FORT WORTH, TEXAS — Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has initiated a Conservative Renaissance in seminaries around the world.
In 1991 the Southern Baptist Convention decided to withdraw funding from the Baptist Theological Seminary in Ruschlikon, Switzerland, because they deemed it too liberal to merit continuing support.
With the passing of years the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) decided to end its relationship with the seminaries it had supported overseas and with the absence of Southern Baptist leadership most of the seminaries became less effective and more liberal in their theology.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, under the leadership of President Paige Patterson, launched the Global Theological Innovation (GTI); a program that aims to strengthen theological education around the world by forming strategic partnerships with seminaries and Baptist conventions oversees.
Since the beginning of the GTI in 2012, Southwestern has formed 137 partnerships in 58 nations over five continents. With encouragement and direction from Dr. Patterson and Dr. Brent Ray, director of Southwestern’s GTI, Champion Churches have emerged to take the reigns of helping meet the needs of these theological institutions.
Champion Churches are mission-minded congregations that partner with an overseas seminary in order to cover the practical needs such as providing library and technological resources, funding students, and aiding in building projects.
Beallwood Baptist Church in Columbus, under the leadership of Pastor Billy Duncan, has been one of these Champion Churches for several years, but more churches are needed to fill this strategic need that can impact nations for Christ at an extremely high level.
On March 10, 2016 a three-way partnership between Southwestern Seminary; the First Baptist Church of Warren, Texas; and the Baptist seminary in Lisbon, Portugal, was birthed.
An urge to invest
Dr. Ray was encouraged by a theological education strategist for the International Mission Board to consider investing in the Portuguese seminary. Ray agreed to do so and invited David Mahfouz, pastor of First Baptist Church in Warren, to accompany him to investigate the possibility of a potential partnership.
Mahfouz became ill on the plane trip from London to Lisbon and two days later was admitted to a hospital with an extremely high glucose level in excess of 695 and bordering on diabetic ketoacidosis. Even though he never had a chance to visit the seminary, the Lord impressed upon him from his hospital bed that he should invest in theological education in Portugal.
Mahfouz commented, “The decision to become a Champion Church was made after the church spent time in prayer and I shared the need, following a vision trip to Portugal (Although he was unable to visit the seminary, representatives from the seminary visited him in the hospital and prayed with him).
“Seminario Baptista Teologio was struggling in its mission to prepare ministers and church leaders. Declining enrollment and a wavering commitment to our Christian and Baptist doctrinal beliefs were just two of the issues the school faced.”
Mahfouz reported, “Sergio Mota, a local attorney and board member for the seminary, confessed, ‘My heart is heavy Pastor David, because we have to use our Brazilian brothers as pastors and leaders, because we do not have Portuguese who have responded to the call of God for their lives and who have been equipped to serve.’
“The leadership of the seminary had scheduled me to preach in two churches and to teach a Class in Hermeneutics and Christian Philosophy,” Mahfouz recounted, “As I discussed the services with the pastors, I learned that they had stopped giving invitations and calling people to respond. I asked permission to extend invitations following the sermon. It was clear that the Lord was starting to open doors and hearts.
“Fernando Ascenso da Silva, the president of the seminary, asked if on my next trip to Queluz (in the greater Lisbon area) I would teach an Evangelistic Preaching Class and preach a series of Evangelistic meetings across Portugal.”
Work today, an impact for years to come
During the partnership with Portugal the Warren church has taught an Evangelistic Preaching class to 65 students and pastors, implemented a prayer strategy, developed an evangelistic tract, held Harvest Revival Training, engaged the seminary board in strategic planning, planned, and promoted a Women’s Missionary Conference, led preschool and children’s Sunday School training, conducted a student mission trip/sports camp, provided a technological upgrade including new servers allowing for classes to be taught online, provided scholarships for students and helped to implement a Master’s Degree Program at the seminary.
First Baptist Warren also sent a SWBTS Old Testament scholar, Dr. Eric Mitchell, to Portugal to teach a Master’s class. The church also developed a specialized team to work in the libraries of the GTI Bible schools and seminaries (That work is so extensive that is worthy of another story.).
Mahfouz added, “One of our ladies at Warren felt that the Lord was leading her to make a gift to help ‘people with hunger.’ That Sunday morning when I was sharing the need to purchase Bibles for Portugal, she responded during the invitation and God moved her to meet that need.
“‘Just think,’ she said, ‘my gift can meet the need today, but feed many hungry people with the Word of God in the years to come.’”
Areas ripe for harvest
The most thrilling news is that the people of Portugal are beginning to awaken to the Gospel and the unconditional love of God. The seminary president reported that Franklin Graham held his Festival of Hope in Lisbon in early April and on the first day 14,330 people attended and 696 made decisions for Christ. Interestingly, there were approximately 40,000 who watched the Festival via Internet in 52 different countries with 399 making decisions for Christ.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reported that during the two-day event that more than 27,000 heard about God’s incredible love for them with nearly 1,000 indicating decisions for Christ.
The BGEA reported, “The Festival drew the saved and unsaved from across Portugal to Lisbon’s Campo Pequeno Stadium. In a country where evangelicals make up only 3 percent of the population, there’s an uphill battle to share Christ. But the responses at each service showed the power of the Gospel message to overcome any obstacle.”
The seminary in Portugal was supportive of the BGEA Festival in Lisbon and is beginning to have an impact in many areas including the interior of the nation and is uniquely positioned to reach Portuguese-speaking nations such as Angola and Mozambique, which are Muslim nations, which means that Mahfouz and First Baptist Warren are investing in the spread of the Gospel to some of the most spiritually dark regions of the world.
If you are interested in becoming a Champion Church with a significant impact upon some region of the world, contact Dr. Brent S. Ray at BRay@swbts.edu.