Yami Falinya on His Path to Ministry and Finding Community - Princeton Theological Seminary

Yamikani (Yami) Falinya, a first-year MDiv student, chose to attend Princeton Seminary based on his desire to “pursue a theological education that was intellectually rigorous and engaging,” he explains. “I wanted to attend a seminary that would prepare me for the needs of the church and society that I want to serve, and I saw that is what PTS is doing."

Falinya works with the Princeton Seminary Office of Admissions as a graduate assistant, helping to collect and organize data, doing office work, and leading campus tours for prospective students.

“It’s amazing to see how much it helps potential students on their path to theological education to show them all the beauty this seminary has,” he says.

Originally from Malawi, Falinya says he came to know Jesus as his personal savior in high school at age 16. At the University of Malawi, where he received a degree in education, he became involved in campus ministries, and after graduation, took a job teaching history at a high school in Salima, Malawi. He also served as patron for a Christian organization at the school, helping the students with their questions about God, and it was then that he first felt his call to ministry.

The high school was in a district where the value of education was not always a top priority, particularly for girls.

“We had to make education attractive and needed to speak to the students in ways that inspired them to see life beyond their rural community,” Falinya continues. “I was young, and I came to be a voice that the students respected – it was quite a rewarding experience.”

He also ran mentorship programs for the nonprofit organization Inspire Girls, which works to ensure that girls in rural areas have access to education through motivational talks, career discussions, and health education. He often invited friends from the University of Malawi to come and speak to his students – some of whom won national and international awards – and he continues to work with Inspire Girls today.

“Students come together to study texts and talk about life issues, which gives me time to pause and engage with others,” he says. “Together we find challenges and joys to celebrate.”

As an international student at Princeton Seminary, Falinya appreciates the strong sense of community he has found here. He first came to the United States in 2018 as a participant in the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program – a six-week professional learning program for international secondary-level teachers – at the University of Montana. He then returned to Malawi, and in 2020 began study at Bowling Green State University toward a Master of Arts in Cross-Cultural and International Education. Upon completion of his studies at BGSU, he began pursuing the idea of getting an MDiv.

“Being away from home and family, without your usual support system, you need to feel that you belong and that you’re loved and appreciated,” he says. “PTS students and faculty are very welcoming and have made me feel that I’m a part of this community, which makes it easier to focus on my studies. I know I’m at the right place, with academic and spiritual resources to put me on the path to success.”

One of those resources is the Life Together sacred readings on Thursday mornings.

“Students come together to study texts and talk about life issues, which gives me time to pause and engage with others,” he says. “Together we find challenges and joys to celebrate.”

Though still in the discernment process, Falinya is finding his courses in the Old Testament and Christian history particularly engaging.

“These courses help me to understand the relevance of the Old Testament in the present day, how to live and apply it to modern times, and why the church is where it is now, based on where it is coming from,” he explains. “It gives me hope to see the church is still here and alive through all the reforms and challenges.”

After graduation, Falinya plans to seek ordination within PCUSA and become a reverend, serving, and preaching in a church setting. While he is still exploring churches in Princeton to find one that will become his religious and spiritual home, he finds the counseling and ministry that he provides to community members rewarding.

“Helping people who are experiencing sorrow or anxiety, including those whose beliefs differ from mine, is very personal, engaging and relevant for me,” Falinya says. “It’s helping me improve how I communicate and carry myself, which is excellent preparation for becoming a preacher.”