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Midwestern Seminary faculty travels 1,910 miles to experience the Midwest

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–The faculty of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary took to the road for their annual retreat, travelling 1,910 miles on a journey through Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota and Iowa.
Scheduled stops near Lincoln, Neb., Rapid City and Sioux Falls, S.D., provided opportunities to get acquainted with the work of pastors who labor along the prairies and Black Hills region.
“I think what you guys are doing is great,” stated Dan Cate, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Lincoln, Neb., as he and his wife shared lunch with seminary professors and administrators during the Aug. 16-20 tour. “You can tell the students there are opportunities galore in Nebraska.”
Harold Manahan, director of missions for Eastern Nebraska Baptist Association, described the “rainbow” ministry of the 47 churches in his region, encompassing Hispanics, Korean, Indian, Native American and Slavic people as well as traditional Anglo and African American congregations.
“Our major job is evangelism and starting churches,” Manahan said. “With 12 counties still having no new work, we hope to hook up with Midwestern Seminary and the Nehemiah Project to reach this objective.”
Traveling to Lincoln to represent the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists were Rex Lindsay, executive director, and Mark Clifton, director of church extension, as well as Midwestern Seminary trustee Ron Elliott, pastor of First Baptist Church, Bellevue, Neb.
Lindsay expressed appreciation for the opportunity the pastors had to meet professors and visit informally in order to begin building friendships. With 54 Southern Baptist congregations in Nebraska, the lunch meeting at Mahoney State Park drew representation from nearly half of them, with 25 pastors present.
“We’re trying to build a mutual strategy for church planting in Kansas and Nebraska,” Lindsay said of further meetings scheduled with Carrol Fowler, director of the Nehemiah Project for domestic church planting at Midwestern.
Midwestern’s vice president for academic affairs, Jim Cogdill, said, “Many of our teachers are not natives of the Midwest and this trip, in particular, has helped acquaint them with a culture and a mission field that warms our hearts and gives us a burden for a people many of our folks have never met.”
Midwestern trustee Elliott said pastors in his association often feel isolated from other Southern Baptist work. “It was great to have the faculty come to eastern Nebraska so pastors could get to know them.” Students seeking Midwestern’s new degree in domestic church planting could help his association in their goal of reaching areas of the state that have no Southern Baptist witness, he said.
“The Midwest has its own unique culture,” said Elliott, who moved to Lincoln in 1981 to start a mission church. “Someone who is trained in the Great Plains/Midwest area at Midwestern Seminary will have a better handle on understanding the area and culture than someone adjusting directly from the Deep South.”
Since coming to Kansas City in 1995, seminary President Mark Coppenger has taken the faculty on retreats to the Midwest cities of Chicago, Minneapolis and Lawrence, Kan., in an effort to better understand the region from which many students come and for which many more are being trained.
While spouses often accompanied faculty on earlier trips, their children were invited this year. Kids ranging in age from 7 to 19 enjoyed well-known landmarks such as Chimney Rock, Mt. Rushmore and Devil’s Tower. Other side trips in South Dakota took them to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and Wounded Knee, the Corn Palace of Mitchell, the University of South Dakota Shrine to Music in Vermillion, as well as Edgar’s Old Fashioned Soda Fountain in Elk Point.
The long bus rides provided opportunities for fellowship with newly elected faculty members and to share theological insights gleaned from summer reading. While kids stayed awake with “Veggie Tales” videos, adults tuned in to documentaries about the Oregon Trail and the journey of Lewis and Clark, learning more about some of the sites they had just visited.
Pastors from churches in the Rapid City area represented ministry to transient military base families, Native Americans of the Sioux tribes and more established work among Dakotans. Throughout the state of South Dakota there are 54 Southern Baptist congregations.
The master of divinity degree in domestic church planting is part of the redesigned seminary curriculum put in place last year at Midwestern. In praying for the Rapid City area pastors, Midwestern’s Carrol Fowler said, “Our heart is made to be happy, because people have said, ‘We will serve where you plant us.’“
As the faculty spent their final night meeting with Southern Baptists from southeastern South Dakota, Coppenger told area pastors, “It’s nice to see Rushmore, the Corn Palace and Chimney Rock, but you’re the real attraction. We hold you in very high esteem and want to be useful to you in your work up here.”
Carol Roach, director of missions for the Siouxland Association of Southern Baptists, said, “I really pray this develops into some good relationships — not only that you can benefit us, but that we can benefit you as we see people furthering their education without leaving this area. This is a beautiful country that desperately needs to hear the gospel.”
Vermillion pastor Wayne Jones thanked the group for their interest, concern and prayers after he and his wife gathered with fellow pastors of southeastern South Dakota to meet with the seminary group. “It is a great tribute to Dr. Coppenger and his leadership that he would bring all of you, especially the wonderful young people, to South Dakota and show you some of the needs here.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter