“When I was being held in a Turkish prison, I heard some of you prayed for me,” Andrew Brunson, an American missionary imprisoned in Turkey under false charges from 2016 to 2018, said to Beeson Divinity School graduates on April 30. “I’m very grateful for this prayer.”
Many of the 2020-21 divinity graduates had started their studies while Brunson was still in prison as a convicted terrorist. Now he stood before them as their commencement speaker.
“Someday you will see that (by your prayers) you were doing much more than to sustain me and eventually to deliver me from prison, but God was doing something much greater,” said Brunson. “I became a lightning rod that pulled [your] prayer into Turkey and into that region. Thank you.”
Brunson challenged the graduates to prepare to stand firm under persecution.
“I think you are coming into a much more challenging environment than I did when I graduated from seminary 30 years ago,” he said. “This time needs men and women of courage who will remain faithful to Jesus under pressure.”
“I can tell you from experience you need to prepare your hearts now so that when you are under pressure, when you are afraid, you do not run but you stand firm.”
This was the first in-person graduation ceremony since the COVID-19 pandemic started in spring 2020. Spring 2021 Commencement and a Service of Consecration was a combined ceremony for both December 2020 and spring 2021 graduates. This also was Andrew Westmoreland’s last divinity commencement as president of Samford University.
“Some of the greatest moments of joy of my time at Samford has been spent in this room over the past 15 years, worshipping here at Beeson Divinity School,” Westmoreland said. “This year graduation day comes with a renewed understanding of the need for community and the grace that is shared in fellowship. It is good to literally be with you today in Hodges Chapel.”
Ten students received a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. Twenty-six received a Master of Divinity. Gregory Tippins, who died in fall 2020 due to COVID-19, received a Doctor of Ministry degree posthumously.