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Global Vision - Fall 2009

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International Student Profile

Toshi Longkumer

by Kari Aanestad, M.Div. Middler

Toshi Longkumer and family

Tiatoshi (Toshi) Longkumer was not able to meet his son, Imsuyanger, until he was 7 months old. Longkumer, who just completed his first year in the Ph.D. program, traveled to Luther from Nagaland, India. Making the same sacrifice as many international students, Longkumer spent his first year of study living literally across the world from his wife and child.

But, after a year apart, the Longkumer family is now together in St. Paul. Longkumer gives thanks for his wife and son's safe arrival while he shares the story of his own ministry journey, which brought him to Luther Seminary.

As Longkumer began to tell his story, Imsuyanger's small hand reached out from the sling that held him to his mother, Arlene. As the baby's hand clutched his father's pointer finger, Longkumer said, "Youth are the center of our ministry and our church. They are the key to changing the world and our communities."

A Love for Youth Ministry

Before arriving at Luther Seminary, Longkumer spent six years at a Baptist church in Nagaland serving as a youth pastor to more than 2,000 young people. The total congregation population is close to 8,000, with more than 15 full-time ministers on staff.

"It is quite a large church," Longkumer said. "I intend to return there after I have completed my doctorate on youth ministry."

In 2006 the church granted Longkumer a study leave, which he first used to pursue a Master of Theology degree at Princeton Theological Seminary. While writing his thesis, he came across a doctoral dissertation that changed the direction of his theological studies, career and life.

"I read [Luther Seminary Assistant Professor of Youth and Family Ministry] Andrew Root's dissertation on incarnational youth ministry and it attracted me to Luther Seminary," Longkumer said. "I wrote him a personal letter and asked if I could study with him. His work quickly became my connecting line to Luther Seminary."

Longkumer arrived at Luther Seminary in 2008 and immediately felt at home in his new community. "I really enjoy the community and welcoming spirit at Luther Seminary," he said. "I have never felt like a stranger here."

An Education Beyond Expectation

The community at Luther is only surpassed by the excellent educators Longkumer has found. "The professors in the leadership department are mostly from a younger generation of educators," he said. "They are a generation who has been exposed to other cultures and are open to learning from them. In many ways, the classroom has been a cross-cultural experience for me."

"I'm particularly excited by the church's move toward recognizing and supporting specializations in youth ministry," he said. Longkumer commented that while youth pastors were once mainly required to play a guitar, the role of youth leadership in the church is changing. "We're paying more attention to the spiritual needs of our youth and how we can better serve them. My challenge is to incorporate what
I have learned into my community back in Nagaland."

A Hope for the Future

Longkumer explained that Nagaland has been wrought with violence and conflict with India for the past six decades. Nagaland, a state in India's far northeast, became an official part of India in 1947 after India gained its independence from British colonial rule. Nagaland and India's relationship has been turbulent ever since. Despite having between 30 and 40 peace talks since a 1997 cease fire, no sustainable resolutions have yet resulted.

Longkumer hopes to pair studying nonviolence with youth ministry while at Luther Seminary. By blending these two, he hopes to find creative ways to train and encourage youth in Nagaland to work for positive change.

"The youth of Nagaland are not only the future of the Christian church but also of Nagaland itself," he said. "I want to help teach young people to be promoters of peace. I want to help teach them how to refrain from violence and work for peace and justice. So far, Luther Seminary is helping me do that."