Seminary, a Family Tradition
Mikyoung Park, South Korea
For the Park family, the old adage "it's a small world after all," really is true. Three of the four sisters in the Park family have left their home in Seoul, South Korea and now live in the Twin Cities.
But what really makes it a small world for their family is that the three sisters all have husbands who have studied or are currently students at Luther Seminary. Perhaps even more amazing is that along with their husbands, Mikyoung, the eldest of the four Park sisters, has also found herself immersed in a theological education at Luther Seminary. "I never thought I'd be a seminarian," said Mikyoung Park, a senior in the Master of Sacred Music program, "but I'm here."
Since age 11, Mikyoung was professionally trained to be a singer. When she came to Minnesota in 2000 to complete her doctoral work at the University of Minnesota (she graduated in 2006), she met her husband, an electrical engineering master's student, Joshua Choi. When Choi felt the call to attend seminary, he found Luther Seminary, just down the street from where the two lived. Choi earned his Master of Divinity in the spring of 2008 and is currently working on his Master of Theology.
With her husband studying to become a pastor, Park decided a theological degree would also be valuable for her as a pastor's wife. "When [he decided to come to Luther], I realized that he'll be a pastor and I'll be a pastor's wife," said Park. "I wanted more theology!"
The first year of study was challenging for Park as she gained familiarity with theological terms and ideas that were new to her. "It was a strong training period," says Park. "Half of my coursework was in theology and I couldn't understand [all of] the terms [at first]."
The challenge paid off. "[My studies] gave me time to think about becoming a deacon pastor," said Park.
Choi will be ordained as the elder pastor in the United Methodist Church, and his wife plans to join him as the deacon pastor. Park's education has prepared her to take the next steps with her ministry. "It's such a great place for learning," Park said of Luther, "especially in the mission field."
Having traveled so far to come to Minnesota, it has been a great benefit for Park to have two of her three sisters living close, especially as she and her husband are raising two children, Tim, age 10, and Michelle, seven months, while also attending seminary. The second eldest sister, Eunsun, has remained in Seoul with her family.
Minsun, the youngest of the sisters, lives just a floor below Park's family in Luther Seminary's Sandgren Apartments. She and her husband, Chongsun Kim, who is currently studying for a M.A. in theological studies, have a daughter, Esther, who is almost two.
When Kim decided to study theology, he turned to Park, who recommended that he study at Luther. "I told him, if you're going to study, study here [at Luther Seminary]."
She says Kim's decision to do so gave the added bonus that "it's less lonely having [my sister] here and it's good for the children to see each other almost every day."
Based upon Park's recommendation, the couple moved from Seoul to St. Paul, where Kim joined his sister and brother-in-law in their studies at Luther Seminary.
The third youngest sister in the Park family, Sunkyoung Park, is married to Joonhyuk Lim, a 2002 M.A. Luther Seminary graduate, who serves as an associate pastor at Korean Evangelical United Methodist Church in Brooklyn Park, Minn. "They live in Plymouth and have two children, Elizabeth is five and John is four," says Park. "It's good to [have the families so close together]. It's unusual to all live in the same city."
While they may find it unusual to all have relocated to Minnesota, the Park family might just have made theological education at Luther Seminary a new family tradition.
Weagba Fulfills Call to Mission at Luther
Lydia Manawu Weagba, Liberia
Lydia Manawu Weagba is not the first female African pastor to study at Luther Seminary. But as the first ordained female pastor in the Lutheran Church in Liberia, she felt God's hand leading her to fulfill her calling - a journey that now brings her to St. Paul.
"It was not always easy," she admits. "In the Lutheran church [in Liberia], it was not an option for women to be ordained. People told me, 'why can't you do something traditional?'"
So, at first, she tried, enrolling in a teacher training program. But, it was an encounter with the man she calls her "spiritual father," Rev. Dr. Jerry Schmalenberger, who helped guide her decision to pursue ordination. Schmalenberger is the former president of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, who was in Liberia on sabbatical with his wife Carol in 1987.
"He saw my heart, and it was not for teacher college, but for seminary," she said. "He encouraged me to follow that desire." The two have kept in frequent contact through the years.
