Do you have any stories that illustrate the impact that WSC has made on your life and work?
A few years ago, I encountered a Haitian farmer walking along a country road with his machete in hand, high on the Central Plateau of Haiti. I had returned to his village with another group from our church, and had just concluded a pastors’ conference for Haitian church leaders from about 60 different churches in the region. His own pastor had attended the conference. The farmer lifted his hand to stop me and said with an emotional and sincere voice, “O, mesi, Pasté! Mesi paske ou kontinye vini. Sa montre nou ke Bondye pa bliye nou!” Oh, thank you, Pastor! Thank you that you continue to come. This shows us God hasn’t forgotten us!” I was stunned. What a privilege to be an ambassador of the Great High King of Heaven bringing hope to the nations! Looking back on that conversation now, I thank God for my time at Westminster Seminary California, which truly prepared me for a lifetime of service in His Kingdom.
I was first introduced to WSC in the spring of 1985 when Bob and Nellie den Dulk came through South Florida to visit prospective students and various friends of the seminary. At that time I was in the final decision-making process about where to go to for my theological education while in the midst of a pre-seminary internship at Granada Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Coral Gables. I recall sitting with the den Dulks at a little deli on Miami Beach as they urged me to visit Escondido, though I had plans to attend another seminary. Through the help of a generous man in the church where I was serving, that visit made all the difference in the world. From the moment I walked in the door and was, greeted by an enthusiastic and cheerful registrar, Elaine Memmelaar, to the sincere reception by various faculty members, I realized this was where God would have me train for ministry. By the end of July, I was leaving South Florida for Southern California and the intensive course in summer Greek.
There are so many fond memories of my four years at Westminster—I stretched a three-year program into four years, getting married half-way and began teaching French part-time at a local high school. I clearly remember describing Westminster as, “A seminary where the professors love the Lord, love his Word, and love the students.” I remember a dear professor weeping with me in my first year as I shared my struggle to discern the call to ministry. I remember being equipped in the Doctrine of the Word class, as the Spirit confirmed the absolute truth of the Scriptures. I remember Professor George Scipione giving us straight-talk in a pastoral seminar about the kind of heart-breaking life situations we would encounter while doing ministry in a fallen world. I remember Dr. Godfrey making church history come alive, as if those events were happening all over again today…and many of them were! I remember my heart burning within me, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, day after day in Al Mawhinney’s Gospels class. I remember taking homiletics from several different professors, thankful for the rich variety of godly, experienced, Reformed heralds at the seminary.
As you have labored in ministry and experienced personal growth as a person and pastor over the past few years, what role does your education at Westminster Seminary California play in your life?
It has now been more than twenty years since my graduation, and by God’s grace I am still building on the foundation that was laid during my time in Escondido. Since then, I have spent nearly ten years in the PCA (serving two churches in South Florida), and 11 years in the OPC, as I was called in 1998 be an OPC church planter outside Grand Rapids, Michigan. What I have found again and again, wherever I’ve gone, is that the sheep are hungry for solid, spiritual food. It really isn’t rocket science, but it is not easy, as the world’s alluring call is to water down the truth or turn to the arm of the flesh to build Christ’s church. I am often drawn back to Paul’s simple command to young Timothy, “Preach the Word.” Preaching Christ and him crucified is what God has been pleased to use to bring sinners to himself, and build them up in the faith, so that he alone receives the honor and glory.
What particular truths or experiences that you gained from WSC do you find most important and valuable now?
As I look back to where it all started, I am thankful for the rigorous course of study I received from godly men, in a spiritually alive environment that God used to make me who I am today—a sinner saved by grace, preaching a gospel of grace, to people who need to hear the grace of God again and again. I am thankful for a faculty who lifted the academic bar high, expecting seminarians to study hard because they knew so much was at stake–the eternal destiny of the men, women, boys and girls who would sit under our preaching. I am thankful for the sober attitude of the professors, realizing that they had the responsibility to train men to handle the Word of God correctly, because they knew that we would one day be giving an account for every careless word spoken. I am thankful for a school that wasn’t afraid to draw a line between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light, believing we were being called to “fight the good fight of the faith,” (1 Tim. 6:12) against the enemy of our souls who would rather have us believe that God really hasn’t spoken clearly. I am thankful that the Word of God was planted deep in my soul in every class, so that I can be a man bearing fruit season after season, a messenger of grace to people who are struggling with sin, sickness, sorrows, and death.
What, in hindsight, do you appreciate most from the time you spent at WSC?
Thinking back to when I started seminary 25 years ago, I realize more than ever how much I need the grace of God in the gospel, as it has been handed down in the faith once for all delivered to all the saints. I, as a pastor, as the father of four sons, as a husband…I need Christ every day. I needed to learn how to preach Christ...to my own heart first. I needed to know how to preach Christ from every text of the Bible. And I still need to be able to dig deep into the well of God’s Word and draw up the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, bucket by bucket, each and every day to provide Living Water for myself and God’s people. Westminster Seminary California gave me the tools to do that. It gave me a solid foundation for ministry, and it still is doing that for the next generation of pastors. By God’s grace, Westminster Seminary California will continue to raise up servants to preach and teach the gospel for the churches that our children, grandchildren, and even Haitian farmers will be attending in the years ahead.