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Inaugural commencement of Migrant Institute honors 17 graduates

By Barbara Denman

June 8, 2012


OKEECHOBEE—Standing in black gowns and caps with red stoles wrapped around their necks, emotions ran high. Tears streamed down joyful faces as graduates knew they had completed a journey they once could only have dreamed of accomplishing.


Armed with their diplomas, they are better prepared to lead their churches while rightly proclaiming the Word of God.


The inaugural commencement of the Baptist Seminary of Theological Studies in Florida held May 18 at Oakview Baptist Church in Okeechobee was a celebration that honored the first 17 graduates of the Migrant Baptist Institute.


The graduates, both men and women who had completed three years of theological studies by attending Saturday classes biweekly, received church leadership certificates, awarded to them by the Providence Learning Center of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.


It was the confidence of having Biblical knowledge that motivated Marlon Castrillo, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Ebenezer in Belle Glade, to attend the Institute and persevere to graduation.


“This helped me understand the basics and doctrines,” said Castrillo, adding that knowing sound doctrine is a necessity for those who are preaching the Word.


Castrillo, who arrived in Florida six years ago from Nicaragua, works bivocationally as a software engineer. He served as a Sunday school teacher and worship leader before he was called as pastor. But he lacked formal training and know-how of leading a church.


Finding affordable, accessible theological classes has been a “great blessing” to him, he said. “Now no one can make excuses for not having Bible knowledge,” he said.


The Migrant Baptist Institute, underwritten by funds from the Maguire State Mission Offering, was conceived by Misael Castillo, Florida Baptists’ field missionary for migrants. He serves as a resource and strategist for 85 Florida Baptist churches that minister to the state’s 180,000 migrant farmworkers.


Castillo knew that church leaders that minister to migrants had little or no theological background and needed assistance in leading the total church program.


Working in partnership with New Orleans Seminary’s Providence Learning Center, Misael Castillo developed the curriculum and sought recognition for the students to receive a church leadership certificate.

The certificate program addresses needs of migrant church leaders by providing specialized, short-term training for church leaders on all educational levels, said Doug Watkins, director of Florida Baptist theological education ministries team.


Currently 100 students serving primarily migrant congregations are enrolled in the Institute which offers classes in three locations—Okeechobee, Plant City and Eustis.


John Sullivan, Florida Baptists’ executive director-treasurer who served as the commencement speaker at the May 18 event, enthusiastically called the graduation of migrant leaders “a great cause for rejoicing.”


A long-time advocate of quality, accessible theological education Sullivan contends that “every church should function in some way as a theological seminary,” providing Christian believers with sound doctrine and a basic Christian belief system.


“I do not know of another course of study designed by a state convention especially for the migrant community in collaboration with a theological education partner that has resulted in 17 persons receiving a church leadership certificate.”


During commencement services, Sullivan told the graduates that serving God was serious business, adding, “You cannot serve God and give up your integrity.”


He urged the church leaders to model David with his armor and Dorcas with her sewing kit “to serve God with what you have on any given day of life.” Because of their studies, he explained, on this day, they now have even more resources when ministering to others.


“Be positive, just knowing that God has a special place for you. You don’t need to be anyone else. Serve God every day of your life,” he concluded.


Castillo reminded the graduates that they have established a new standard. “The Lord will be watching you, and our people will be watching you.”


Betty Suarez, Institute director summed up the event’s meaning for the graduates. “Today is a new beginning—the beginning of a new future, a new dream that these students will be the light of the nation.”

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