Golden Gate Seminary's 2012 Spring Graduation

A 71-year old retired 747 pilot earned a Master of Divinity and a 20-year-old woman who grew up in a Burmese refugee camp received a Diploma in Christian Ministry to bracket the most recent class of graduates from Golden Gate Seminary. These were among the 198 students, representing 22 states and11 countries, who graduated at the Seminary’s five campuses May 2012.

Richard Long, born and reared in New Mexico, traveled 5-hours one-way from his home in Grand Junction, Colorado to attend seminary classes. He participated in Golden Gate’s Rocky Mountain Campus and the Seminary’s Distance Learning program for seven years to earn his Master of Divinity degree.

After retiring from a 36-year career flying 747s for United Airlines, he began to take Hebrew classes at Golden Gate. “Initially, I just wanted to take some Hebrew and Greek classes to expand my understanding of the Scriptures, plus I wanted to improve my teaching,” said 71-year-old Long, who has taught the same adult Sunday school class since 1981. “Steve Veteto, [Rocky Mountain Campus Director], encouraged me to apply for a degree. It was like God was giving me an opportunity and opening the door,” said the father of three and grandfather of 10. In just a few months he will begin the church planting process in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Lah Say Wah is from the Karen people group, and lived with her family in a refugee camp in Burma, near the Thai border, for the first 16 years of her life. Today at 20 years old, her Diploma in Christian Ministry, earned at the Rocky Mountain campus, is just one of many accomplishments. In addition to her own seminary courses, she translated from Karen to English for the professors in five Contextualized Leadership Development classes. At the same time, she was also completing her last year of high school and was taking courses in her first year at the Community College of Aurora. Today she serves the 300-member Karen Bible Church of Denver in a variety of leadership roles, is currently a pre-med student, and works full-time at a medical research lab.

The seminary’s highest student award, the William O. Crews Presidential Leadership Award, was presented to Michael McCoy (Oregon), a Master of Divinity graduate from the Northern California campus and John Moreland (Texas) a Master of Divinity graduate from the Rocky Mountain campus. Mike is currently associate pastor of a church in San Francisco and leads weekly street evangelism outreach in nearby urban cities. Soon he and his wife hope to serve in international mission work. John is currently the senior pastor of Community Christian Church in Denver, and his long-term plan is to continue his education and pursue a Ph.D.

“This award is given to the student who typifies, both now and in the future, the mission of Golden Gate,” said President Iorg. “Mike and John strongly demonstrate the leadership training Golden Gate is committed to provide to pastors, and to our priority of shaping leaders who expand God’s kingdom around the world.”

Two graduating students shared the stories of their educational journey at Golden Gate Seminary. Meredith Brunsen, a North Carolina native who received a Master of Missiology degree, told the crowd how she felt two years ago during orientation with a room full of students just like her who had answered God’s call to attend seminary. “It was amazing to think that each person in the room had received a specific calling from God and one day we would be scattered across the world, proclaiming the name of Jesus to those who need him. And yet, God had brought us together for this season of our lives, to learn and grow and become the people that he designed us to be.”

Noe Garcia, a Master of Divinity graduate from Texas who was also the recipient of the LifeWay Pastoral Leadership Award, explained that seminary was more than an academic experience for him. “It was a spiritual journey in which I learned to depend on God to sustain and carry me. Through his grace he has provided me with incredible professors who provided not only academic but personal support to help me be a better man, a better husband, and a better father.” Garcia thanked the professors for “teaching me to be a man of God, to be a reflection of Jesus Christ.”

In his commencement address, President Jeff Iorg described Christian leaders as troublemakers. “We preach absolute truth. We teach ethical standards. We confront moral depravity. We urge non-Christians to consider the gospel and we urge Christians to more earnest discipleship. And all this troublemaking can sometimes get us into trouble.”

Iorg summarized the incidents in Acts 16 and Acts 24 describing how God worked through Christian leader and “troublemaker” Paul. “In Acts 16, Paul made some trouble in Philippi. He started a prayer meeting, won some people to faith in Christ, delivered a demon-possessed girl, confronted greedy businessmen, delivered a person from human slavery, then was beaten and imprisoned.”

Iorg told how Paul and his co-worker Silas started singing and seeking the glory of God, witnessing to the other prisoners. “Then God sent an earthquake. The ground trembled, the doors flew open, the stocks fell off, and the chains were released.”

“Sometimes,” said Iorg, “When you get put in prison, and things are looking bleak, you’ll get an earthquake and God will do magnificent things through those circumstances.”

The president continued with a second story. “Paul persisted with his ministry and a little while later arrived back in Jerusalem. He went up to the temple and was arrested on some trumped up charges. This time, he was dragged away into prison, and put on trial. As part of that process a conspiracy to murder him was discovered. He was part of a forced march to another prison, which resulted in more trials and more imprisonments. This imprisonment went on for two years.”

Iorg told his listeners how he responded when reading this. “Two years, God? What were you thinking? Here is the most gifted preacher alive at that time, the most insightful missiologist on the planet, the person with more spiritual power than all of us in this room combined. Here is a man whose theological mind produced a good bit of the New Testament. And he was allowed to wait two years in a Roman prison?” Iorg then summarized Paul’s accomplishments while imprisoned – including writing a significant portion of the New Testament.

“These two stories teach us this lesson,” Iorg said. “As Christian leaders when you make a little trouble or you get into trouble – sometimes you’ll get an earthquake. And sometimes when you make a little trouble or you get into trouble, no earthquake happens. It is the immature leader who thinks God is obligated to bail him or her out of every difficult situation. But whether you get an earthquake, or whether you don’t, the mission matters most.”

The president urged the graduates to consider, “What matters in every circumstance of life, in every arena of life, in every location of life, in every way possible, is to find the means to advance the gospel message and expand God’s kingdom all around the world – the mission matters most.

“The mission matters more than your comfort, it matters more than your safety, it matters more than your circumstances, it matters whether you are healthy or not, married or not, prosperous or not, seemingly blessed or not – the mission matters most in every external circumstance you will encounter.”

Iorg concluded his commencement address by telling the graduates, “Whether you get an earthquake or whether you don’t, remember that the mission matters most. Find a way to advance the gospel and expand the kingdom of God.”