International students raise the level of “cultural intelligence”
By Margaret L. Farnham
Most Trinity students at some point will engage in a cross-cultural experience—whether they travel to the Middle East, Haiti, El Salvador, Detroit, or the hills of Appalachia. The idea is to broaden their academic experience and service opportunities. Trinity’s mission, after all, is to form leaders for Christ’s church at work in the world.
Sometimes that global experience comes directly to the classroom, as international students on campus impart their personal and professional experiences in discussion, prayer, song, and sermons. This year, nine students representing seven countries and three continents are studying
at Trinity in five different degree programs.
Academic Dean Brad Binau says their presence in the classroom and in worship helps to raise everyone’s “cultural intelligence.”
“We’re more sensitive, more conversant, more knowledgeable, and more globally connected as a result,” he said. By raising our level of cultural intelligence we’re also freed from presuppositions and prejudice, he added.
Some students arrive at Trinity under the auspices of the ELCA and its overseas sister synods. Others have come to Ohio to reunite with family and friends. They have served churches in their native countries and hope to continue that service here.
While they come to advance their education, they also provide their classmates with some unexpected lessons. Their questions spark discussions about tradition and culture, such as why one culture prays before meals or another engages in the practice of casting out evil spirits. Often the conversation moves from the religious to the political, as many come from nations where Christians remain in the minority. Others relay stories of war and religious persecution.
The following stories provide a glimpse into the culture, education, and intended path of service of eight of the nine students from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe who currently study at Trinity; their stories are as varied as the languages they speak.
From Kazakhstan to Columbus
As Anastassiya Novgorodova prepares to graduate this spring, she wonders if there will be work for her in her native Kazakhstan.
This former Soviet republic, now ruled by a government that favors Islam, continues to tighten restrictions on practicing Christians. In October 2011, the Kazakhstan government passed a new “religion law,” restricting and even abolishing some churches. The new law requires churches and all religious organizations to be registered with the government, but only organizations with 50 or more members may register – a stretch for the smaller Lutheran congregations.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kazakhstan has about 4,000 members, but most congregations in the rural areas have only a handful of members. Eight pastors serve that country’s Lutherans. Anastassiya’s father serves as bishop.
“The government doesn’t understand Lutheranism or Christianity. The government doesn’t know what we believe or what the Orthodox believe,” said Anastassiya. She explains that her country’s leadership originally identified as Atheistic and now they identify as Muslim.
“When a young country receives independence, they search for an identity they never had. Nationalism becomes a huge problem. Today, it is difficult to find a job if you are not Kazakh and don’t speak the Kazakh language,” she said.
Anastassiya is of Russian descent. Her father’s family came to Kazakhstan from Russia and her mother’s from the Ukraine. Faith and religion have always been a part of their lives. “We didn’t name it. My grandparents were religious, but they hid their religion,” she said.
“In 1917, after the revolution, my mother’s family was considered a rich peasant family and sent into exile in Kazakhstan,” she said. Her father’s parents were Russian. In the 1930s her paternal grandfather, a mechanic by trade, refused a government order and was sent to a labor camp for 14 years. Her grandmother escaped with her children to Kazakhstan.
Anastassiya’s father and mother eventually met in Kazakhstan and established their home there. In the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, people were allowed to return to church and seminary, and missionaries representing various faith traditions returned to Kazakhstan and Russia. Anastassiya was baptized at age 13 in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Her father had planned to attend a Russian Orthodox seminary when he was introduced to the Lutheran Church. He studied at the Lutheran seminary in St. Petersburg, Russia, and eventually became manager and finally bishop of the Lutheran Church in Kazakhstan.
Her father visited Columbus and the Southern Ohio Synod as a guest of Bishop Callon Holloway. During that visit he was encouraged to send a student here from Kazakhstan; his daughter was the only one who met the qualifications. She already had degrees in religious studies and was teaching at the seminary in St. Petersburg.
