As Lesley Hildreth walked across the stage with her daughter, Rachel Hildreth Breniser, at Binkley Chapel on Dec. 8 to receive their degrees, the moment represented not only personal accomplishments but also Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SEBTS) influence on the Hildreth family.
“[SEBTS] is a key vehicle that has enabled us to serve the Lord better and serve the Lord together,” said Scott Hildreth, director of the Center for Great Commission Studies at SEBTS, husband to Lesley and father to Rachel.
The Hildreth family pose for a picture following the fall graduation ceremony on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
Lesley received her master of arts in Christian studies degree from SEBTS. Her daughter Rachel received her bachelor of arts degree in English from The College at Southeastern, the undergraduate arm of the seminary.
A call to go
It was 10 years ago that the Hildreth family moved to Wake Forest, N.C., from Central Asia. Scott still remembers the time when he wrestled with the call God had given him and his family to leave the mission field.
Both he and his wife Lesley, along with their two children had served as international mission workers in Central Asia for two years and had spent another six years in Berlin, Germany.
“I remember standing on a hill in [Central Asia] just really praying and asking God, ‘Why would you want us to leave? Look at all these lost people around us,’” he said. “And it was as if the Lord spoke and said, ‘Yeah, but you’re only one person here. Just think if you could have hundreds of people sent out [and] trained for this.’”
The Lord led Scott and his family to come to SEBTS for him to pursue a doctor of philosophy – but they later realized God had much more in store.
Having prior overseas ministry experience, Lesley saw the value of what a theological education could have provided for her as a missionary. After Scott received his doctor of philosophy, she began her master of arts in Christian studies.
For Lesley, she has seen how the combination of seminary courses and prioritizing time in God’s Word strengthens the ability to better equip others in their spiritual walks.
“It helps you teach others who will not ever step in a seminary classroom how to look at scripture. … It’s exciting to watch other people fall in love with the Lord through reading and studying the Word of God when they’ve never had the opportunity before,” Lesley said.
Lesley models this, too, with her role at The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area as the women’s discipleship director. There, she oversees women’s ministry at nine of the eleven church campuses, totaling approximately 6,000 women. And she continues to maintain the relationships she has built with SEBTS women.
“I think that’s probably been my personal greatest blessing of being on [SEBTS’s] campus and around this campus for the last 10 years,” she said.
Scott and Lesley look back and see how God has given them the opportunity to mobilize many students to take the gospel all over the world.
“I have the chance to sit in here and quite literally be part of … a movement through [SEBTS where] we quite literally have sent hundreds of people around the world,” Scott said.
For Rachel, she experienced a spiritual turnaround during her time in theological education. Between growing up on the mission field and attending the school where her parents also were, Rachel’s spiritual life was not something she believed she owned for herself – that is, not until the summer leading into her sophomore year.
“I went on the Crossover Baltimore trip and the Lord worked through that trip and changed my life,” Rachel said.
Prior to Crossover Baltimore, an evangelism initiative preceding the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in 2014, she had been getting ready to transfer to University of North Carolina at Charlotte and was ready to “run from [her] faith” as she recalled.
But in Baltimore, she experienced the love of believers unlike she had before and it came during a difficult season in her life.
“I had just not had Christian people care about me like that so it really made me reinvestigate my faith and choose it for myself instead of something I just did for my parents,” she said.
This experience radically changed her outlook on faith and even theological education. After spending the fall semester at University of North Carolina in 2014, Rachel was back on SEBTS’s campus the next spring. This time, she had a new motivation.
“When I came back,” she recalled, “I really had a different motivation instead of just being there to be there.”
Personally, she has seen her community of friends grow through getting plugged into a small group and working on campus.
Academically, Rachel was pursuing her college degree while experiencing some new changes in her life. Along with managing school and work, Rachel’s time in college came with a new marriage and, right before graduating, a new baby.
But through all of this, she remembers professors who cared for her. One such time was shortly after she had been married. Managing school and a marriage was hard and she reached out to her advisor, Adrianne Miles, for help due to falling behind in class.
“She [was] really was encouraging … She sent scripture [that was] encouraging and helpful,” Rachel said.
There have been challenges and sacrifices in each of the academic journeys for Scott, Lesley and Rachel.
Whether it was sacrificing social time to finish an assignment, pushing forward in school instead of quitting or moving the whole family to a new town to follow God’s call to further theological training, Scott, Lesley and Rachel are seeing the fruits of their labor.
More importantly, they are seeing how God’s faithfulness in calling their family to leave the mission field is exceeding all that they could have hoped for.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lauren Pratt is Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s news and information specialist.)