A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary

Global Vision - Fall 2012

View more articles in the Fall 2012 issue.

Luther’s International Office, 20 years in the making

by Erin Schmidtke, M.Div. Junior

Adama Isa (Nigeria), '11, Marie Hayes and Denis Rakotozafy (Madagascar), '11

In December 1989, life in Liberia changed. Civil war broke out and later expanded into Sierra Leone. The violence was led by Charles Taylor, a rebel leader who would become president of Liberia before his 2012 conviction of war crimes by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Marie Y. Hayes, director of International Student and Scholar Affairs at Luther Seminary, was working for the government of Liberia as war escalated. She and Taylor had previously worked together for the state. During that time, she contributed to a report addressing charges that Taylor had embezzled government funds.

Because of that report, Hayes was targeted to be killed by rebel leaders. In 1990, she fled to the United States, followed later by her family.

20 Years at Luther Seminary

After moving to the Twin Cities, she joined Luther Seminary in 1992 as secretary of the cross-cultural studies office which, at the time, handled all issues relating to international students.

When Hayes started, she was unfamiliar with the student visa process. In 2006, she wrote a book, "A Handbook for the Minister Visiting or Studying in the United States."

Now Hayes is celebrating her 20th year at Luther and currently heads the office of International Student and Scholar Affairs, which she has led through a series of governmental, institutional and regulatory changes for foreign students and scholars. She helps international students and scholars with questions relating to admissions, finances, immigration status and other areas. She also regularly advises other Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seminaries on issues relating to international students and scholars.

Hayes views the creation of the ISSA office as her biggest accomplishment while at Luther Seminary. "Having a specific office where international students and scholars can ask questions, especially as other institutions are minimizing similar offices, is important. ISSA is the bridge that helps integrate them into the learning community." In the various roles she has held at Luther, Hayes has been driven by her bond with international students. When she first arrived in the U.S., like many students at the seminary, she was alone.

"I empathize with students when they talk about their families back home, because I know what it's like to be in a group and yet be lonely," she said.

Program Growth

With Hayes' leadership and the ongoing support of the administration, the presence of the international community has multiplied at Luther Seminary. In 1994, the then-named Office of International Student Services was established and advised 20-25 international students. Last spring, Luther Seminary welcomed the largest group ever—73 students.

To handle the increase in the international community, Luther Seminary applied for and was approved by the U.S. Department of State for an exchange visitor program. Chenar Howard has joined the ISSA office as the assistant director, in addition to her work in the Global Mission Institute.

"Having that large a group of international students was great—and overwhelming. It brought up new issues we had not dealt with before at Luther, and resulted in creating new programs and policies," Hayes said.

Hayes is also a community leader for diversity. In addition to holding positions in professional organizations such as the Minnesota International Educators and NAFSA: Association of International Educators, she served as president and chair of the board at the Organization for Liberians in Minnesota; is a member of the New Hope, Minn., human rights commission; and was an adviser on the president's board for North Hennepin Community College.

After 20 years of service, Hayes is more committed than ever to supporting international students and scholars at Luther Seminary.

"Most students come having already served in ministry, and they bring experiences to share in the classroom with those students just out of college or in a second career with no prior theological experience. They bring different ways of doing ministry. They bring a lot to this community," she said.