Anastassiya entered the Master of Theological Studies program at Trinity in the fall of 2008. She completed that degree and decided to stay and complete a Master of Arts in Youth and Family Ministry.
She said she has always wanted to work at a camp for youth. Her mother works with youth in the church, and helps poor women and children obtain food and health care services in Kazakhstan. Because of the new laws, however, churches cannot do any kind of “mission” work, said Anastassiya.
“During Soviet times, many nationalities lived and worked together. It is very hard now to get a job if you look European like me,” she said. Many of Kazakhstan’s young people who are Russian are leaving the country. Some of her own relatives have returned to Russia.
Anastassiya said she does not think about the future and what she will do here or in her homeland. “This is my life right now. I never knew I would be here. I never knew I would be in St. Petersburg. Where God takes me, there I will be,” she said.
And wherever God takes her—whether St. Petersburg or Trinity—there are lessons to learn.
“In St. Petersburg I don’t know that you were even allowed to question or disagree with a professor. The relationships between students and faculty here are almost equal,” she said.
In Kazakhstan she lived in a large, bustling city. “Here I can be relaxed,” she said.
She fears that some at Trinity may have found her to be unfriendly at first. She explains that in her country people do not say hello to one another on the street, or smile at one another.
“They would think you are crazy,” she said.
In the Kazakhstan culture people do not reflect on feelings. “I don’t even know if we have therapists; I never heard of them. We don’t talk about our problems,” she said.
Courses like Person in Ministry that ask students to tell their “call story” or reflect on how their families of origin might impact their behavior, are as challenging as the language itself. Just understanding the vocabulary like “call” was a new experience, she said.
Today, Anastassiya finds herself growing and changing and adopting the language of her classmates.
“An American education is valuable all over the world, even a theological education,” she said.
But that is not all. “I have seen changes in myself…I feel more satisfied with myself as a human being,” she said.
Out of nothing…something
Joan Slocum in many ways personifies Liberia’s turbulent history. She was raised in an orphanage by the descendants of freed slaves, a mother by the ninth grade, a survivor of two civil wars, and a member of a brigade of women who steered their nation’s leaders onto the path of peace.
Many stories of faith and grace are born of Joan’s experiences. She occasionally shares them in the seminary classroom and with the greater Trinity community. Others rest beneath the surface of her quiet demeanor.
“The foundation on which I stand is this: God is able to do something out of nothing. My life is nothing, but God is able to do something out of my for-nothing life,” said Joan(pronounced Jo-ann).
The Lutheran Church has had a presence in Liberia since the first missionaries arrived there in 1860, and its membership has grown steadily over the years. Joan’s biological parents were Lutheran and her grandmother was the first Lutheran evangelist in the Sanayea District in north-central Liberia.
When Joan was 6 years old her parents relinquished custody of her to Julia Elizabeth Slocum, the daughter of freed slaves who ran the Slocum Orphanage. Joan said her parents wanted her to have an opportunity at an education.
“My father knew I was in good hands,” she said.
When Joan became pregnant in high school her adoptive mother wanted her to marry due to local policy, but her grandfather ordered her to return to her village and not marry.
“He told me if I believe in God that God will make me who I am supposed to be. He told me to return to the village and read the Bible, and believe and trust,” she said.
Back in her village she listened as her father, a deacon, read the Bible in his native dialect. And she continued to dream about returning to school in the city.
“Julia Slocum used to talk to us about life and the benefit of being educated. I wanted to prove to her that her effort to get me out of the village was not for nothing; that even though I fell I would get up again,” she said.
A cousin eventually helped her move to a small town outside the capital city of Monrovia, where Joan enrolled in high school. She went on for teacher training, but the war between rebel groups and the Liberian Army interrupted her studies at the University of Liberia.
In 1997, Joan enrolled in Gbarnga School of Theology, a protestant seminary in Monrovia now under the umbrella of the Lutheran and United Methodist churches. After 10 years marked by financial strain, civil war, and the care of two sons and 10 other children, Joan finally received her Bachelor of Religious Education degree in 2006.
