DULUTH — Gateway Seminary President Jeff P. Iorg spoke in chapel at the Georgia Baptist Missions and Ministry Center on Aug. 4. He was in the Atlanta area to address the Georgia Baptist Foundation Endowment Committee meeting and the “Go Georgia” gathering at Prince Avenue Baptist Church, where he was the keynote speaker.
In an article published in The Index last week J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, hailed Iorg as “one of the finest leaders I have ever known.”
Iorg addressed the Mission Board staff and related how God miraculously provided for the needs of Golden Gate Seminary as it relocated from Mill Valley in the San Francisco area of California to Ontario, CA just east of Los Angeles.
While in Marin County the seminary was perched on a strategic ridge high above the San Francisco bay with a panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The move 400 miles south of the famous bridge to Ontario necessitated a name change – thus Gateway Baptist Theological Seminary. From its strategic position on the West Coast the seminary is the gateway to Asia and the Pacific Rim and from those traveling from the east the seminary is the gateway to America.
For the past 57 years Golden Gate Seminary served Baptists well from its location in Mill Valley, CA. In that time it conferred degrees on over 9,000 men and women now involved in strategic ministries worldwide.
Iorg’s message to the Georgia Baptist Mission Board staff was designed to communicate how God miraculously intervened to orchestrate the move from Mill Valley to Ontario. Iorg stated, “When I moved to the seminary I knew that the master site plan awarded the seminary would expire in five years – in 2009. So, early on in my service as president of the seminary we began to work on a plan to chart a course for the school going forward.
“We had two options. We could stay and redevelop our property for the future. Or, two, we could sell and look for a new location. At that time we looked at those options and decided to redevelop our property, but we knew our campus needed a dramatic overhaul if we were going to be an effective educational institution for the 21st century.
“However, we knew that Marin County had become one of the five wealthiest counties in the nation and extremely adverse to economic and residential development. We were plagued with unreasonable delays and great opposition to any plan we proposed to the governing officials. It was chaotic.”
“Some wanted to know why we didn’t sell the property, but it was basically impossible, because the entitlement for the property was specifically designated for a seminary and nothing else.”
“A friend of the seminary came by to see me one day and offered to connect me with a friend who was a person of means and had an interest in acquiring the seminary property,”Iorg continued. “Although our primary objective was to remain where we were, we had also worked out a strategy to move if circumstances demanded it. So, although I had met with other prospective buyers without success, I decided to meet with this man.
“ And I began to ask the question, ‘God, are these obstacles that you are not moving signposts to tell us to go in another direction?’
“When we met I told the man I wanted $100 million cash and a two-year lease to give us time to move and I wanted to use the property at a token amount if not free. I also wanted him to assume all development risks – that there would be no partnership involved.”
Amazingly, the man agreed to Iorg’s terms. The Gateway president said, “Then the man told me a story. I can’t tell you the story, because it is not my story. It’s his story. But, I can tell you it is a story of restitution and redemption. He had done something in 1964 in Marin County for which he wanted to make restitution and this was his opportunity to do that.
“We worked together for more than a year to develop a plan the governmental officials would accept.”
Formidable challenge met
The challenge of moving a seminary, uprooting multiple dozens of faculty and students, taking children out of schools and little league programs, making it necessary for them to find new doctors and dentists was part of what kept Iorg from sleeping for almost two years. The challenge of moving hundreds of people 400 miles was formidable indeed.
However, the seminary president stated that God miraculously provided a path and means to relocate the seminary in five ways. He stated, “Up until the time we decided to sell it seemed like all the obstacles were keeping us from going forward. But from the moment we decided to move, it was like God provided a paving machine in front of us. And it’s pouring a long, straight, unobstructed road for us to go down to get there. It has been unbelievable.
“First, God intervened by providing a buyer. We never advertised or publicly sought a buyer, but God miraculously provided a buyer who gave us not $100 million, but $85 million and met all our requirements to facilitate the move.
“Second, God intervened by giving us our new campus in Ontario, CA. There is no fast building process in California because of governmental rules and regulations, so we had to buy an already-existing facility. We needed to buy a 125,000-150,000 sq. ft. facility with a strategic location.”
Iorg told the assembled Georgia Baptist Mission Board staff he had looked for 40 properties without finding what he needed, but discovered a building a company was trying to lease that he was confident would be ideal for the seminary. Within 48 hours he was negotiating to purchase the very building that had gone into foreclosure and then into bankruptcy. And, he purchased it for $26 million.
He stated, “If we built that building today it would probably cost $55 million. It was built in 2009 and finished on the outside, but had not been finished on the inside. We were able to finish the inside to accommodate our purposes as an institution of higher education. We have moved into it. It is unbelievable!
“Third, God gave us governmental favor. I have seen the difference between governmental opposition and governmental favor. The government allowed us to take the largest unoccupied freestanding building off their tax rolls, which is almost unparalleled in regards to California governmental issues. Within days we had our conditional use permit in our hands. I can’t tell you how strange that is.
“Then we didn’t want to abandon the San Francisco Bay area, so we wanted to build a regional campus there. We got some property and went to the planning commission to see if we could get permission to build in nearby Freemont. The meeting lasted 12 minutes. We got the approval we sought and are building there. We’ll open that regional campus in December.”
Giving to the vision
“Four, we were concerned that when our donors heard we sold the Mill Valley campus for $85 million they would no longer be motived to give. A few did, but our major donors started giving more. Large donors give more to vision than to need.
“Finally, God gave us supernatural unity through this process. When I made the announcement that we were going to move the campus we were prepared for shock, anger, denial, open chaos, and all kinds of emotional responses.
“However, one professor stood in the assembly and voiced his approval of the decision that had been made. Suddenly, the students and faculty responded and gave their consent with a standing ovation. They have not wavered.”
Editors note: It is difficult to capture the powerful, dynamic testimony of President Jeff Iorg to the staff of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, but his recounting of how God provided for the relocation of Golden Gate Seminary (now Gateway Seminary) from the San Francisco Bay area to Ontario was both moving and mighty. His story is a beautiful illustration of God’s grace, provision, and miraculous work in the 21st century.