MUSKOGEE, Okla. (BP) — A gravely ill graduate received his diploma from two seminary administrators who made a special flight to Muskogee, Okla., from Kansas City, Mo.
Tod McBrien, who has battled brain tumors and cancer for some 13 years, received his graduate certificate in Christian foundations from Robin Hadaway, interim president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Jim Anderson, chancellor pro tem of the seminary-affiliated Midwestern Baptist College, SBC.
Ron Philgreen and Anderson served as pilot and co-pilot for the trip in conjunction with Pilots for Christ.
The graduation ceremony for McBrien at Southeast Baptist Church in Muskogee was led by Kent Kellogg, a retired area director of missions. More than 250 family members, including McBrien’s wife Amy and their three children, along with friends and church members were in attendance April 13 to honor the graduate, who has been enrolled in seminary education since 2006.
Aware of McBrien’s serious health challenges, Midwestern’s leadership team called an impromptu faculty meeting March 21 for the rare occasion of voting to award a diploma earlier than the seminary’s May 19 graduation. Faculty approval was unanimous.
McBrien began his theological studies mainly through extension courses in Tulsa, Okla., and online classes. He noted that it was this variety of course options that drew him to Midwestern to pursue his degree.
“God has an amazing sense of humor,” McBrien said. “When I finally committed to going back to school fulltime for my seminary degree, He gave me my first church to pastor. For those three years, I learned so much both at the church and in the seminary classes I was taking. The ability to do both at the same time was amazing. I was able to practically apply the things I was learning into the ministry setting.
“I commend Midwestern greatly for helping me to better minister to the needs of the people I was serving.”
McBrien encountered what he called a medical setback in 2009, which temporarily derailed his educational pursuits and ended his pastorate. He added that God made it as clear that it was time to leave his church as He had when he was called to serve there.
“With this situation and the other lessons in life, like trials and setbacks, I’ve learned they’re not my fault. They are a part of God’s plan and what He’s doing,” McBrien said.
Becoming tearful, McBrien praised his wife Amy for her faithfulness amid their difficult circumstances, saying, “I have a wife who’s stood by me, and I’ll never forget what she’s meant to me.”
He added that if there is anything about him or his life he would want people to know, it would be his belief that “God is faithful.”
Hadaway, who became Midwestern’s acting president in February, said the chance to fly to Oklahoma and present McBrien with his diploma in front of his family and home church was “an incredible experience.”
“It was obvious by the turnout at the ceremony how much his family and church family love and desired to support him,” Hadaway said. “I am inspired by Tod’s perseverance, incredible attitude and faithfulness to God throughout his hardships. … [W]e are proud to call him a Midwestern graduate. We are also grateful to Pilots for Christ for their efforts in transporting us on short notice and through challenging weather to make this graduation ceremony a reality.”
T. Patrick Hudson is director of communications for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).