RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – As 23 men and women walked across the stage to receive their master of theological studies (MTS) degrees, their friends and families witnessed Brazilian Baptist history in the making. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) President Danny Akin joyfully greeted the first graduating class in an ongoing partnership between SEBTS and Brazilian Baptists.
This cohort of students is part of SEBTS’s Global Theological Initiative (GTI), which seeks to enhance theological education in at least 15 different locations around the world through strategic partnerships. The invitation-only cohorts are for students who are proven leaders and teachers in their national contexts.
“Southeastern loves its Great Commission partnerships around the world. None brings me more excitement and joy than the one with have with Brazilian Baptists,” Akin said. “Our vision and passion for theological education, personal evangelism and world missions is one. We are true partners in building God’s Kingdom. What a blessing!”
Photo by Fernando Brandão
SEBTS president Danny Akin joyfully greets the first graduating class in the Global Theological Initiatives partnership between Southeastern and Brazilian Baptists.
In Brazil in particular, SEBTS partners with the Brazilian Baptist Convention’s international and national mission boards in cooperation with the International Mission Board (IMB). Representing SEBTS at the graduation in Rio de Janeiro in addition to Akin were John Ewart, the seminary’s GTI associate vice president, and professor of counseling Sam Williams.
“This MTS endeavor has demonstrated Baptist cooperation at its highest level,” said David Bledsoe with the IMB in Brazil. “Southeastern offered the program and strived to do so in a contextual manner. IMB offered a missionary professor to assist in the coordination … [and] the Brazilian mission boards provided much of the logistic assistance to pull off the program on Brazilian soil.”
The first graduating cohort encompassed executive and regional leadership in Brazilian Baptist entities, including pastor Fernando Brandão, president of the Junta de Missões Nacionais, or the Brazilian Baptist National Mission Board, reflecting a primary GTI goal of training the trainers to spread their knowledge to other pastors and teachers, multiplying the reach of sound theological education.
“It would be hard to overestimate the historical as well as missiological importance of this first cohort working through this degree,” Ewart said. “They literally talk about how this degree has transformed the way they see and do missions and how that impacts the nations around them. We hope that this spreads to all of South America.”
Students who graduate from the GTI program in Brazil complete a 48-hour MTS degree, with 24 hours of core classes, 18 hours of missiologically-focused electives and a six-hour thesis. Classes are structured as distance learning courses with occasional face-to-face intensives with SEBTS professors, IMB personnel and Portuguese-speaking adjunct professors. Students complete the entire degree in their native Portuguese.
For the cohort students, the thesis projects are based on real-life issues they face in ministry. Each student writes a 10-page journal article that is put to immediate use for educating other Christian leaders in Brazil.
Williams travels to Brazil often to teach the cohort classes. Along with attending the first graduation, he taught an intensive for the second cohort during the trip. “The MTS in Brazil was a glorious culmination of [many] years of partnership with Brazilian Baptists,” he said.
During the mid-February trip to Brazil, Akin and Ewart participated in strategy meetings with IMB personnel and Brazilian leaders to discuss the future of their partnerships. Akin also took the opportunity to visit schools and strategic neighborhoods in Rio with IMB personnel to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The first GTI cohort began in Brazil in 2011. Classes for a second cohort of Brazilian Baptists are already underway with plans to possibly begin a third in the near future.
Williams, commenting on the value of such partnerships, said, “Cooperation works, not just for us in our own convention, but also with Baptists around the world that share our passion for God’s Word and mission.”