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fullsizeoutput_381cA severe thunderstorm is sweeping past my adopted city of Houston, Texas. My Director of Operations and I exchanged a flurry of e-communications sharing our changing opinions of what to do. We were evaluating for over 24 hours what our decision should be on keeping operations going or to shut down our seminary for the safety of our students and staff.

Timing, forecasts, current computer models of the surging storm, and plenty of prayer are all ingredients necessary for a learned decision. We have students who travel long distances to make into classes and we want to notify them ASAP if they don’t have to risk a drive in this horrible weather.

The streets around the seminary are flooding quickly. The rains poured on our part of town so fast that the storm drains couldn’t keep up. Drivers are taking too many risks.

One car tried to pull out of the neighboring parking lot. When it got to the curb, all of us in our building kept saying, “Don’t do it! Go back! It’s too deep!” The water level reached the bottom of the car. Then, it rose up to the bottom of the door.

When the tires were almost totally immersed, it was too late. A full-size SUV went driving by. The wake hit the sedan and you could see the car lurch backwards. It was over for the car.

The hazard light went on, the headlights dimmed, and the driver waded out of his car and sloshed over to the sidewalk. We could all see the dejection on his face. Someone remarked quietly, “That was a nice car too.”

We have an emergency text message system for emergencies like this. We used it to let students know that the seminary was closed due to inclement weather. There wasn’t a single email of complaint.

Now, my whole team who was here for a full day’s work are going to staying until the water subsides enough to escape and scatter for home. Until then, they have gathered in the library and are watching a movie: The Incredibles.

I walked by and heard plenty of laughter.

As long as everyone is safe, we can deal with the closure, the make up day for classes, and the inconvenience of postponing important meetings. Everyone is safe. For that I am very grateful.

photo out of my office window with filters to remove as much reflection as possible

Unknown-2Summer marks the time when vacations, house-projects, hobby-advancements, and sleep-ins can finally be entertained. We all work hard for 9 months and need a break or at least a change of pace. Variety is the spice of life that rejuvenates our soul, right?

Nevertheless, I found a number of amazing souls that challenge that kind of schedule with mind-boggling productivity. They are the summer school students of DTS-Houston. Each one is pursuing their graduate degree with the strategy that deliberately includes summer-time classes into their agenda.

Are you impressed? They don’t let the infamous Houston heat slow them down. When the average person realizes that these budding scholars are not only in hot pursuit of their Masters degree, but they also otherwise occupied, they are taken-back. Often they have family obligations, many with careers where they must interweave their courses with their work schedule, some are intensely occupied with children and spouses, and all are actively volunteering in their churches.

My hat’s off to them. Each one is collectively on my mind as I pray for their academic and spiritual success. My work calls for a very active schedule to undergird the structure that makes their academic pursuits a possibility. It is my delight to do so. I love my job!Unknown-1

We have a world-class collection of faculty to pour their expertise into their lives. These are men and women who choose underpaid positions be they believe in the potential of these bright lights. Our faculty have my undying respect.

With purpose I will leave my office and mingle among the students during their breaks. A smile, a brief exchange, some laughter, occasional prayer, and plenty of conversation reminds me of the importance of my responsibilities. They are vital for them.

Well done DTS-Houston Summer Student Scholars. Keep on living by faith, engaging in the diligent work of your programs, and always remember there are many of us who are diligently praying you through your exercises.

photos by brucefong photography

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When Christianity does something right, there is not a lot of coverage. Do something wrong and it is all over the place. There is no shortage of slams and “there they go again” opinions.

This picture is one of the right things done. These are seminary leaders who are higher education leaders in Houston. Several different seminaries are represented. Their doctrinal beliefs have distinctive differences.

Nevertheless, we meet annually to build our friendships and cheer each other on in the name of our common Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We don’t argue theology, we don’t water down our beliefs or convictions. Instead, we eat Texas BBQ and deepen our friendships. That’s allowed.

Advancing our conversation and camaraderie, precludes what is too easily done. We have dispensed with throwing critical stones. It is tough to slander a friend.

