By Marilyn Stewart
NEW ORLEANS – As the world watched the royal wedding festivities at Great Britain’s Windsor Castle May 19, graduate candidates waited patiently to receive their diplomas inside the Leavell Chapel on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
NOBTS President Chuck Kelley reminded the chapel audience that while a media frenzy that morning surrounded Prince Harry and his new bride Meghan Markle, no reporters waited outside to talk to them.
“So, why does this day matter?” Kelley asked the crowd. “The occasion we are here for today is far, far more significant than that gathering that has the eyes of the whole world.”
Every graduate is important, Kelley explained, but the ministries and positions of service each would soon occupy did not depend on them.
“Your life matters,” Kelley said. “But, it’s not about you. It’s about Jesus. He holds the key.”
Kelley explained that he carries in his pocket a key once used to unlock cell doors at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, La. Worn past its usefulness, the key now is “retired,” Kelley said.
“I carry it with me always as a reminder that Jesus changes everything,” Kelley said.
Once known as the “bloodiest prison in America,” the Angola prison today is home to more than 325 graduates of the NOBTS baccalaureate program, with inmates leading 25 cell block congregations and baptizing about 100 per year using a child’s wading pool.
The change to the maximum security prison started 22 years ago when then-warden Burl Cain called and asked if the seminary would begin a theological training program for inmates, Kelley explained. Of the prison’s 5,000 inmates, many are serving life terms.
Kelley related that at the first Angola graduation 20 years ago, Cain told him that each of the graduates “had killed at least one person,” but that the joy on their faces was unforgettable.
“The effect on the prison has been profound,” Kelley said. “The difference is the Gospel.”
Kelley said some graduates at Angola have transferred to other prisons where they serve as “missionaries” sharing the Gospel and starting congregations. Once, an inmate at another NOBTS prison extension center asked for Kelley’s help in transferring out of his medium security prison to Angola.
Kelley explained that the man had taken every course NOBTS offered at his prison and wanted to go to Angola where more NOBTS courses were offered.
Each graduate matters, Kelley reminded them, though they would not be the lead story on the evening news. Kelley urged them to remember that “no lives are too broken; no hatreds and hostilities too deep.”
“This is your life. This is your calling,” Kelley said. “To bring the balm of Gilead, to bring the life-transforming power of the Gospel to bear on every form of human need, every kind of life in every kind of circumstance. Jesus changes everything.”
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary conferred 106 masters degrees and 34 doctoral degrees including 11 Ph.Ds, 20 D.Min., and three D.Ed.Min. degrees. Forty-two M.Div. degrees, 28 with specializations, were conferred.
During commencement services held May 18, NOBTS’ Leavell College granted 61 bachelor degrees, including the Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry to five at the Angola prison, and 13 to the Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman, Miss.
The Lockman Foundation presented each graduate with a copy of the New American Standard Bible.
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Graduates (Graduate Program) – Saturday, May 19:
Graduate Certificate in Biblical Studies: Matthew Thomas;
Graduate Certificate in Christian Apologetics: Joel Zachory Craven;
Graduate Certificate in Christian Education: Cathy Hymon Lockett;
Graduate Certificate in Women’s Ministry: Melinda Neely Hendrix;
Master of Arts in Discipleship: Kyle David Coots, Casey Elizabeth Grooms, Jedd Preston Moak, John Grayson Orman, Emily Catherine Sloane, M. Shawn Syx, Gunner James Wilson;
Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry: Bryan K. Atwood, Jose G. Freyre, Benjamin Lee Lavender, Christopher John Layton, Erik Jameson Medlin, Matthew Tyler Pope, Hunter Anderson Slay, Jared Keith Thompson, Beniamin Alexandru Tone, Christopher R. Waddell;
Master of Arts in Missiology: Mark Anthony Bowman, Rachel Elizabeth Pearce;
Master of Arts in Worship Ministries: Christopher Mark Capasse, Lynnda Maurine Floyd, Bryan Douglas Mauldin, Johnathan Logan McCullough;
Master of Theological Studies: Tonya Nicole Cooksey, Thomas Cory Finn, Alben Norris Hopkins, Jeremy Magee, Timothy Aaron Magill, Eric Bradley McNair;
Master of Arts (Biblical Studies): Debora Kaye Piper;
Master of Arts (Theology): Matthew Robert Butts, Stephen Morgan;
Master of Music in Church Music: Melissa Ann Stroud Eubanks, Limakumla Jamir;
Master of Arts in Christian Education: Brandy Jones Johnson, Amy Elizabeth Mullins, Ryan Kindred Cork, Sloan Bishop, Haley Elizabeth Spell;
Master of Arts in Counseling with Specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Ashley Nicole Cleveland, Kendall Marie Wolz;
Master of Arts in Counseling with Specialization in Marriage and Family Counseling: Melanie Goetz, Rebecca Lane Henry, Jamie Klemashevich;
Master of Divinity: Ronnie Carter, George Andrew Chesteen, Cho R. Chung, Rachel Wait Ekenseair, Jeremy William Horton, Barnabas Azzan Johnson, Jason A. Leight, Thomas Scott Lister Jr., Hunter Charles Lynch, Michael David Pogue, Dustin Rooks Sosebee, Preston Thompson, Jeffrey Worth Turner, Irvin Moses Wasswa;
Master of Divinity with Specialization in Biblical Languages: Timothy Dale Morgan;
Master of Divinity with Specialization in Christian Apologetics: Marco Antonio Morales;
Master of Divinity with Specialization in Christian Education: KeeLynn Christina Alexander, Jonathan Matthew Chapman;
Master of Divinity with Specialization in Counseling (Licensure Track): David Rodríguez;
Master of Divinity with Specialization in Marriage and Family Counseling: Danielle Marie O’Kelly, Ryan Garrett O’Kelly;
Master of Divinity with Specialization in Expository Preaching: Matthew Todd Harman, Brett Michael Rushing, Corbin R. Smith;
Master of Divinity with Specialization in Islamic Studies: Brahima Nabi Toure;
Master of Divinity with Specialization in Mentoring: Jason M. Webb;
Master of Theology: Brooks R. Beike, Clay Nelson Carter, Robert N. Chambers Jr., Nolan Kane Helder, Joshua Johnson, Brantley Tyndal Scott, Derrick Austin Wilson;
Doctor of Educational Ministry: Richard Michael Fraley Jr., Jeremy Lee McCrory, Robert Charles Sipper;
Doctor of Ministry: Mark Alan Boyd, Thomas Christopher Douglas, Peggy Fulghum, Mark C. Gainey, John D. Girdley, Mark Louis Johnson Sr., Yaesook Kim, Jonathan Kittrell, Jason Edward Langley, Jeong Hwan Lee, Pablito Lucas, Brandon Luke McKinney, Kyusung Pak, Kyle Edward Routzahn, Jody Andrew Shaw, James Smith III, Jason William Snyder, Dustin Hugh Stewart, Jeffrey Lanier Waters, Robert Donald Weber;
Doctor of Philosophy: Dawson Lloyd Bailey, Cory Ryan Barnes, Joseph Daniel Bird, Mickel Jerry Cardinell IV, Peter John Copeland, James Andrew Hollingsworth, Daniel E. Martin, Edwin Derek Pearce, Andrea Leigh Robinson, L. Wade Stevens, Michael D. Wilburn.