $125,000 — just enough for the project.

“God provides manna,” Kelley said.

Kelley said the seminary’s program at Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana’s maximum-security prison, is another miracle God is working through NOBTS. Prisoners can earn an accredited bachelor’s degree from NOBTS and serve as ministers behind the bars and barbed wire of the infamous penitentiary.

The program is accomplishing vital Kingdom work at Angola, with miracles happening there on a daily basis, Kelley said. Violence has dropped in the prison that was once known as the “bloodiest” in the nation. Many men are coming to faith in Christ through the witness of NOBTS graduates, who baptized 85 of their fellow prisoners last year alone. Throughout the sprawling Angola prison complex, prisoners are beginning churches to reach even more prisoners for Christ, Kelley said, calling the ministry at Angola the original “cell church” movement.

Few of these inmates will ever leave the state prison system, but they are finding a way to serve, with a number of the graduates having transferred to other prisons in the state to serve as chaplains, Kelley said.

The successful program is drawing national attention. “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly,” a PBS television program, aired a feature about the NOBTS ministry at Angola in March, and Christianity Today magazine followed with a feature in May. Kelley said prison officials from other states are asking NOBTS to bring similar programs to their penitentiaries.

Kelley credited Angola warden Burl Cain, a committed Baptist layman, with starting the program at Angola out of a desire for prisoners to hear the Gospel and receive Christian training.

“This ministry would have never happened had it not been for that Baptist layman sitting on the pew of a Baptist church,” Kelley said. “Pastor, what that says to us is that it really does matter that you teach and preach the Word of God to your people. When the people in our pews become missionaries in their occupations, the world will change.

“Southern Baptists, you are making all of this possible through your support of the Cooperative Program,” he said. “The Cooperative Program provides 50 percent of our operating budget — we simply would not be who we are and doing what we are doing without your support.”

NOBTS has experienced a miracle even in the midst of the sole membership controversy, Kelley said, noting that the issue has brought a renewed interest in Baptist distinctives on campus, with lively discussions about what it means to be Baptist occurring inside and outside the classroom.

“We’ve discovered that our students really care about our Baptist identity,” Kelley said. “They want to do things in a Baptist way reflecting the wonderful historical, theological and biblical heritage God has given us.”