FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – From Seminary Hill in Fort Worth, Texas, to a seminary on a hill in Havana, Cuba, a partnership has been forged, making it possible for Cuban pastors to receive the theological training they need to serve the Lord in a country where the gospel is spreading. For three years, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has been training professors in the areas of evangelism and missions at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Havana, which was on the verge of closing several years ago.

The Cuban seminary has since experienced astounding growth, increasing enrollment from 68 students in 2006 to more than 650 students in 2008 through its main campus and seven extension centers across Western Cuba. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Seminary, and Daniel Sanchez, the Vernon D. and Jeanette Davidson Chair of Missions and director of the Scarborough Institute for Church Growth at Southwestern, participated in the Cuban seminary’s graduation ceremonies at Calvario Baptist Church in Havana, June 6.

“The historic occasion of the graduation of 150 students from a seminary that a few years ago was on the brink of extinction with only two students enrolled was like attending the day of Pentecost,” Patterson said. During the ceremony, Sanchez awarded seven professors with their “licenciatura” degrees (equivalent to masters degrees), and then those professors handed diplomas to the students they had been able to train since completing their degree plan.

“The large assembly of people meeting at Calvario Baptist Church seemed to have the smile of God upon all that transpired,” Patterson said. “I was particularly grateful for the leadership of our own Dr. Dan Sanchez as well as Hermes Soto, pastor of McCall Memorial Baptist Church and the president of the Baptist Theological Seminary in Havana, and oncologist Dr. Victor Samuel Gonzalez, the president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba. The partnership of the Cuban seminary with Southwestern will continue to make a profound difference in the future both for Cuban Baptists and for us.”

Sanchez mentioned his joy in leading the project. “In light of the fact that the Cuban people are responding so well to the gospel at this time, it is indeed a privilege for us here at Southwestern Seminary to partner with the seminary in Cuba in its task of training leaders to serve all of the churches that are emerging as a result of a church planting movement that is taking place at this point.”

The theme of the graduation was “Servants According to the Heart of God,” and the team from Southwestern had several unique opportunities to see the servant hearts of Cuban Baptists during their visit, including several house churches.

Patterson agreed, adding, “The house church planting movement in Cuba is easily the most remarkable that I have observed in all of my extensive travel throughout the world. The Cubans have succeeded not only in planting literally hundreds of new churches but also in planting churches that remain confessionally Baptist and ardently evangelistic. In many cases, eight to 10 of these house churches relate directly to a historic congregation and consequently meet the needs on every level of society.

The team attended Casa Victoria, a local house church located in the poorest part of Havana where more than 150 young people had recently come to faith in Jesus Christ. The majority of them came from a life ruled by alcohol, drugs or prostitution. Inspired by their conversion stories, Patterson remarked, “Seeing the modesty with which these young people dressed and hearing their remarkably cogent and biblical testimonies could not soon be forgotten.”

Southwestern looks forward to continuing its partnership with the Cuban seminary. Every couple of years, Southwestern will bring professors to Fort Worth for concentrated training. In addition, Southwestern professors will visit Cuba to give specialized training to professors in Havana.

“Just a little bit of help and encouragement from us can make a big difference,” said Sanchez. “We were truly inspired by the commitment of Cuban Baptists to the Lord and to the spreading of the gospel.”