Over the years I have participated in many graduation exercises. Seated on the platform, I am able to watch the graduates and their families drink in every moment of the event. These ceremonies of accomplishment carry greater significance for some than for others. Maybe the student had to work while attending school, or perhaps the graduate is the first in the family to achieve such a lofty goal.
Of all the commencement services I have attended, the one I attended June 19 was among the most gratifying. It was the graduation of students who had completed requirements for a diploma from Golden Gate Seminary through BGCO’s Robert Haskins School of Leadership (RHSL). Nineteen proud students walked across the stage to receive their diplomas from Haskins, for whom the school was named. Pride of accomplishment and great joy filled the hearts of students, family and friends, professors and those of us from the BGCO who had worked and waited to see this day.
Before describing the significance of the graduation, let me tell you about the person for whom this school is named. Robert Haskins worked in and directed our convention’s Department of Cooperative Missions for many years. This office was in charge of our work with the ethnic congregations and led in the planting of ethnic Baptist churches across Oklahoma. No man was (and is) more loved or respected by our Native American and ethnic congregations and leaders than Bob Haskins. His love and dedication to see ethnic congregations planted and thriving was remarkable. He left that office to become the senior associate executive director of the convention, and it was my distinct privilege to work beside him for four years.
We discovered long ago that BGCO could plant healthy churches only if we had healthy and trained leaders. A variety of methodology was used through the years. Our goal was to develop a method to educate leaders who, because of life situations, had not been to college and would not be able to do so. After trying several approaches, we settled on the Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD) program through Golden Gate Seminary. Practical, but challenging, the training is designed specifically for pastors and staff in ethnic congregations. So the Haskins School, in coordination with the seminary, provides the training, and each graduate receives a diploma from Golden Gate. It is a tremendous work that produces clear and evident results.
The RHSL graduates, most of whom are Hispanic, will give quality leadership to our growing ethnic congregations. The Hispanic population in Oklahoma is increasing exponentially. Every county has seen Hispanic peoples take up residence in the last 30-40 years. The increase of Hispanic residents in our state is expected to surpass every other population group in the foreseeable future. Oklahoma Baptists have worked hard to plant churches to reach this burgeoning segment of our citizenry. Our goal is that one day there will be more Hispanic Baptists than any other denomination. Above all, we want Hispanics in Oklahoma to have opportunity to hear the Gospel in their heart language and respond through faith in Christ as their Savior.
We have made great headway. Around 1980 there were only six Hispanic Southern Baptist congregations in our state convention. Today we have 112. The one thing that slows the growth of congregations to reach the unreached is the scarcity of leadership. The Haskins School is on the cutting edge of providing the training to prepare pastors for existing congregations and those who will plant churches. In fact, several graduates wore stoles embellished with the words, “Church Planter,” representing their commitment to participate in planting churches.
While most of the graduates were Hispanic, there were Native American and African American graduates as well. We have just started a new CLD center based in an African American church in Lawton. There is little doubt the Haskins School, along with Golden Gate, is key to our growth among ethnics in Oklahoma.
Because the Cooperative Program and State Missions Offering provide for a multitude of missions and ministries, we often fail to see the impact on individuals. The Haskins School is a prime example of the incredible results your giving produces. The Robert Haskins School of Leadership is funded through the State Missions Offering. Golden Gate Seminary is funded through the Cooperative Program. Church Planting is supported through both the Cooperative Program and the Edna McMillan State Missions Offering.
If you had joined the graduates and families—overwhelmed with joy over the accomplishments—at the commencement ceremony, you would have felt pride well up inside of you. Through your giving to your church, and your church giving through the Cooperative Program, you helped pay for the education of 19 leaders whose preparation and great potential are clearly apparent. The Cooperative Program is Great Commission giving.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.