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NOBTS sends forth another ‘Katrina Class’

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley said the seminary’s 89th graduating class should always remember one lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina: “In Christ alone I have all I need.”

Addressing the 368 graduates during the May 18 and May 19 commencement services, Kelley reminded the students just how special their achievement is in light of their struggles and trials over the past two years.

“You are a part of the ‘Katrina Class’ of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary who, as a part of your experience in preparing for ministry, went through the worst disaster in the history of the United States,” Kelley said. “My, what an unforgettable time that was. It’s marked all of us for the rest of our lives.”

Kelley encouraged the graduates to use all the things they learned in the classroom and from professors and apply it to their ministry. But he emphasized the importance of what they learned about the sufficiency of Christ.

Reading the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:13, Kelley said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“You and I had a chance to see if we really believed what we knew about God,” Kelley said in reference to the familiar passage.

He described the tense hours he spent waiting for information about New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina as he sat in a hotel room in Birmingham, Ala., and heard the tragic news that the levees had failed and 80 percent of the city had flooded. As image after image of flooding, destruction and chaos flashed on the television screen, Kelley found comfort and hope in Jesus.

“Jesus checked into the same hotel and oddly enough He was assigned to my room,” Kelley said. “That wonderful voice, in which only Jesus can speak, came to me and said, ‘It is in my hands.'”

Hard days followed as seminary leaders worked to continue classes and meet the needs of students, professors and staff members. But in each step of the way, Kelley sees the hand of Jesus leading, guiding and offering comfort.

“In Christ alone we find the strength, we the find courage, we the find purpose to do the things He’s called us to do,” Kelley said. “What all of us discovered is that Jesus has this incredible power to sustain His people in the most unpredictable and difficult situations.”

Kelley commended the graduates for keeping at their studies in the face of difficult times. He noted that 85 percent of students continued their studies during the semester Katrina hit even though they had to study and learn in different ways -– and do so from 29 states. Kelley commended the faculty for their work in reformatting all their classes and using technology to continue teaching students without the benefit of classrooms or a campus.

“Jesus was enough,” Kelley said. “Jesus was with us all the way through. Whenever you are in direct contact with Jesus, everything that is His becomes yours.”

Kelley left the graduates with one last charge.

“Take away all that you have learned from your professors and the books you’ve read,” Kelley said. “Take away a diploma, you have earned it, take it away with pride. But take away most of all, this knowledge for the rest of your life -– in Christ alone you have everything you need.”

The graduating class was one of the largest in school history –- eclipsing the last pre-Katrina graduating class (May 2005) by one student. Members of the class earned degrees from 38 different programs, including 13 specialized master of divinity degrees. Twenty-four graduates earned doctoral degrees, including 10 who received the school’s highest degree, the doctor of philosophy. On May 18, 220 graduates received certificates and degrees from Leavell College, the seminary’s undergraduate program.

During the Leavell College commencement service, special recognition was given to 100 graduates who could not be in attendance. These men, receiving associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, are inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola and the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman.

Prisoners who earn the accredited degrees are serving as ministers to their fellow inmates at the two maximum security prison complexes. They have started churches behind the bars and have led many prisoners to faith in Christ.