During that time she also worked for the Lutheran Church in Liberia’s Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Programme, which provides counseling to the victims of 14 years of civil war, especially the women who suffered many abuses. She also worked for the Christian Women Peace Initiative established by Leymah Gbowee, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. The peace initiative galvanized thousands of Liberian women – including Joan – and pressured the warring factions to end that country’s civil war.
“We just felt enough was enough…We came together as the women of Liberia and spoke with one voice to be heard by the international world, so the war lords would come to reason,” she said.
Earlier this year, Joan shared her experiences with the Trinity community following a presentation of the documentary film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Students, staff, and faculty learned first-hand about the war and the commitment of Liberia’s women to end it.
As a volunteer with the Lutheran church, Joan also helped to conduct peace-building workshops throughout her region. “Some people had gone into the bush to hide [during the war]. When the fighting stopped, we had to encourage them to rebuild their structures. We brought them supplies. If we had a car we drove them. Otherwise, we would walk,” she said.
“We went into communities where people were traumatized and arguing… and we helped to rebuild the community,” she said.
Joan’s husband, a lawyer in Liberia, was nearly killed during Liberia’s civil war (1989-2003). He fled to the United States in 1993 on a visitor’s visa, took asylum, and became a citizen.
“The plan was that I would join him, but I could not get a visa. I went to the American Embassy four different times, but they were afraid I would not come back,” she said. They remained apart for the next 14 years.
Joan became acquainted with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who stood beside Gebowee in establishing the peace initiative and who eventually was elected Liberia’s president. Sirleaf ’s mother had supported the orphanage where Joan once lived, and Joan worked on Sirleaf ’s presidential campaign in 2004 and 2005.
“After the election I needed some rest, so I asked the president if she could help me get a visa,” she said. With the help of Sirleaf and Joan’s American foster brother, the Rev. W.R. Slocum II, Joan eventually was able to join her husband here in 2007.
Joan learned about Trinity from the coordinator for the Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Programme, the Rev. Korboi Weegie, who received his S.T.M. degree from Trinity in 2000. She also knew fellow classmate and current student Alexander Sumo, who invited her to help serve the African International Lutheran Mission, a congregation under development in Columbus and supported by the Southern Ohio Synod.
Many West Africans call Columbus home. The African International Lutheran Mission has about 75 members.
A student in the M.Div. program, Joan hopes to go on internship in two years.
The English language, the papers, and the textbooks offer a unique challenge for her. In war-torn Liberia they often had to start and stop their educational programs. They had no access to computers, and textbooks were few and far between.
“We had very little material to deal with,” she said.
Now she is faced with numerous books and reading assignments, and at times feels overwhelmed.
“Trinity has a lot of good and brilliant professors who are willing to accept and build you up. They ask, ‘How can I make this happen for you?’ I am very grateful for that,” she said.
She hopes one day to impact the lives of others in a positive way, and perhaps return to Liberia where her father, son, and 2-year-old grandson continue to live. A second son resides in North Carolina, where he received a master’s degree in chemistry.
“It was my wish and plan to come to America,” she said. And she continues to believe the words of her grandfather, the Rev. William Slocum: “God is an enabling God; He can make something out of nothing.”
No way to avoid the joy of serving God
The opportunity to continue theological study at Trinity Lutheran Seminary seemed like a logical next step for Alexander Sumo, a lifelong Lutheran from Liberia.
In the years before coming to the United States he worked for several Lutheran churches and in the area of development for the Lutheran World Federation. He had served as a vicar and a pastor, and from 2003 to 2008 he headed a program that provides HIV/AIDS education, counseling, and prevention.
“My mother was a Sunday school teacher, and a lot of people said they saw the gift in me. Even in high school I was a campus minister for the high school,” he said.