Still, her father, a pastor who also served on the board of the Gbarnga School of Theology, told her to complete her teaching degree. "He believed you should finish what you start. He called me a missionary at the teacher college." She did, earning her diploma and driving right over to start seminary.
Lydia was ordained in 2000. After three years serving as a parish pastor, she was selected to teach and serve as the Assistant Director of the Rev. Louis T. Bowers Lay Leader and Minister Training Center in Totota, Liberia.
One day, her office received a copy of the Luther Seminary Academic Catalog. As she read the description of the Congregational Mission and Leadership (CML) program, she says, it felt like the next step for her own continuing education. She started the process of applying to the seminary, and the ELCA for scholarship funds. But in the meantime, the Training Center director left his post, and she was named acting director.
"We had many conversations about what I should do," she said. "People told me, 'You are already a capable leader! Why do you need to go away to study?'"
Ever the biblical scholar, she pointed to Priscilla and Aquila as models of the importance of well-trained teachers."I told them, I need to go, learn more and come back."
It was hard to leave the Training Center in the midst of transition, she admits, but she trusts that the staff and students are in good hands. And they will be when she returns - the school has decided to hold the directorship open for her, and she will resume the position in a non-interim status.
Lydia is currently halfway through the two-year Master of Arts program. "I really enjoy not just the CML coursework, but the Old Testament, the New Testament, the pastoral care courses. I want to take as many as I can while I am here, because I know that I will put them to use [at the Training Center] in the future."
While Lydia has been living in Minnesota, her husband, George, has been pursing a Doctor of Ministry degree through Asbury Seminary in Kentucky. Because some of his coursework has been online, he has been able to remain in Liberia with their six-year-old daughter. The family hopes to reunite and travel in the United States in the spring when both George and Lydia receive their degrees.
"Though, we are hoping the graduations do not occur on the same day!" she laughs.
And though it has been hard to be away from her family while she studies, she says she has built close relationships with other students. "God has helped bring me here," she says. "It feels very much like a blessing."
Preaching Fellowship Leads to Call in Global Mission
Amanda Olson de Castillo, Guatemala
For Amanda Olson de Castillo, a one-year preaching fellowship grew into lasting fellowship with the people of Guatemala. "I had always planned on coming back to the United States," says the Luther Seminary alumna, 28, after her long-awaited ordination at the 2008 St. Paul Area Synod assembly.
"What I believe is the church in Guatemala needed some more help, and they needed somebody who understood the mission and loved the people and the gospel and just wanted to give their life in that way. And so God puts you to work where you are."
It wasn't the first time Amanda felt a call while in a geographically and culturally far-away place. With only a few courses to go as a chemistry and math major at St. Olaf College in her hometown of Northfield, Minn., Amanda shifted her focus to religion and Middle Eastern studies after spending a half-year in the Middle East. There, she had become a sort of chaplain to her classmates and recognized how the gospel, apart from the holy sites, was a living holiness that belonged to all people.
As a Luther Seminary student, Amanda again embraced unfamiliar surroundings while interning in the Seattle area, where Christians are rare. She was set to return to Washington for her first call, but, as Luther's 2004 Graduate Preaching Fellowship recipient, she changed her course again.
Seeking from the overseas fellowship to become a better neighbor to Spanish-speaking people in the United States, Amanda determined to study Spanish in Guatemala (a broken vertebra from a sledding accident prevented her from taking a cross-cultural trip there during her senior year at Luther). She recalls how she connected in advance with Horacio D. Castillo, vice president of the Iglesia Luterana Agustina de Guatemala (ILAG), who had recently visited the Twin Cities and arranged to introduce her to his church when she arrived in summer 2004.
"He's now my husband, by the way," says Amanda, citing their three wedding ceremonies in 2006. Likewise, the Guatemalan Lutheran church's ministry quickly made a big impression on her. "They bring the gospel, but through that, they help people improve their lives. And it's not the other way around," Amanda says. "It's always, 'First, the gospel,' and then, 'These people have dignity, and they deserve education. They deserve running water. They deserve electricity and a dignified home and health care. And they don't have that right now.'"
