FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary honored Tommy French, retired pastor of Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., during a chapel service and scholarship donor and student recipient banquet April 7 coinciding with trustee sessions at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus.
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern, introduced French at the beginning of chapel. Last year, French and his family proposed a scholarship in honor of his wife Mary, who died from cancer on Jan. 16, 2008.
Patterson, who has known French and his family for many years, testified to the “tremendous contribution” that Mary French made “as a wife of a pastor and as a mother of precious children.” The unique scholarship in her honor “is the only one like it,” Patterson added.
Named the Mary French Priscilla Scholarship, it will go to the wife of a student preparing for ministry who also desires to further her own education.
The French family established an endowment of $100,000 to cover the costs of tuition, fees, books and opportunities to participate in selected conferences, including the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. The award recipient also will receive mentoring, most of which will come from Patterson’s wife Dorothy, professor of theology in women’s studies. The scholarship recipient also will receive a brief biography of Mary French’s life.
French testified to the significant role Mary played in his ministry and life, attributing his success to her. For French, a pastor’s wife is not called to stand behind her husband but beside him.
“A pastor’s wife is called to complement her husband in ministry,” French said. “As a helper, you have to be theologically sound and know your husband’s craft. This scholarship will give the needed tools and training to best assist their husbands, just as Mary did for me.”
French said his interest in supporting ministers’ wives and women’s ministries programs began to grow during the years his wife struggled with cancer. Both he and Mary were excited to hear about the development of women’s ministry programs at Southwestern. This burden grew as they began to see secular media reports that criticized the programs, especially the academic track for seminary wives and the homemaking concentration in the seminary’s undergraduate College at Southwestern.
“Mary never wanted any recognition for her hard work,” French said. “But I promised her I would donate money to help equip pastors’ wives in her memory. She still didn’t want the credit, but she believed in the purpose of the scholarship.”
During the scholarship banquet, French, his two daughters, Anne and Carol, and Anne’s husband Scott saw the fruit of this scholarship as they became acquainted with its first recipient, Rhonda Jones, and her husband Quincy, a student in the College at Southwestern. French’s daughters commented that Rhonda reminded them of their mother, who was willing to follow her husband and support him in whatever tasks God called him to perform.
“They are such a sweet family,” Rhonda Jones said of the Frenches following the banquet. “I was elated in just meeting them and seeing their faces and their love for their mother and his wife. It just humbles me all the more that I would have been considered to receive this scholarship in honor of her. And so I praise God for the opportunity to honor their mother in that way.”
During the seminary’s scholarship banquet, donors and students also heard testimonies from master of divinity student James A. Williams and donors Tom and Shirley Coston.
Williams told donors that their gifts have allowed him to continue in his ministry while attending school — a ministry that God has used to bring others to a knowledge of Christ Jesus.
“You have made an eternal difference, and I stand on behalf of all the seminary students in this room and I say thank you,” Williams said. “We have been blessed, for we have received. But you have been more blessed, because you have given.”
The Costons have had a relationship with Southwestern for more than 15 years and have supported the school through numerous scholarships. Tom Coston noted that, in a world where preachers often present a prosperity gospel, it is important to support an institution that trains students who desire to preach the true Gospel.
“There is always sound doctrine being taught here at Southwestern,” Coston said. “It is a real privilege for us to be able to join with you in investing in this manner.”
Shirley Coston added, “We pray that each and every one of the students that receive the scholarship will be able to share in that word of the Gospel around the world, and that we can be some small part of that.”
Benjamin Hawkins is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.