Perhaps our quiet and enjoyable fellowship will help our churches and future leaders to engage in the most important of Christian virtues: love. That option is certainly much more invigorating and edifying than other options. Antagonism is left behind. Judgmental attitudes do not get any fuel out of our time together.

Maybe this kind of seminary engagement will not only bring our participants personal satisfaction but also stir the pot of Christians showing the way to be civil, edifying, and compassionate toward one another.

Who knew that Texas BBQ could be the emissary of the Gospel of Jesus. This is good news. Again the Savior shows us how powerful his redeeming work is.

IMG_1746The world of academics, especially in higher education, climaxes every year with commencement. Every student, faculty member, staff, administrator, family and friend has this same date circled on their calendar. It is the target date to unleash the greatest celebration and ultimate relief all at the same time.

That special occasion is now over. The pomp or circumstance has been completed. Photos now are in high-capacity review.

Graduates are scattering all around the world. Students have geared up for their summer schedules. Faculty has climbed aboard planes for parts un-known to practice what they teach.

A few of us are left on the grounds of our campus. I walked our empty halls. Quiet classrooms lined my walk like hollow cauldrons hungry for purpose again.

This was a wonderful time of personal reflection. God had given a great year. It was the best year in the history of DTS-Houston.

Our largest graduating class in the history of this extension campus walked across the stage this year. We celebrated 58 graduates from our Houston campus. Three of our graduates were lifted up by the entire DTS faculty with Commencement awards. They were the best among all 400 plus graduates from all of our campuses.

In addition this was our 25th year of operation here in Houston. Since 1993 DTS has had classes offered in the 4th largest city of the nation, the most diverse city in the USA, the home of the largest port of America, site of a world-class medical center, and a theater district with seating second only to New York. We who live here love our city and pray that our small part will be a part of making this city a hub for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Names and faces and testimonies swirl in my mind. The graduates whose laughter, tears, conversations, sermons, and prayers serve as a cacophony of memories while I wander our empty halls. This will always be a special class from a special year with a force in numbers that may never be rivaled any time soon.

It has been a privilege, an unparalleled honor to have served these delightful souls. Being a part of their journey to answer God’s call on their lives was a treat. I love them all. This is what God has called me to do and I treasure serving in this ministry.

photo by bruce w. fong photography

11178203_10152408615652614_555981716271583104_nWe are an extension campus.  Our Dallas campus is the headquarters of this amazing ministry.  Yet, our Houston operation is growing by leaps and bounds.

We have 34 graduates this year.  They are mostly local to the great city of Houston and its surrounding region.  Most of their friends and family will have a tough time making the journey to Dallas to celebrate their commencement achievements.

To give local family and friends the chance to be a part of this substantial celebration, our extension campus has a Graduation Chapel one week prior to the central festivities up north.  We honor each graduate with a brief description of what their plans and destination is after they receive their sheep skin.  We fill the chapel service with great worship, intimate prayer, laughter, memories and special recognition of those who stood out with academic and service demonstrations.

I scanned the crowd many times during this chapel service.  The smiles were a mile wide and the tears were free-flowing.  Trying to imagine all of the answered prayers for the many years represented by these graduates is mind-blowing.

Photographs with special people were endless.  The four sheet cakes disappeared as the party spread into the foyer.  Guests drank sweet punch, returned endless times for refreshing chilled water and stopped many times along their course of walking to congratulate and exchange hugs with fellow classmates.

Previous graduates returned to cheer on their friends.  Current students marveled and told me that they had something even more to anticipate.  Relatives were overcome with the joy of reaching this end.

Children were laughing with their parents.  One mom told me that she was rehearsing her Hebrew vocabulary flash cards while in labor for the little one that she hugged next to her leg.  Life and success cannot get much more precious than this.

photo 4Gratitude is over the top on this event.  Conversations about calling, dreams about the ministry to come and deep gratitude of God’s faithfulness were common in the crowd.  With pride I watched out once students now shine as Masters of Theology, Masters of Arts and Over-comers in all sorts of adversities.

Faithful too are the staff and faculty that I am privileged to call “Team Houston”.  They are selfless, persevering and godly men and women who live to serve others.  Here on a Saturday, they are going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that these graduates always remember this day.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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