Volume 5 Number 3
With about a thousand international alums worldwide and sixty-four foreign nationals currently studying at the Seminary, there are many fascinating stories to tell.
Tu Truong, an M.Div. junior, comes from Danang, Vietnam, which is located in the narrow center of the country. His family (two brothers and six sisters—“Vietnamese don’t care about money, they care about children, and if you have many children, you are rich”) still lives there, where his father is a minister. In 1990 Truong moved to Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) to work for a Thai company that manufactured paint. Studying theology in the USA was his desire, but the Vietnamese government wouldn’t give him leave for that purpose. Instead he moved to California to study for an M.B.A., which he earned from Yuin University, a Korean university in Compton, California, while simultaneously earning an M.A. at Union College of California, a Vietnamese Bible school. Though in California for three years, landing in Princeton was for him really arriving in America. “Everything in Princeton looks interesting,” he says. “In California I was in a Vietnamese community: we talked Vietnamese, ate Vietnamese food.”
Truong is interested in learning more about American culture and making American friends, but another goal drives him. “Of course, my purpose here is not to get a degree. It is to learn as much as I can. I don’t know if I will be a pastor when I go back. I would like to be a Bible teacher. There is a lack of pastors there, so I could help to train them.”
The Vietnamese government still exerts considerable control over the religious lives of its people. Truong estimates that there are 700,000 church members and 350 pastors in the country. No official Bible school or seminary exists, though there are some underground Bible courses taught. Part of his dream is that someday soon the government will allow the Christians to open a Bible school. If so, Truong wants to teach there.
“To be a pastor or teacher in Vietnam is to sacrifice a lot. If a husband is a pastor, his wife cannot work outside the home and must depend on the husband. My father, a pastor, earns $35 a month. A college graduate in his first year after school could probably earn $150 a month. Since I have an M.B.A. from America, I could go back and earn $500 a month. But when you decide to be a servant of God, you don’t worry about money.”
American students have grown up surrounded by American images of success: expensive cars, designer clothes, status, fame. Truong’s living, eating, and studying in the Seminary community is a valuable wake-up call to those entranced by the American dream. Not that this dream isn’t alluring to him as well. But on considering the possibility of staying in the USA, he asks himself, “Would I be staying to serve God or to live here? I love my people. I saw the poverty; I saw the lack of education. So if I can help, I will do it. It is my dream to go back, because they are my people and they need me.”
Galina Draganova, M.Div. junior, moved from Silistra, Bulgaria, to Rhode Island four years ago, where she earned a B.A. in theology from the Zion Bible Institute. She came to America because there were no Bible schools in Bulgaria. She came with a memory of Christianity’s struggle under communism and its aftermath. Already a licensed Church of God minister who had pastored a congregation for a year in Bulgaria, she wanted ministerial training.
From the moment she became a Christian at age thirteen, a year before the wall came tumbling down, Draganova never doubted that she wanted to go into ministry, “though my father wanted me to be a lawyer,” she says.
She considers seminary vital preparation for pursuit of her ambitious goals on return to Bulgaria: translate the Bible into Bulgarian, start a seminary in her homeland, and set up theological courses for Bulgarian laity. To those ends, she is glad to attend Princeton and thinks it is preparing her well, though because of its reputation, she says, “I never thought Princeton would accept me.”
Draganova has done well in her classes thus far. She finds the language difficult, though she speaks English well and with an attention to grammatical correctness that often eludes native speakers.
The first time Kesari Godfrey, Th.M., used a knife and fork was when he arrived in Princeton. So what does he miss about India other than the food and the freedom to eat with his hand in the cafeteria? “I miss the whole context,” he says in his articulate, beautifully accented, sing-song English. “My church [the Church of South India]. My friends. I miss being home. I want to go back soon, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it here.”
Godfrey’s father earned an S.T.M. at Drew University and recently retired from his position as the Church of South India bishop of the Kanyakumari diocese in Tamil Nadu. Godfrey is following his fathers footsteps to America, but plans, on his return to India, to be a lecturer at Truelock Theological Seminary.
When he considers his classes at Princeton, the obvious difference in context comes quickly to mind. “Liberation theology is more relevant in my place,” he says. “So are issues of social justice and interreligious harmony.” One wonders whether he is also thinking, but is too polite to say, that liberation theology and social justice might be more important at Princeton were students more aware of India’s billion people, many of whom live in a context of dire poverty. On campus and in American culture in general, diversity and inclusion are popular topics. Godfrey, however, approaches the subject differently than a Christian American student would. “In my country, there are only 2.5% Christians,” he says. But in Princeton he has found a Dutchman, Wentzel van Huyssteen, professor of theology and science, who is helping him think more thoroughly about the subject. “I like van Huyssteen because he is open to my context, to hearing from me. How do we deal with differences in religion? Plurality is a reality, whether we accept it or not. He tries to make us respect that.” On a less academic subject, Godfrey is also thankful to van Huyssteen for showing him a way to phone home cheaply, “something you don’t expect a professor to do!”
Before coming to Princeton, Godfrey had never flown in a plane. As he looked down he thought, “The world is very tiny. And God is very big. What I thought of was the greatness and goodness of God, the richness and diversity.”
He doesn’t want it to be a one-way trip. Not only does he want to return to India, he also thinks Americans should hop on a plane and look down on the earth on their way to India. He hopes they can learn as much from Indians as he has from Americans. “God’s greatness will be learned. Also, humility. It will impact our theology,” he says.
© Copyright 2001 Princeton Theological Seminary