Brandon Kiesling was raised in the church, but as a young man, he lost his way to drugs and crime. His first night incarcerated, he was jailed with an accused murderer. Kiesling faced a prison term that he knew he deserved. But months later, a judge suspended his sentence.

He was surprised and grateful; it was an unexpected outcome. “But it wasn’t the best day of my life,” he says. “The best day of my life was when a friend shared the Gospel with me.” A year later, Kiesling was called to ministry.

Kiesling was one of 38 Southwestern Seminary students honored at an April 26 awards luncheon, and a featured speaker. With proud family members looking on, the recipients were acclaimed, one by one, by the deans of their respective schools. Kiesling, who will graduate this semester with a Ph.D. in evangelism, was awarded the Malcolm R. McDow Evangelism Award. A student at Southwestern since 2010, he said his studies have given him “a passion for the Lord and an expectation that God can save anyone, anywhere.” He thanked faculty and fellow students for shaping his thinking: “I stand on the shoulders of all of you today.”

The program also featured pianist Alfred Situmorang, a master’s in church music student who received the Wayne (Polly) McNeely Piano Award. He performed a moving arrangement of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “America the Beautiful.”

Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson praised donors who make student scholarships possible. “Here’s what’s going to happen to you: You’re going to die.” He paused. “And when you cross the river Jordan, someone is going to come to you and say, ‘Thank you for helping me to know Christ. You gave the money to train a man who brought the Gospel to me.’” Gifts to educate seminary students “are gifts of eternal significance and reward,” he said.

Patterson encouraged future evangelists to have patience, even if God’s timeline seemed to not make sense. He recalled the story told in Luke of a father’s request of Jesus to save the life of his dying child; Jesus agreed, and on the way to their family home, they were delayed, and the girl died. When they arrived, friends and family scorned Jesus, but He asked the group to leave, then told the girl to stand, and she rose to life.

“You’re going to be troubled by a thousand interruptions,” Patterson said. “But God has a plan. Can you trust God in the deepest valleys of life? It’s in the valleys where you find out where your faith really is.”