Distinguished Educator Award Winners Named

On Wednesday, July 10, 2024, the Church of God Division of Education will hold the International Educators Luncheon during the 79th International General Assembly. The luncheon is a time to celebrate education around the world and present awards to notable educators.

Since 1976, the Church of God has conferred the Distinguished Educator Award to recipients who have made a unique contribution to education in the Church of God around the globe. The award has evolved into two categories, which are presented during the International Educators Luncheon, held every two years at the Assembly. This year also includes presentation of a third award for Lifetime Achievement. The Church of God Division of Education will be honoring the following educators at the luncheon, held at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana:


Faculty Award – Dr. Yatenciy Bonilla, Vice President of South American Seminary (SEMISUD), will receive the Distinguished Educator Award for Faculty. Dr. Bonilla holds a Ph.D. in Biblical Sciences, is an ordained Bishop of the Church of God, and an expert in ancient and biblical languages. He is the author of several books, some of which are used as textbooks for courses in seminaries and universities, including: Toward an Ethics of Life, Discovering the Mystery of the Biblical Text, Christ and Christianity: Two Great Enemies, New Forms of Power, and The Misery of Human Existence, among others. Additionally, he wrote a series of several volumes titled, Answers to Uncomfortable Questions, as well as publishing more than 100 academic and general reading articles.

Dr. Bonilla is also part of the founding team of the South American Ministerial Seminary when it was established in Quito, Ecuador, where he currently serves as vice president and faculty member. He is also part of the faculty of the Theological University of the Caribbean and frequently teaches courses at various seminaries and universities.

In 2021, Dr. Yattenciy began working as the lead translator on the major project of his life—a translation of the New Testament from Greek to Spanish, with generous footnotes that serve as a biblical commentary. He led the project along with a team of faculty from SEMISUD, successfully completing the translation. It was named the Contemporary Translation of the Bible, affirming the goal of bringing the Word of God to everyone with clear, simple language that easily connects with current reality. This New Testament has been made available digitally and will be presented in its printed version on June 28, 2024, at SEMISUD. The next step is the translation of the Old Testament, a project that he will begin with his team in January 2025.


Leadership Award – Dr. Debbie Murray, Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Lee University, will receive the Distinguished Educator Award for Leadership. Dr. Murray has more than forty years of ministry in teaching and leadership. She holds the Doctorate in Education in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Educational Psychology and the Master of Science in Special Education from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She completed her undergraduate degree at Lee College in Mathematics Education. Dr. Murray served as founding dean of the Helen DeVos College of Education, director of Graduate Studies in Education, director of the Teacher Education Program, and chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning.

In 2011, Murray was awarded the rank of Distinguished Professor of Education by the Lee University Board of Directors, one of only three Lee professors to hold the rank at that time. She has been recognized for excellence in advising and awarded the Distinguished Educator Award from Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society in Education, and an honorary member of Phi Eta Sigma. Murray was also honored as Distinguished Alumna of the Year by Delta Zeta Tau and by the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. She was awarded the Charles W. Conn Historical Writing Award in 2020 for her chapter, “A Life Around Lee” in High Callings: Vocational Narratives of Lee University Faculty.

In addition to her service at Lee, Dr. Murray has served as president of the Tennessee Association for Independent Colleges of Teacher Education, chair of the Southern Accreditation Council for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, and chair of the Chief Academic Officers Council for the Appalachian College Association. She was also inducted into the Cleveland High School Alumni Hall of Fame.


Lifetime Achievement Award – Dr. Oliver McMahan, who passed away earlier this year, was chosen posthumously to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. At the time of his passing, Dr. McMahan was serving as Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness and Accreditation, and Professor of Benevolence at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. During his career, Dr. McMahan held the positions of associate professor of Bible, dean of Students, and pastor of the Total Life Center at Northwest Bible College in Minot, North Dakota; dean and professor at the Jimmy Swaggart Seminary and Bible College; member of the Executive Council of the Church of God from 1994–1996, 2006–2010, and 2012–2016; and member of the General Board of Education 1992–2000. He was chair for seven years of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) Committee on Race and Ethnicity (CORE).

He served more than 25 years as a pastor, associate, and evangelist. Dr. McMahan also assisted pastors and churches in church leadership, strategy development, and counseling. He served as senior associate pastor of Mount Olive Church of God and head pastor of Cross Pointe Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee. He founded and directed the Seminary Counseling Center. In addition, he directed non-medical personnel for the Cleveland Good Samaritan Medical Clinic and served as a member of the Board for Behavioral Research Services in Cleveland, Tennessee.

He published many writings, including Becoming a Shepherd (1995), Scriptural Counseling (1995), Deepening Discipleship (2000), The Caring Church (2002), The Caring Christian (2004), and full quarter expositions in the Evangelical Sunday School Lesson Commentary (1982–2002). He was also editor and author for definitions and articles in the Complete Biblical Library (Greek and Hebrew) (1991), and chapters in Distance Writing and Computer Assisted Interventions in Psychiatry and Mental Health (2002), Workbooks in Prevention and Psychotherapy: A Practical Guide for Clinicians (2004), Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls (2004), and articles in the Journal of Psychology and Theology.

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