Into All Nations: Haggard Graduate School of Theology Turns 25

by Meko Kapchinsky

In this highly wired postmodern society, social networking sites, Starbucks, and pluralism dominate. This cultural snapshot, albeit limited in scope, greatly differs from the world that existed when Haggard Graduate School of Theology (HGST) welcomed its inaugural class of roughly 100 a quarter century ago. Yet despite societal changes, the school’s resolve to “prepare people for effective, practical ministry in the Church throughout the world”1 remains constant. On the occasion of its 25th anniversary in March 2008, HGST celebrated that unfaltering focus as its graduates continue their life-changing work in the United States and abroad, using both the traditional pulpit and innovative means to share the Gospel.

Embracing Wesleyan theology, HGST makes sure that while protecting the school from external fluctuations, it does not discount the changing needs of those it serves. The school carefully and creatively equips students with the necessary tools for their particular ministry venue, whether talking to a roomful of people in South Africa about spiritual temperaments, delivering a five-point sermon on a Sunday morning, or hanging out in a local tattoo shop engaging people in conversation about the meaning of life.

“The sole reason we teach in the classroom is so students can apply what they learn in the field,” said Sarah Sumner, Ph.D., professor of theology and ministry. “We do not function as mere dispensers of knowledge—our calling requires that we train students, particularly ministry workers, in God’s wisdom through His Word.”

Through that training and wisdom, Myra Perrine, D.Min. ’04, gained insight into the unique temperaments of spiritual leaders. What began as her dissertation on the most effective impact of these dispositions in ministry, resulted in a published book, What’s Your God Language?: Connecting with God Through Your Unique Spiritual Temperament (Tyndale, 2007). Her volume builds on her work with Church Resource Ministries (CRM), a missions organization that develops leaders to start and strengthen churches worldwide, where Perrine offers training, pastoral counseling, and spiritual direction to some of CRM’s 325 missionaries in 22 nations.

“When it was time to write my final doctoral project, I asked the Lord to give me something that would empower His body to better navigate the very real spiritual challenges I’d seen many Christians face,” said Perrine, also an adjunct professor in HGST. “The Lord prompted me to study how ministry leaders best and most naturally relate to Him—analyzing spiritual formation through the lens of ‘spiritual temperaments.’ Pastoral teams now have a clear handle on how to create meaningful opportunities for worship and service within the body of Christ by using the spiritual practice tools I’ve developed.”

While Perrine poured herself into the dissertation/book project, she gives credit where it’s due—to God and her professors. “It felt like iron sharpening iron with all my professors,” said Perrine. “They weren’t just doling out information; they led my fellow students and me on a journey. They compelled us to follow their example of integrating Scripture with life.”

“We are disciple-makers,” said Sumner. “We see the calling of God on these students and we seek to come alongside and help them change lives for the Lord.” But Perrine, who recently returned from South Africa, saves the highest praise for her dissertation advisor. “No one has ever required of me the type of rigor and synthesis that I experienced with my doctoral advisor, Dr. Steve Peisner,” said Perrine. “He pushed me like a coach pushes an athlete, challenging me to be exacting, thorough, and original in my thought processes.”

That push toward critical thinking with a twist opens fresh and unorthodox opportunities for people like Augie Barajas, M.Div. ’07, whose ministry in Africa involves introducing gang members to the liberating message of Jesus Christ. Since 2001, his efforts have yielded a national television appearance in Nigeria, allowed him to participate in the opening of a men’s rehabilitation home in Liberia, and led him to church plant in Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Barajas attributes the favorable reception, particularly within Africa’s inner-city population, to his approach. “We attempt to meet people at their particular point of crisis, dealing with the whole person,” said Barajas. “We introduce intervention and prevention for men, women, and children through the ministry of rehabilitation. Specifically, we accomplish this by pioneering and establishing churches in strategic locations throughout Africa.”

“The church is God’s idea. It’s God’s idea for every ethnic group, every language group, every family group, every nation to know the reality of Christ’s love and to worship God with other followers of Christ,” said David Wright, Ph.D., dean of the School of Theology. “That’s our mission, to prepare people like Augie who will make this command a reality throughout the world.”