Alexander was born and raised in Monrovia. His father, N. Alexander Y. Sumo, was a graduate of West Point in the United States, and returned to serve as a general in his country’s national army during the civil war in the early 1990s. He eventually was forced to flee the country and for some time the family was uncertain of his fate. They eventually found him in a refugee camp after the fighting subsided.
The 1990s spawned a decade of challenge for Liberia. The nation’s two civil wars interrupted school and separated families. Many lost homes and abandoned their hope of an education.
Alexander’s parents wanted their son to be a medical doctor, but Alexander wanted to go to seminary. He completed his undergraduate work in public administration and sociology from the University of Liberia, including a year of study at the University of Kentucky in 2004-05. He then received his bachelor’s degree in theology from Gbarnga School of Theology.
“In Liberia it is not easy to go to seminary. A lot of people are older, in their 40s. They want to make sure you are called beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
Alexander explained that the reason for such scrutiny can be found in Liberia’s political history. Many government officials have claimed to be Christian to win votes, but their promises turn to corruption once they take office.
Alexander just wanted to serve the church, and he continued to preach and teach throughout college. “There was always a feeling that God was calling me to serve,” he said.
He also felt called to return to the United States to continue his education, so he applied for and was granted a Diversity Visa. “A western education gives you an edge in your own country and in the church,” said Alexander.
He came to Columbus in 2008 with his wife, Deddeh, and children, and began work as an operations associate in the national logistics center of Cardinal Health, a provider of pharmaceuticals and other health care products. He also became acquainted with other West Africans from Liberia, Ghana, and Nigeria.
“Some said, ‘You are a pastor. Can you start a church where there is an understanding of our culture?’” he said. He continued to meet with people who wanted to share their stories of Africa and their worship traditions. He even offered pastoral care from his home.
Ultimately he approached the Southern Ohio Synod of the ELCA to discuss development of a church that would serve Columbus’ growing African community. That small group soon became a Synodically Authorized Worshipping Community (SAWC) and is now a “church under development.” Alexander quit his job at Cardinal Health to become the pastor fulltime, and the congregation found a home at Faith Lutheran Church in the Columbus suburb of Whitehall.
“The ministry grew very fast. We started with maybe six or seven, and in one year we grew to 30. The next year we had 50 or 60. The goal is to become a full-fledged congregation by 2014, and we hope to have community-based programs,”he said.
The Lutheran church in Africa is a place where people come daily for a variety of programs. “I want to have a place where people can come every day….A lot of folks are out of jobs and children are on the street doing drugs. We need a place for people to come and sit and talk,” he said. He wants a place where they can reconnect to their “African story.”
“Drugs and violence is not the story we know. If you are African, you need to know where you come from. You have to attach value to the human being,” Alexander said. Alexander was offered a job as secretary general for the church in Liberia, but he turned it down. “I want to see this congregation become a full ELCA congregation,” he said.
He entered the ELCA’s candidacy program in May 2009 and applied for enrollment in Trinity’s Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) and Master of Arts in Youth and Family Ministry programs. His S.T.M. thesis will encompass the topic of pastoral leadership and leading the church through conflict in Africa.
“I didn’t think I would come and start a church, but the joy of serving God was something I could not avoid. God is faithful,” he said.
Alexander ultimately would like to complete a Ph.D. in development work, a desire fueled by his experience with LWF and with a program that took him to Appalachia while a student at the University of Kentucky in 2004.
“I realize the church needs to respond to the need in the world,” he said.
“It is a privilege to be at Trinity, because I feel a whole new hope. I see the kind of urge to prepare people to be public leaders in the world with integrity,” he added.
Following God's Decision
As a high school student in Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province in far northeastern China, Qian Liu had a longterm plan for her life. She would travel to the United States to complete her undergraduate degree in music, attend an Ivy League university noted for piano performance, and ultimately become a professor of music.
While working on her bachelor’s degree in music at Capital University, she took a part-time job playing the piano in a local church. And something happened to her plan.
