“This never gets old!”
That was the thought that was running through my head last week as I was sitting on a plane flying to Campinas, Brazil, to join the second-year residency week for the Brazillian cohort. I was also there to take part in celebrating the first group as they had their local graduation celebration. A number of them made the trek north to Philadelphia last May to walk through the graduation ceremony for Eastern University but this was the event they were waiting for. This was the evening that their families, friends, and congregations could come together and recognize all of the hard work they put into getting their Masters degrees. For two years, they have spent much of their free time in the study that surrounds this program. Whether reading, writing or interacting in forum groups, one thing is for certain, they are a tightly-knit bunch.
The evening was a glorious acknowledgment of their hard work and dedication to their studies. As I sat there and took it all in, a few things were quite evident to me. The first thing I was reminded of is the sheer amount of people who are involved in this program. From the professors and students to the families and churches, as well as the administration and the seminary itself, it truly takes a small army to make this program run. Are there bumps and bruises along the way? Sure, sometimes there are. However, that doesn’t diminish the hard work that everyone involved puts into the program. There are too many people to mention all of them here, but it is a combination of missionary support, administration, and faculty. God has blessed this program with all of the people who are working to make it happen.
That thought easily led me to ponder all of the people who are helping us to provide scholarships for these students. Students receive a significant scholarship from Eastern University and Palmer Seminary, but even with such a generous gift, many still can’t afford to participate. Without faithful donors (individuals and churches), International Ministries wouldn’t be able to offer this scholarship and the program would likely cease to exist. It is important to pause and thank all of those churches and individuals who have understood that theological education for pastors and leaders in Latin America is a crucial way to sustain healthy growth for the evangelical church. So far, we have graduated over 50 students from all walks of life. Ministers, doctors, and lawyers, Baptists, Anglicans, and non-denominational folks have all participated. Ultimately, the Kingdom will grow because of their future efforts.
Then, I began to focus on the students and that is when I saw the best part. They were looking around at each other. They were smiling and passing looks of encouragement that were filled with two years of a shared journey to learn more about God and about each other. As each one passed across the stage, every other graduate was cheering them on. At that moment I saw more than congratulations in their eyes. They had become a community of faith. Even though they are spread across one of the ten largest countries in the world they were closer than they had ever been as they shared in the joy of the moment. No course can teach that. That level of community only comes with shared experiences that form bonds that will last for years to come. This wasn’t just a graduation ceremony, it was a family reunion.
After the last song was sung and the benediction had finished they filed out of the room and hugs were going all around. The group slowly moved to the dinner that followed and a wonderful time was had by all. However, in the end, all of the students found each other again just to spend a little more time together before they went their separate ways. As I walked out and headed up to my room, I was full of thankfulness that I have been a part of a program such as this. I was standing there at the elevator and I was suddenly distracted from my pondering by a peal of loud laughter. I turned to look at the room where we had just finished the graduation ceremony, and there was the second-year group laughing and talking. They are at the half-way point in the program. They were posing for selfies, laughing, talking and sharing some great memories from their first year. They had that same gleam in their eyes. I turned and stepped onto the elevator smiling as I said to myself, “…looks like this community just got a bit little bigger.”