Barajas admits that his own background, which during his youth mirrored the lives of those he ministers to, lends credibility to his outreach efforts. “Having been born in Mexico City, where poverty and social needs prevail, I get it,” said Barajas. “I relate to their pain, suffering, loss of hope, and the oppressiveness poverty inflicts. This empathy enables me to connect with them on equal footing.”

And while the work sometimes pushes Barajas to his human limits, he draws inspiration from the African people. “These people demonstrate a level of faith, respect, and humility that encourages me,” said Barajas. “They possess an overwhelming joy and gratefulness despite their profound poverty and social needs.”

This Victory Outreach pastor, who also leads Victory Outreach United Prayer International, traces his transatlantic ways to the call God placed on his heart shortly after coming to Christ. “I received the burden to pray for and evangelize the continent of Africa, which was planted in my heart by the vision of my senior pastor, Sonny Arguinzoni,” said Barajas.

Eric Botelho’s ministry work lands him a little closer to home—Orange County, to be exact. Botelho, a 2010 Master of Arts in Christian Education candidate who works for Mountain View Covenant Church in Ladera Ranch, California, never imagined he would end up as a Jesus follower, let alone a seminarian. “Man, the last thing I wanted was to become a Christian, but then Jesus got a hold of me and just arrested my heart, and I was done for,” said Botelho, who studied political science at the University of Southern California. “After I found Jesus and began doing lay ministry, I still had no intention of attending Bible school. My worst fear about going was that I’d get indoctrinated and lose my fire. Not so. I’m enjoying every step of my education.”

Botelho’s pre-Christ life of drugs, alcohol, and partying took him to a place of brokennes. But in God’s economy, all things work together for good. Botelho’s past allows him entrée into circles that would make others uneasy.

He divides his time between serving as “shop pastor” at the True @ Heart Tattoo shop in Lake Forest, California; hosting fundraising events in area clubs and bars to help support organizations like Zoe and International Princess Project, both of which combat overseas child trafficking; and running Sanctuary, an informal midweek church service that draws more than 400 people. On the horizon for this unconventional evangelist is the opening of a sober living home, in which Botelho will reside while discipling the residents through word (Bible studies) and deed (modeling a substance-free lifestyle).

Botelho admits that his ministry settings definitely aren’t traditional. “I don’t fear going out to the bars or tattoo parlors,” he said. “I’ve taken a bit of a beating because of my methodology, but if you look at the Gospels, Jesus was cruising, and He hung out where the people were. You see that time and time again, ¬¬especially with Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well.”

While that story always resonated with Botelho, it gained special significance for him as he learned specific methods of in-depth Bible study through his classes, and he began peeling back the layers of the account. Consequently, it serves as a cornerstone for Botelho’s outreach. “When Jesus approaches the woman, He knows exactly who she is and what she’s been up to. But before she says anything, Jesus offers her living water. He didn’t ask her to do or say anything. He just offered her the water,” said Botelho. “In turn, she goes out and tells others about Jesus. I’m the woman at the well. I want to go out to others as well.”

Botelho’s various ministry platforms might strike some as beyond the pale, but his technique is sound, and in fact, reflects what HGST professors teach. “You can’t argue methodology over Scripture. Methodology isn’t sacred and that’s why people like Eric are critical to spreading the Gospel,” said Gordon Coulter, Ed.D., professor of ministry. “We need to ask why so many people are in Starbucks and not in churches. It’s because we live in a postmodern society and many of them aren’t even aware they have a spiritual need.”

Coulter contends that society values action over cheap talk. “Serving is the new apologetic for witnessing,” said Coulter, who also provides spiritual guidance as chaplain for the West Covina Police Department. “We teach our students to practice something called a ‘ministry of presence,’ which allows the power of God to speak through you, rather than you doing the talking. Truly effective ministry requires that you earn credibility within your particular culture first. That speaks volumes above any sermon or choir.”

In another 25 years, the pendulum of change may introduce another wave of cultural morés and trends, rendering social networking sites obsolete and the juggernaut Starbucks overextended. But HGST will continue to graduate men and women whose hearts beat for the lost and desire to see people made whole by the Good News of the Gospel, whether that takes them halfway around the world to Africa or to a local tattoo parlor in Orange County.

1HGST mission statement

Meko Kapchinsky is a freelance writer living in Southern California.