Fruitland graduates reflect wide diversityby Mike Creswell, Cooperative Program
Fruitland Baptist Bible College granted nearly 30 degrees, certificates and diplomas in a commencement ceremony at the school’s main Hendersonville campus on Friday, June 8.
Graduates and visitors heard Professor Paul Sorrells share life lessons from Daniel, the Old Testament prophet who stood up for God in Babylon after King Nebuchadnezzar took most of the Israelites into captivity there.
A big part of that ceremony story is how those graduates reflect Fruitland’s continuing and successful efforts to prepare increasingly diverse North Carolina Baptists for ministry and church leadership.
For example, as Sorrells preached, Roberto Fernandez translated the message into Spanish. Fernandez directs Fruitland’s Spanish language program. The Hispanic graduates sang “Amazing Grace” in Spanish (Sublime Gracia).
“Sitting here tonight is what the church should really look like,” Scott Thompson told the congregation as he pointed out the many different people among the graduates. “This is what heaven is going to look like,” he declared, citing Genesis 12 where God promised to bless all the nations. Thompson is vice president for academic affairs.
Sixteen graduates were Hispanics. Two had studied in Spanish at the main Hendersonville campus while others had studied at satellite campuses: 10 studied at the Charlotte campus, two at Statesville and two at Sylva. They earned either a certificate of Christian leadership or diploma in Christian ministry.
Two of those Hispanic graduates, Victor Oses and Oscar Muñoz, are church planters who have worked closely with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSCNC) Church Planting Team. Oses will be 69 in August. “Graduating at his age — can you believe that,” said his wife, Maria.
She explained that her short-cut hair was not for fashion, but is a result of cancer treatments she has undergone in recent months. She is now cured and said Victor has also survived heart problems. The graduation was not just about completing school but receiving a gift of healing from God for more service, she said. The new church Oses leads in Concord has been growing steadily and recently added a praise band for Sunday worship.
Graduate José A. Espinal has started two Baptist churches in the Lawndale/Shelby area, works with the Greater Cleveland County Baptist Association and also has been an active teacher with the BSCNC’s Hispanic program.
One of the nine men who received associate of religion/Christian ministries degrees was Eh Ta Moo, a native of Myanmar (Burma), who has been in the United States only six years. A member of Myanmar’s Karen people group, Moon was set to leave the next day for St. Paul, Minnesota, where he was to become youth pastor of a Karen congregation.
Four graduates made the long trek from their homes in the Rocky Mount area to receive their Christian leadership certificates. Fruitland has offered classes there for several years in cooperation with North Roanoke Baptist Association and local churches. That outreach program of Fruitland is coordinated by Bill Mackey.
One graduate’s name is not on the official graduates list. Kathleen Williams was recognized as the first person to complete a new “partners in ministry” course coordinated by Lisa Horton, wife of Fruitland President David Horton.
This quarter, 13 wives have taken the wide-ranging course which offers insights on how to be a minister’s wife. “We brought in six or seven different wives to share what their life is like,” said Mrs. Horton, “things like how to live in a glass house and how to live on a minister’s salary.” The husband of Mrs. Williams, Andrew Williams, graduated from Fruitland during the ceremony. They are from Hope Mills.
Fruitland President David Horton presided over the commencement ceremony, reminding visitors that, as they contribute through the Cooperative Program in their churches, they are helping support Fruitland. About half of Fruitland’s annual budget comes from the Cooperative Program, Horton said. Fruitland is owned and operated by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
“Bloom where you are planted,” Paul Sorrells urged students in the baccalaureate sermon based on Daniel 1. “There are no ideal children, no ideal wife, no ideal class, no ideal church,” he said, recommending that the graduates focus on doing well where they are serving rather than using time and emotional energy focused on moving to a greener pasture.
Sorrells’ wife and three daughters were present to hear his final message to Fruitland, because his retirement was final after the commencement service. Sorrells, 82, has served 23 years as the school’s top-level English professor. His father graduated from Fruitland in 1951, soon after it was started, and was known as one who encouraged other pastors to attend Fruitland.
Sorrells taught at both Gardner-Webb University and Mars Hill University before he started to teach at Fruitland in 1995. He served 17 years as pastor of Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Shelby and while teaching at Fruitland has served as interim pastor of 12 churches consecutively.
He said his experience has led him to conclude that negotiation is usually more effective than issuing ultimatums, referring to how Daniel negotiated over eating the king’s food. If he had given an ultimatum and gone on a hunger strike, the palace guards would have happily watched him starve to death, he said.
“Don’t back yourself into a corner unless you know God is in that corner,” he warned.
Recounting how Daniel called in friends to pray with him over interpreting the king’s dream, Sorrells said that represents another life lesson in the text. He pointed out that Daniel spoke respectfully to the king.
“I beg you to treat every person in your community with respect. I think that’s the way Jesus did,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Creswell serves as senior consultant for Cooperative Program development with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.