The ILAG was founded in 1991 by Padre Horacio Castillo, Amanda's father-in-law, and has 17 congregations, all of which Amanda serves, along with the other pastors. Also operating two schools, the church especially serves indigenous people on the margins.
The challenges are great. The churches are separated by as much as 10 hours of travel, including long, muddy walks in scorching heat. The people are hindered by the multitude of indigenous languages, and their needs are vast. Guatemala in 1996 finally emerged from a 36-year civil war that displaced many of them, and Amanda notes that many promises remain unfulfilled. With that, she assures the people that they won't be forgotten again - that Christ and the church are walking with them.
"That's the biggest challenge but also the biggest reward and the easiest thing to do - bring in that hope," Amanda says. "To come in and say, 'This is where the truth is,' it changes lives. And from that point on, then you can start teaching them how to work together. Then you can teach them the importance of education. Then you can help them have that dignity that they deserve and that is theirs."
Over time, as Amanda realized her need to remain in service to the Guatemalan people, they too realized their need for her as a pastor. Her father-in-law ordained her on June 1 in a rare ordination at an assembly of the St. Paul Area Synod, which is a companion synod of the ILAG. It was a long-awaited moment for Amanda, but also an important one for her church.
"It's a proclamation that the ministry of the ILAG is a viable, healthy ministry that calls the pastors it needs," Amanda says. "And it puts this really on a global scale, that this isn't just a ministry in Guatemala - this is something we all share in."
Bradby Gives "International Student a New Meaning"
Vanessa Bradby, Pakistan
You could call Vanessa Bradby an international student, but she gives the term a new meaning. While international students come to Luther Seminary from countries across the globe, Bradby is originally from Massachusetts - she just happens to be conducting her studies in Pakistan.
When she began at Luther in early 2006, Bradby lived in the Twin Cities. But in March 2007, her husband, Mark, received a job offer from Shelter For Life to direct projects in Pakistan. Mark, born in India to missionary parents, and Vanessa, who shared his calling to serve overseas, had planned on moving abroad at some point, but Vanessa wasn't even halfway through seminary.
Yet faculty and staff at Luther said they could make it work, and, sure enough, it's working. "I'm kind of a high-maintenance distance-learning person," said Bradby during a return visit to Luther in January. "They've been working very hard to make sure the program works out for me. I just finished my first semester from Pakistan."
Now a Master of Divinity middler, Bradby moved to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad in July and finished her summer Hebrew course by recording lectures using an Internet calling program. Last fall, she took three online courses and "attended" one course via Internet phone. It turned out well, although she accumulated a backlog of coursework and is limiting herself to three courses this semester. "This is my first time in Asia, and that kind of a transition takes a lot of time and energy," she said.
Bradby has always been a bit unique as a Luther student in that her background is especially ecumenical. She is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, had her call to ministry while working at an American Baptist youth camp, attended a Nazarene college and worked for Episcopal and Methodist churches. She and Mark now attend the Church of Pakistan, which she has found it to be an especially challenging context for the Contextual Education involvement required by her program.
Although living standards in Islamabad are similar to those in American cities, Bradby has had to adjust to cultural differences in the relatively young country, with its mix of traditions and political and religious sensitivities. While there are regular threats of violence against Christian churches, and women have a low position in society, she finds people to be especially hospitable.
"My husband is building schools [in Islamabad]." Bradby said. "I'm trying to maintain a household and some semblance of stability in our lives, while [completing] seminary and at the same time trying to make inroads to possible programs and things that I could start doing when I settle in a little more."
Amid her new life, Bradby has pondered how to piece together her call to ministry with her passion for overseas service and experience with youth. She aims to complete seminary in 2009 and expects that she and Mark will be in Pakistan at least that long. It's lonely to be a long-distance student, but Bradby has found community with other seminarians.
"There are people who felt connected to me who I had never even seen because they sat next to my Internet speaker," said Bradby, noting the attention she received while on campus for January classes. "When I said what I was doing, about six people turned around and said, 'Ahhhh! I know you!'"