Winter 2012 Graduation

A 33-year-old Filipino father of two who earned his second masters degree of the year was among the 52 students who received degrees Friday evening, December 14, at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s 2012 winter commencement ceremony, held at First Baptist Church of San Francisco.

Graduates came from the Seminary’s five campuses, as well as from several of its Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD) centers across the country, which are operated in partnership with local churches, associations, and state conventions. The graduates represented 12 states and four countries, and received diplomas, masters, and doctoral degrees. In all, nine types of degrees were earned among the graduates: Diploma in Christian Ministries-CLD, Diploma in Theology-CLD, Master of Arts in Educational Leadership, Master of Missiology, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, Doctor of Ministry, and Doctor of Philosophy.

Rico Marquez, who grew up in the Philippines before moving to the U.S. in 2008, received the seminary’s highest student award, the William O. Crews Presidential Leadership Award. “This award is given to the student who shows remarkable potential for leadership and has already demonstrated leadership skills,” explained President Jeff Iorg, as he shared Rico’s story with the audience.

Rico contracted polio as a six-year-old child. Since he was unable to walk, he crawled to school. People made fun of him, laughed and called him names. When he was 14 years old, a classmate shared the Gospel with him. When Rico told his father he had accepted Jesus as his savior, his father ostracized and persecuted him, evicting him from his home. His mother had just died, and his eight siblings also treated him badly.

Desperate, Rico went to his church family. The pastor allowed him to stay with them, but because of the pastor’s own large family, the only space they could provide for Rico was a small wooden shed in the backyard. He lived there for three years, until he graduated from high school.

Directly after graduation, Rico entered Baptist Theological College in Mandaue, Cebu. During this time, although it was difficult for him, he walked with some of the leaders he had trained to a variety of towns in this rural area, sharing the Gospel and preaching in an average of three towns per week.

After earning his Bible college degree, Rico was called to pastor Metropolitan Heritage Baptist Church in Mindanao, a dangerous area containing Moro Islamic rebels, widespread poverty, and much violence. Rico served there for six years, where he also met and married his wife, Margie.

Called and sponsored by Trinity Faith Baptist Church in Rodeo, California, Rico and his wife moved to California in 2008, and Rico was urged to apply to Golden Gate Seminary. Although he didn’t have the funds, Rico was accepted into the master’s program and his tuition was paid anonymously the first year. He has received financial aid each semester. In addition, he collected empty bottles in the area and sold them to raise money for his textbooks, gas, and bridge toll fees.

Thirty-three years old, Rico preaches at East Bay Baptist Church in Alameda on Sunday mornings, and then teaches a Bible training course for the area’s church leaders on Sunday afternoons. He planted and pastors a house church in Pinole for Filipinos, which meets on Sunday afternoons, and he also leads a Bible study for adult church leaders in American Canyon on Friday evenings. (Click here for a longer profile of Rico).

Robert Uyeda shared the story of his journey in earning a master of divinity degree. The thirty-four year-old Japanese father of two told the crowd, “It was a humbling experience to follow God’s timing rather than my own. One of the toughest things to see when you’re being humbled is that God is transforming you into who he wants you to be.” Robert and his wife, Miki, both from Oahu, Hawaii, had two sons born prematurely during the time Robert was in Seminary. Mason, who is now two years old, was born four weeks early, and Micah, now five months, was born eight weeks early. Both are presently healthy and developing normally.

“I understand sacrifice and suffering better, and self-centeredness,” said Robert, who went to the hospital every day for 6-8 weeks until Micah was able to come home.

“We received so much love and compassion from our Seminary family,” Robert recalled, noting that his professors were both understanding and encouraging. The family has returned to Oahu for Robert to serve as an English minister for Hawaii Chinese Baptist Church.

President Iorg, in his commencement address, offered words of challenge regarding joy in the ministry. “Joy is a prominent Christmas theme. In this season, and because of your graduation, you are joyful tonight. But when the excitement of graduation wears off, where will you find joy in the ministry? Over the years I’ve discovered that joy must be more than an emotion,” he told the graduates. “It’s something much deeper. Joy is the settled conviction God sees your life circumstances from the end back to the beginning. Hebrews 12:2 says, ‘Jesus, for the joy set before him, endured the cross.’” Iorg said, “He endured the cross, his greatest trial, focused on the joy set before him, which was the resurrection and ascension he was soon to experience. How did Jesus Christ endure the cross? With joy, because he saw the cross experience from the end back to the beginning. His promised resurrection made the cross bearable.”

Iorg concluded his commencement address by telling the graduates, “As we send you out tonight, with the commission to go all around the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are not naïve. We know that for many of you there will be difficult times and for some of you there will be extraordinarily difficult challenges. But we do not send you out tonight with a sense of gloom or desperation about our commission. Instead we send you out with joy! Knowing that whatever you face, the reality of your relationship with Jesus Christ will sustain you.”