SBC Life Articles

From the West to the World


Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary was founded in 1944 in Oakland, California, moved to Berkeley for a few years, and then relocated to the current site in Marin County in 1959. The 148 acres of former dairy land called Strawberry Point became home to the first Southern Baptist seminary in the west, and today the fully-accredited, five-campus system is known as the tenth largest seminary in the United States.

The 2008/2009 academic year included a significant achievement at Golden Gate. The 65-year-old seminary celebrated fifty years at the Northern California Campus, located just north of San Francisco.

The Seminary invited all graduates from 1949-1959 to participate in a two-day celebration as part of the spring commencement program. A highlight of the festivities was honoring the Seminary's "Golden Graduates" during commencement on May 29. Twenty-eight of those who graduated from the Berkeley campus donned golden robes and walked with the Class of 2009.

Another benchmark this spring was the recognition of the 7,000th graduate of Golden Gate Seminary.

The following profiles of Golden Gate Seminary graduates illustrate how God uses the faithful giving of Southern Baptists, through the Cooperative Program, to accomplish His Kingdom work.

First Southern Baptist Missionary to the Sioux Nation

"I am a good example of what a great seminary can do with a mediocre student," said A.L. (Lewis) Davis, a graduate from the original Berkeley campus of Golden Gate Seminary.

Davis planted twenty-four churches in California, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota after he graduated with a bachelor of theology degree from Golden Gate Seminary in 1949. "The emphasis at the seminary was sound, doctrinal teaching with a strong commitment to missions," he said, attributing his own missions commitment to the seminary.

"I spent twenty-three years in Native American mission work in Montana and South Dakota," Davis said. He described how he would drive around the reservation, talking to those he saw and offering to help with anything they needed — food, housing, jobs, counseling, transporting them to the hospital, asking churches to donate clothing — "whatever it took."

Golden Gate Seminary President Jeff Iorg summarized Davis' passion for the lost: "Brother Davis reflects the seminary's mission to shape effective Christian leaders who accelerate the fulfillment of the Great Commission in the churches of the West and on mission to the world." Iorg continued to describe how Davis, like so many other students, answered the call to train at Golden Gate so he could take the Gospel to the nations.

Raised a Methodist in Texas, Davis was a 33-year-old Marine who had engaged in three major campaigns in World War II when he accepted Jesus Christ. Almost immediately, he felt called to the ministry. "I decided to attend Golden Gate Seminary because I felt that it offered the best opportunity to get the training I needed to do the job." He added, "Golden Gate was in a wide-open mission field for Southern Baptists, so we had an opportunity to put into practice what we were learning."

After graduating with the very first graduating class of the seminary in Berkeley, California, in 1949, Davis ministered on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. He pastored two churches while supporting his family and his ministry by working part-time at a post office, a dairy, and a local newspaper.

In 1962, he was appointed by the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention as the first Southern Baptist missionary to the Sioux Nation. Later assigned to Rapid City, South Dakota, he served on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations.

Davis retired from mission work when he was 65, but went on to start four churches in South Dakota. He attempted another retirement at age 75, but soon accepted the pastorate of Rapid Valley Baptist Church in South Dakota where he had previously served. He led the 350-member church to complete a building program and become debt-free. The church's college scholarship fund was re-named in his honor.

On his 87th birthday, Davis retired from the ministry for the third time. Since his retirement he has written and published his 467-page autobiography, My Memoirs: The Tapestry of a Life. He is now working on a second book about the Civil War.

Davis celebrated his 98th birthday in March and received Golden Gate Seminary's Distinguished Alumni Award in June. He currently lives in Mena, Arkansas, with his wife.

Reaching the Lost and Making Disciples

"When I die they are going to put on my tombstone, 'Reach every man, woman, boy, and girl for Christ.' That has been my heartbeat since I came to the Convention in 1995," said Fermín Whittaker, executive director of California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC). Whittaker leads field missionaries to assist CSBC churches in reaching the diverse, multicultural communities throughout California.

Whittaker's educational experience at Golden Gate reflects the West's diversity, being one of the most multicultural seminaries in the world-with faculty, student body, and staff representing many nations. He is thankful for their partnership with the CSBC churches.

He explained, "A spirit of missions exists across the platform of the seminary organization. It provides an inspired environment where creative ministries are encouraged in order to reach the lost, make disciples, and transform cultures for Christ."

Firmly believing that the solution to the world's problems is found only at the foot of the cross, he is proud of the fact that Golden Gate and the California Southern Baptist Convention have had this conviction since their beginning. He is also grateful that his education at Golden Gate reinforced his passion for reaching the lost.

"The Lord has given me a special gift of relating to people across cultural, social, and economic platforms to share the Gospel of Christ," Whittaker said. "I enjoy doing that. I'm always trying to find ways to reach the lost and make disciples for Christ, even when I was a young pastor in 1968. Most of my ministry has been building relationships with people and leading them to Christ."