“People would say that my music touched them,” she said.
The church was more forgiving than the concert hall. The stress of the stage disappeared in the sanctuary.
Today, Qian Liu, known to her friends as “Yoyo,” finds herself learning about liturgy and the Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal in the Master of Arts in Church Music Program at Trinity.
“I never knew there was a degree in church music,” she said.
A classmate at Capital invited her to play a recital at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. He also told her about the seminary and asked her, “What do you have a passion for?”
“I decided I don’t want to be a professor. You can’t just want it for what it looks like. I want to achieve my potential and enjoy what I do,” she said.
While working on her bachelor’s degree in piano performance at Capital, a professor from Ohio State University filled in for one of her Capital professors. She enjoyed the professor and decided to learn more about OSU. They offered her a fellowship and she earned her Master of Music in Piano Performance in one year and one quarter. Less than two months after graduation she found herself at the piano in Trinity’s chapel.
“I have a hard time making decisions. I feel when God makes the decision it is easier to trust,” she said. And she believes that God definitely guided her decision to come to seminary.
“I feel at peace now,” she added.
As with other international students, the Lutheran tradition – and Christianity – was not at the forefront of Yoyo’s culture and tradition. Her father is a member of the Communist Party and an atheist. Her grandmother was a Christian and occasionally took Yoyo to church, but she said her grandmother’s faith had little impact on her.
Yoyo’s mother believed in God’s existence and encouraged her daughter – as she did with music and English – to continue to explore and learn. Her mother, a lover of the arts and philosophy, ultimately became Yoyo’s greatest mentor in her music and spiritual development.
An only child, Yoyo was groomed early for a life of music and study abroad. She practiced her piano and attended a private English school in preparation for the TOEFL language test that is required by many American colleges and universities. She also contemplated life as a concert performer and a college professor.
Her first months in the United States were difficult. She was overwhelmed by the language and culture. “I was calling my mom and saying I’m going to die. I want to jump off a high building,” she said. But three months later the fear and anxiety subsided.
“I’m very outgoing. It got better and I made a lot of friends. I actually learn the most from my friends,” she said. They help her decipher the slang and fill in the blanks after a difficult class.
She also met Dr. Tianshu Wang, her piano professor at Capital. Dr. Wang is Chinese-American and took Yoyo under her wing, showing her around Columbus and introducing her to a Chinese Christian Church. It was at that church, and in the churches where she played the piano, that she began to grow into her faith.
While a student at Capital, she took a job playing the piano for a suburban Baptist church on Columbus’ far east side. The congregation appreciated and adored her music, but the pastor disregarded her questions and curiosity about faith and its rituals.
Later she took a job with a predominantly African-American, Baptist congregation where the pastor encouraged her questions and developing faith. As a result, Yoyo will be baptized there on Easter Sunday, a big step for the student who walked through their doors in search of a job.
Back at Trinity the challenges have increased as she strives to learn unfamiliar music in the midst of the academic work. “English is difficult, but then there is Bible English and so many readings,” she said.
Yoyo clearly thrives on such challenges, and attacks her studies and all she does with unyielding determination.
“Trinity is challenging, but it feels like home. The music is new, but I’m confident. The theology part I don’t want to just power through. I sincerely want to learn,” she said.
“The decision to change to church music was very hard; my whole life was going in another direction. But God helped me through that and I’m glad I am where I am now.”
With gifts and God's care
When Katalin Kovacs wants to find just the right word to express a thought or feeling, she will consult the Hungarian- English dictionary on her laptop computer.
“I try to express myself with words I know, or I ask my classmates what is the short expression,” she said.
She chooses her words with a quiet determination, in the hope that the listener will comprehend her long – and sometimes complicated – journey into faith. Katalin or “Kata” moved along an arduous path from a childhood spent with an alcoholic father to her enrollment at the Evangelical Lutheran Theological University in Budapest, and now Trinity Lutheran Seminary.
