Southeastern equips family to serve better together
Lauren Pratt | December 14, 2017
As Lesley Hildreth and Rachel Hildreth Breniser walked across the stage of Binkley Chapel on Dec. 8 to receive their degrees from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern, it represented not only personal accomplishments but also school’s influence on the Hildreth family.
“Southeastern is a key vehicle that has enabled us to serve the Lord better and serve the Lord together,” said Scott Hildreth, director of the Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern, husband to Lesley and father to Rachel.
A Call to GO
It was 10 years ago that the Hildreth family moved to Wake Forest, North Carolina from Central Asia. Scott still remembers the time when he wrestled with the call God had given him and his family to leave the mission field.
Both he and his wife Lesley, along with their two children had served with the International Mission Board in Central Asia for two years and had spent another six years as missionaries in Berlin, Germany.
“I remember standing on a hill in [Central Asia] just really praying and asking God, ‘Why would you want us to leave? Look at all these lost people around us,’” he said. “And it was as if the Lord spoke and said, ‘Yeah, but you’re only one person here. Just think if you could have hundreds of people sent out [and] trained for this.’”
The Lord was preparing the way for them to come to Southeastern initially to pursue theological education. Scott knew long before he was in Wake Forest that he wanted to pursue a Ph.D. so that he could use his gift to teach.
Ten years later, they look back at the time they have spent at Southeastern with great appreciation as they have built not only a solid theological education but deep friendships as well.
“The education I’ve gotten here has definitely been valuable to equip me further to help women in the local church be discipled and mentored,” said Lesley.
Having prior overseas ministry experience, Lesley saw the value of what a theological education could have provided for her as a missionary. After Scott received his Ph.D., she began her Master of Arts in Christian studies.
For Lesley, she has seen how the combination of seminary courses and prioritizing time in God’s Word strengths the ability to better equip others’ in their spiritual walks.
“It helps you teach others who will not ever step in a seminary classroom how to look at Scripture…It’s exciting to watch other people fall in love with the Lord through reading and studying the Word of God when they’ve never had the opportunity before,” said Lesley.
Lesley models this, too, with her role at The Summit Church as the women’s discipleship director, where she oversees women’s ministry at nine of the eleven church campuses, totaling in approximately 6,000 women.
She is thankful for the 10 years spent encouraging and equipping Southeastern women on campus through teaching a missions preparation course through Southeastern’s Biblical Women’s Institute. Both her and Scott have also had the opportunity to train and encourage Southeastern’s international church planting students overseas each January when they come together for their course modules for the past 10 years. Eight of those years, Lesley was able to go and teach the wives for the first week.
She is still maintaining those relationships she has built on and off campus with Southeastern women.
“I think that’s probably been my personal greatest blessing of being on this campus and around this campus for the last 10 years,” she said.
Scott and Lesley look back and see how God has given them the opportunity to mobilize many students to take the gospel all over the world.
“I have the chance to sit in here and quite literally be part of…a movement through Southeastern [where] we quite literally have sent hundreds of people around the world,” said Scott.
For Rachel, she experienced a spiritual turnaround during her time in theological education. Between growing up on the mission field and attending the school where her parents worked at Southeastern, Rachel’s spiritual life was not something she owned for herself – that is, not until the summer leading into her sophomore year.
“I went on the Crossover Baltimore trip and the Lord worked through that trip and changed my life,” said Rachel.
Prior to Crossover Baltimore, a mission trip preceding the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, she had been getting ready to transfer to UNC Charlotte and was ready to “run from [her] faith” as she recalls.
But in Baltimore, she experienced the love of believers unlike she had before and it came during a difficult event in her life.
“I had just not had Christian people care about me like that so it really made me reinvestigate my faith and choose it for myself instead of something I just did for my parents,” she said.
This experience radically changed her outlook on faith and even theological education. After spending one semester at UNC-Charlotte in Fall 2014, Rachel was back on Southeastern’s campus for good in Spring 2015. This time, she had a new motivation.
“When I came back I really had a different motivation instead of just being there to be there,” said Rachel. “I think the work level of the college is harder than just a public university so you really have to have a motivation to be here in order to survive.”
Personally, she has seen her community grow through getting plugged into a small group and working on campus.
Academically, Rachel was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from The College at Southeastern. Along with managing school and work, Rachel’s time in college came with a new marriage and, right before graduating, a new baby.
But through all of this, she remembers professors who cared for her. One such time was shortly after she had been married. Managing school and a marriage was hard and she reached out to her advisor, Dr. Adrianne Miles, for help due to falling behind in class.
“She [was] really was encouraging… She sent Scripture [that was] encouraging and helpful,” said Rachel.
Scott echoes the same sentiment as he has seen firsthand how the Southeastern community has been an encouragement to his kids.
“When [our kids have] struggled, people on this campus have prayed for them. When they’ve succeeded, people on this campus have applauded them. When they get married, people on this campus go to their wedding,” said Scott. “We talk about, ‘Hey this is like a family’ but in many ways it is because we raised our kids here and we’ve been here for 10 years.”
There have been challenges and sacrifices in each of the academic journeys for Scott, Lesley and Rachel.
Whether it was sacrificing social time to finish an assignment, pushing forward in school instead of quitting or moving the whole family to a new town to follow God’s call to further theological training, Scott, Lesley and Rachel are seeing the fruits of their labor.
More importantly, they are getting to see how God’s faithfulness in calling their family to leave the mission field is exceeding all that they could have hoped for.