Mission focus represents one pillar upon which the ministry of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College stand. For more than a century, students have heard God’s voice and followed His call on through their time in New Orleans.
Others, like Mark Johnson, have felt God’s overwhelming affirmation for a mission they already embraced.
Johnson, a third-generation pastor and self-described “baby of the Civil Rights Movement,” began discerning his mission focus—racial reconciliation—as an elementary student in Indianapolis, Indiana. And he has been following that path ever since.
My journey began with being bused from an all-black school to an all-white school. And my father really gave me a biblical disposition, and that biblical disposition was Christ. Everything was Jesus Christ. We love because Jesus loved. We forgive because Jesus forgave. We work together and reconcile because through Christ we are reconciled.
Over time, Johnson followed his call to Washington and Jefferson College—where he became the school’s first African American senior commencement speaker—and a professional basketball career in Germany. He also served at his father’s church in Ohio before earning a master’s degree from Princeton Theological Seminary.
All the while, he focused on building bridges. At Princeton, he also worked with students at a church in Newark, New Jersey. The contrast between inner-city work and Ivy League academia only intensified his commitment to build connections.
That was an amazing journey because I was in the neighborhood working in ministry, but I was also in an Ivy League setting. I had two worlds that I was bringing together, and God was using both of those worlds in order for me to make a connection to people and build bridges.
After graduation, Johnson accepted a pastorate in Cleveland, Ohio, where he also served as chaplain for the Cleveland Indians. It was in Cleveland that he first discovered NOBTS and Leavell College—and found a way to extend his mission focus.
Johnson’s church was considering a move to the Southern Baptist Convention, but some church leaders feared that the SBC was too racist. The denominational leadership of New Orleans pastor Fred Luter calmed many of those fears, but Johnson carried the question of historic racism into his NOBTS studies.
I took the question—“Isn’t this a racist organization?”—and turned it into a doctor of ministry project. I combed through years of work from 1845 to 2017 and looked through about 1,200 resolutions. Some people were lumping everyone into the same category, but I kept saying, “When you think about the Southern Baptist Convention, you have to think about all these different people who are doing great work for the glory of God.”
Later, Johnson and his family moved to New Orleans, in part so he could expand his education. He secured an adjunct position at the school and is now teaching as he works toward his Ph.D. He also has experienced firsthand the generosity of the institution’s donors—and encourages them to keep investing in students.
Donors who invest in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary are guaranteed to see a harvest. There will be souls won to Christ. Students will grow and experience life anew. And more importantly, you’ll see how communities and society are slowly, but surely, changed.
Johnson has embraced the community nurtured at NOBTS and Leavell College. He’s also seen firsthand how “Prepare Here, Serve Anywhere” represents a mindset, not just a motto. And, of course, he’s inviting others to embrace his mission focus.
There are enough people in the Southern Baptist Convention who show more love than hate. They show more willingness to cooperate than not so that we can see change. I am having meetings with pastors who are trying to diversify their leadership. And I am having meetings with students who are challenged to push the level of racial reconciliation further. The solutions are closer than we think.
As you read Mark’s story, we hope you experience his passion and catch a vision for what makes NOBTS and Leavell College so special. And we pray that you will consider how you can support our mission to prepare servants who will walk with Christ, proclaim His truth, and fulfill His mission.
We believe God is doing great things at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College, and we encourage you to be a part of what His work here. Thank you in advance for your investment in our mission. We appreciate it more than we can say.
God bless you and keep you,
If you would like to learn more about how you can answer God’s call in your life and become a partner to one of the students training here, please call us at 1-800-662-8701 ext. 8224
P.S.: For more information about making a financial gift to NOBTS and Leavell College, visit online at nobts.edu/donate