Trinity has a long-standing relationship with the Lutheran Church in Hungary. The Rev. Bela Bernhardt, Archdean/ President of the Hungarian Conference, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, nominates candidates for a scholarship provided by the John-Elizabeth Blaho Miller Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation. Eight students in the last five years have received the scholarship for one year of fulltime study.
Kata was introduced to Christianity at the age of 12, when her father entered a rehabilitation program for alcoholism. For 10 days the family lived together in a mission sponsored by the Reformed Church of Hungary. That experience ultimately led her parents to join a Lutheran church in their hometown of Hatvan, about an hour’s drive from Budapest.
“I went with my mother to church, but because it was her wish and not my desire,” she said.
Kata moved to Budapest when she was 18 to attend a two-year technical school. She completed training in secretarial work, but continued to hope for a much broader university education.
While working as a secretary in Budapest, her pastor in Hatvan asked her if she would accompany a young girl to a week-long Lutheran youth conference in the capital city. Kata had other plans for that week, but reluctantly accepted his request.
“I wondered, ‘why should I be here?’ But in the middle of the week everything changed. I can’t explain it,” she said.
Kata’s experiences at the conference prompted her to join a Hungarian chaplaincy program, comparable to campus ministry programs in the United States.
The chaplaincy features gospel choirs, theater performances, Bible studies, and worship. Kata’s faith came alive in this program and has continued to grow.
Her desire to attend college also never waned. She contemplated a degree in psychology, and participated in a program called psychodrama that uses role playing to help participants gain insight into their families and themselves.
“I wanted to become a psychodrama leader,” she said.
At the same time, she began to see how psychodrama and theology complement one another, and in 2005 she entered a bachelor’s degree program in theology at the Lutheran Theological University in Budapest.
She was challenged by the workload at the university level and nearly failed one of her classes. It was then—in that moment of potential failure—that she realized her desire to become a pastor.
“When I started I didn’t think I could bear the responsibility to talk about God…but when I was faced with the possibility that I might lose the education or have to leave school, I knew I wanted to be a pastor,” she said.
Kata was acquainted with others from her university who studied at Trinity, including Virgil Laszlo (’08) and Samuel Kevahazi (’10). Their experiences and her own desire to travel heightened her interest in a scholarship to Trinity.
In the two years before Kata embarked on her overseas journey, her grandmother became ill and her father was diagnosed with cancer. Her father died this past February, prompting her return to Hungary for his funeral. It has been a difficult year, but Kata has grown accustomed to the bumps in the road, and her life experiences continue to inform and shape her ministry.
She appreciates the course work and even the physical work with groups such as Habitat for Humanity. During the January term she also traveled to South Dakota for a seminary-sponsored immersion course on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The reservation’s population brought to mind a minority population in Hungary, and heightened her sensibilities and possibilities for service. The experiences with these particular groups have enabled her to identify her gifts for “organizing,” and perhaps she will return to Hungary to organize a mission.
When her year at Trinity ends in May, she will return to the Lutheran Theological University in Budapest for one more academic year and her internship year.
“The whole way has been filled with gifts and God’s care. ...I am bad at prayer, but I know I have to give thanks for this experience. The real work in this is God’s; I try to remember and give thanks,” she said.
A hope and a prayer for Burma
Like her classmates from Kazakhstan and China, Don Lian was in the minority as a Christian in her native Burma. Buddhism is the primary religion in this Southeast Asian country under a military dictatorship since 1962.
Yet Don hopes one day to return with her husband, Tung Za Pau, and their children to continue their ministry there. Don’s husband received his Doctor of Missiology from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, and she is a middler in the Master of Divinity program at Trinity. Together they serve one of three Burmese congregations in the Columbus area. Their two children are students at Ohio State University.
Don came to Ohio for her husband’s graduation from United in 2007, after trying for six years to obtain a visa. An aunt cared for Don’s two children until they were able to join their parents in 2009. Their family comes from Zoland in northwest Burma. There they are part of the Zomi Baptist Convention, an arm of the country’s Myanmar Baptist Convention.
