They arrived in personal cars, public buses, retrofitted cattle trucks or on foot, traveling anywhere from a few blocks to a few hours away.
Students in caps and gowns, along with family, faculty and friends, gathered July 4 in historic Calvary Baptist Church — a domed former circus building in Old Havana, Cuba — to celebrate their graduation from the Western Cuba Baptist Theological Seminary.
They received degrees in counseling, theology, pastoral ministry, youth ministry and worship — and made incredible sacrifices along the way. In Cuba, where a meager government salary of $20 to $30 a month is guaranteed for most professions, choosing a life of ministry means forfeiting that income and looking to the church for support. But in the words of Philippians 3:8, the students – and those who have gone before them – have considered “everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus” and making him known.
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has long partnered with the seminary in Havana. NOBTS faculty members Ed and Kathy Steele, Mike Sharp, Darryl Ferrington and others have been instrumental in helping the Havana seminary launch its worship and counseling programs. As a symbol of that partnership — and as part of an exploratory trip to further develop that collaborative effort — NOBTS President Chuck Kelley delivered the commencement speech at the graduation ceremony.
Kelley shared a challenge from Philippians 3:13-14: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”
“We celebrate what you have done, but we look forward to what you are going to do,” Kelley said. “Paul encourages us to learn two important skills: He said to forget everything that lies behind and stretch out to what lies ahead.”
Kelley described how Paul started churches all across the Roman empire, was arrested and spent significant time in prison, was shipwrecked, was plotted against — yet in every circumstance used mightily by God. In freedom and captivity, he wrote the letters, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that would become over half the New Testament. Paul’s life of faithfulness offers a powerful example for the graduates, Kelley said.
“No matter what your circumstances, God has something more for you,” Kelley said. “And my encouragement to you graduates is simply this: Celebrate this moment. Enjoy what you have done. But get ready, because God has something more for you. You are the people God intends to use to change the world. Never forget. God always has something more for you.”