Whittaker was born in Colón, Republic of Panama, to Colombian parents. At that time, Southern Baptist work in Panama was the responsibility of the Home Mission Board (HMB), now the North American Mission Board.

He became a Christian at the age of 12 in Panama, and his vast ministry experience in the United States began as a summer missionary for the HMB. He served as a pastor in the Los Angeles area and as a Southern Baptist home missionary in California until taking a leadership position with the HMB in 1977. During his eighteen years at the HMB, Whittaker served as assistant director of the Language Missions Division, director of the Ethnic Church Growth Department, and as a regional coordinator in the Planning and Finance Section. He has focused much of his ministry among Hispanic populations in serving local churches and on evangelistic crusades throughout the Americas.

In addition to earning a doctor of ministry degree from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in 1992, Whittaker received the Seminary's Distinguished Alumni Award in 2002. He recommends the Seminary to prospective students because "Golden Gate continues to be on the cutting edge of leadership development and missiological thinking."

The skills he acquired at Golden Gate Seminary continue to serve him well. With an eye to the future, Whittaker said, "I believe Golden Gate will play a pivotal role in training new leaders to develop ministries that will aggressively reach an incredibly diverse population in our state."

The Face of Christ in Times of Crisis

Representing Christ to people in times of crisis is the task set before Naomi Paget, a board certified chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains and a crisis interventionist. She has served with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) on the front lines of relief efforts, sharing the love of Christ with those impacted by disasters.

"The stories of escape and survival are amazing. I have heard horrific stories of fatigue, frustration, and fear," said Paget.

Much of Paget's work with NAMB as a disaster relief chaplain, which was a temporary assignment, was to assess the needs of all disaster relief sites and determine where chaplains were most needed and how to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of the victims. Under normal circumstances, Paget can be found working as a clinical chaplain for the FBI, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, the Salvation Army, and the American Red Cross.

Paget, who received her doctor of ministry degree from Golden Gate in 2003, appreciated the opportunities students were given to practice "action/reflection" methods. "We would take what we'd learned in the classroom out into the field and try the principles. Then we would reflect with colleagues and professors on what worked and what needed adjustment." The context for learning and ministry — the world at your doorstep — gave Paget exposure to multicultural ministry and the opportunity to engage with individuals from a variety of people groups while still in seminary.

"Two unique things appealed to me about Golden Gate," Paget said, "the multicultural aspect, as well as having a ministry at the same place as I was earning a degree." She explained that because the campuses are in some of the most diverse areas in the United States, one of Golden Gate's strengths is the multicultural influence through faculty, students, and nearby ministry opportunities.

Paget's ministry succeeds in part from the skills she acquired at Golden Gate. "I learned new ways to share the Gospel," she said, noting that in her profession she must often be the face of Christ and "be" the Gospel in actions as well as in words. She recommends the seminary to prospective students because, "Golden Gate invites you to bring your broad experience with you. The education you receive opens you to many possibilities of ministry."

The author of two books, Paget is also an adjunct professor at Golden Gate Seminary and has broad chaplain experience in the workplace, healthcare, and law enforcement arenas. Whether Paget has the opportunity to share Christ directly or indirectly, she is always available to listen, spend time with people, and care for their needs.

Paget shares of a time she received encouragement from a young girl who was staying in a Hurricane Katrina evacuee center at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

"During a restless evening, a little girl of five tugged at me and asked if I was 'the holy lady.' A Red Cross volunteer had sent her my way to entertain while her mother finished her meal, which was prepared by the Texas Baptist Men and the California Disaster Relief teams.

"I explained that I was not really a holy lady but I knew stories about a holy Man, and she immediately wanted to hear one. Seeing the volunteers feed the five thousand or so refugees, I began to relate the story of a man named Jesus who loved people so much He fed a group of hungry people almost like this one (Mark 6:35-44). I explained that Jesus loved her, too. She smiled and said, 'I saw Jesus today.'

"Surprised at such a revelation, I asked, 'You saw Jesus today? Tell me about that.' She pointed at the volunteer who had served her supper."

Looking back on the encounter, Paget believes the story sums up her passions and desire as a disaster relief chaplain, which is to be the face of Christ during a disaster. "It is exactly the reason I do the work I do."



GGBTS Fast Facts

• Golden Gate Seminary is the 10th largest seminary in the United States.

• GGBTS is a seminary system, consisting of five fully accredited campuses.

• Since 1949, Golden Gate Seminary has conferred degrees on 7,000 graduates.

• Celebrating 65th year in 2009, 50th year at our Northern California campus.

• Ninety percent of all hours taught at the seminary are taught by faculty holding a doctoral degree.

• One of the most multi-cultural seminaries in the world. In 2007-08 academic year, student body was 54% non-Anglo and 46% Anglo.

• Fifty percent of the seminary's enrolled students attend the Northern California campus and 50% attend the other four campuses.

    About the Author

  • Phyllis Evans