“Most Christian churches in Burma are Baptist, because the first missionaries there were Baptist,” she explains.
In 1999, Christians in the Zomi Baptist Convention celebrated 100 years since the first missionary came to that country.
“Before missionaries, we worshipped an unknown god. We had no literature. The first missionaries brought to Zoland the Roman alphabet and they translated our language. They brought hymnals and Bibles, and they created our textbooks,” she said.
Don was raised Christian. Her father was a government worker, allowing the family to travel about the country and providing Don with the opportunity to attend college. She met her husband in India, while she was working on a bachelor’s degree in theology at Berean Baptist Bible College and Seminary in Bangalore. She also holds an undergraduate degree in psychology.
Tung Za Pau served as a student pastor at a Methodist congregation in Dayton. Some friends in the church told Don about the Methodist Theological School in Ohio and its close connection to Trinity Lutheran Seminary. Once they confirmed their children would attend OSU, Don applied to Trinity.
The couple also started the Burmese Christian Fellowship in space rented from the Westgate United Methodist Church on the city’s west side. It is one of three Burmese congregations in the Columbus area, and all of the services are in the Burmese language. Don and her husband share in the leadership of the congregation that serves primarily refugees from their country.
“Most of the Burmese who live here are refugees, because of the military there,” she said. “We are tribal (a minority) and we are Christian (a minority). You cannot get a good job in Burma if you are Christian,” she added.
She describes her Columbus congregation’s worship as more Pentecostal and contemporary, although she has grown to appreciate Lutheran tradition. She has incorporated some Lutheran practices, like the method for communion distribution, into her church’s worship services.
“Lutherans commune individuals one by one, so that each person hears the words, ‘Body of Christ given for you…’In Burma, the ushers distribute the communion,” she said.
“Lutherans respect the altar. I like the preparation of the altar and worship space,” she added.
She admits to struggling with the English language, “but the professors work hard to help me understand the material,” she said. And she finds it extraordinary to learn from professors who have published their own books.
“I have the first experience to see professors who have their own books,” she said.
Don’s children attended an international school in Burma, so they have had an easier adjustment to life in the United States and on the OSU campus. Her husband speaks four languages and often finds work as a translator. Once the children graduate, the family hopes to save enough to return and assist the people of Burma.
Their country has been devastated by natural disaster (a cyclone in 2008 displaced 2 million people) and a corrupt military government known to detain or kill individuals who oppose them. Many, including Don, hope that the country’s upcoming elections will bring some relief.
“Burma is rich in resources like teak wood, rubies, and gold, but it is the second poorest country because of military rule. We hope democracy can come to Burma,” she said, adding that Hillary Clinton’s visit there in December – the first such visit by a U.S. Secretary of State in 50 years – is a sign of better things to come.
A voice for the voiceless
Teshome T. Deingede, former bishop of the Central Ethiopia Synod of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), said he wanted to be “a voice for the voiceless” in his country. But when he spoke out against human rights violations and Ethiopia’s one-party government, officials there sought to detain him.
Teshome left his country in July 2004 for Columbus, Ohio, where his brother had been living. Teshome now lives in the seminary apartments with his wife, Frehiwot Gudeta, and is working on a Master of Theological Studies degree at Trinity. They have four children between the ages of 17 and 26.
“Thanks to God I found a wonderful community here. My outlook of this country, and of faith and religion, keeps growing and widening,” he said.
After his graduation from Mekane Yesus Seminary in 1979, Teshome became a Parish Leader responsible for oversight of 20 congregations, clinics, the development of orphanages, and other community development projects. A Parish Leader does not serve as a pastor, but rather an administrator.
Teshome eventually was ordained in 1983, and in 1986 he became an assistant to the bishop of the Central Synod. He served in that capacity until 1994, when he left for England and further study at Birmingham University and the University of Manchester. He received a diploma in church administration and management at Birmingham and completed a master’s degree in economics and sociology at the University of Manchester.
“My intention was to study theology, but I did not like the program there,” he said. The economics background proved beneficial when he returned to Ethiopia and was named bishop of the central synod in 1999.
“[The economics degree] gave me a wider perspective. When I became bishop, I was involved in the social and economic development of urban and rural communities, and I supervised the synod budget,” he said.
The Central Synod includes 267 congregations and 600,000 members. He describes the Lutheran church in Ethiopia as more charismatic. “In my country we have a healing ministry focused on healing people and casting out evil spirits. It is like the book of Acts,” he said.
“The culture here is very individualistic. In my country, when someone is sick many people gather to pray and be there,” he said.
He came to Trinity to update his theological training. He entered the candidacy program and is prepared to take a call here, should the opportunity arise. He said he also hopes one day to return to his country and serve the people there if God wills.
“If God will provide I would like to go back to my birthplace, Tibe, in central Ethiopia. I want to help the needs of the people there,” he said.
Many of the residents of this small, rural community are farmers, whose children must walk a long distance to school. Some children during the week stay in housing close to their school in town, and return to the farm on the weekends. Most, however, cannot afford that luxury.
“I would like to build a hostel in town for the village children, so they could stay in school,” he said. And he will continue to speak out for the voiceless people.
“I want to contribute to the community in a good way,” he said.
Losing and finding community
The learning curve for Zegeye Moroda, of Ethiopia, doesn’t have to do with the language—although that does have its own set of challenges—or the seminary curriculum. Zegeye was surprised more by this country’s focus on individualism.
“In the United States everything is individualism. This is a big challenge for us. At home our experience is to pray together, study together, and share in daily life in community,” he said.
He eventually found that sense of community in daily worship at Trinity.
“Worship is strong here. I like the emphasis on worship,” he said.
In Ethiopia, Zegeye served 17 years with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), including nine years as a Parish Leader responsible for the establishment of 19 congregations and 25 “preaching places” or congregations in development. He had completed a bachelor’s degree in leadership management and communications, and three years of a four-year degree in theology at Mekane Yesus Theological Seminary in Addis Ababa, when he was granted a Diversity Visa from the United States in 2006. He interrupted his theological studies to move here with his wife and three children, now ages 22, 18 and 16.
Zegeye’s family initially came to Youngstown, Ohio, under the sponsorship of friends from Ethiopia and a Presbyterian church there. He explained that in Ethiopia the Lutheran and Presbyterian denominations fall under the umbrella of the EECMY. There is no distinction between the two denominations there.
“Youngstown is small and there was no opportunity to get a job. As a result, a lot of Ethiopian people are here in Columbus, so we came here,” he said.
Alemu Sernessa, also of Ethiopia and a 2010 Trinity graduate, encouraged Zegeye to come to Trinity to complete his degree.
After completing work in English at Columbus State Community College, Zegeye entered the Master of Divinity program in 2011. He serves as an elder at Concord Presbyterian Church in Delaware and is a pastor for a Columbus Ethiopian congregation, Oromia Evangelical Presbyterian Congregation.
His experience here and in the church have brought interesting revelations. Just as he noticed an emphasis on individualism, he also has encountered an emphasis on “church.”
“In the United States, churches are very strong. Back home, ‘spirituality’ is stronger. There is much more emphasis on spirituality in worship and day-to-day life at home,” he said.
Struggling economies in the developing world often result ina “narrow education” and a lack of materials for those at the university level. The educational opportunities for Zegeye and his three children are much greater here.
Zegeye said he appreciates the professors and students who continue to help him understand unfamiliar terms and concepts, and who encourage him to succeed.
“My intention when I started seminary was to serve my people, but the will of God brought me to the United States. I came because of the opportunity to work and live. If it is the will of God I will go back and serve my people,”he said.