Princeton Seminary | A Deeper Understanding of the Human Spirit

A Deeper Understanding of the Human Spirit

Uzunma Grant News Image

Uzunma Bell-Gam was a young newlywed in Nigeria when her husband accepted a job that took the couple far beyond their African home. Over decades, Bell-Gam lived and raised a family in cities across Europe, Asia, and Latin America. But all along, she was nurturing a calling of her own. Bell-Gam was determined to become a social worker and an advocate for social justice. Wherever she lived, she would seek out local people to learn about their lives. “In every place, I would step into humanity to learn about the people and to ask, ‘How can I be a blessing to these people, and how can they be a blessing to me?” she said.

Those encounters served as an extraordinary education into the human condition and prepared Bell-Gam for the second act of her life. She is now a third-year student in the Masters of Divinity program at Princeton Theological Seminary. She also recently began a master’s in social work program at Rutgers University. “The combination of the seminary and social work is the best thing I can do for humanity,” she said. “I honestly love it.” She knew it was only a matter of time.

Growing up in a patriarchal culture in Eastern Nigeria, where polygamy was accepted, Bell-Gam early on developed a fierce empathy for women and a thirst for justice. “I actually felt called to become a social worker as a child,” she said. “My passion has always been working with women suffering from the trauma of violence.”

As a young girl, she volunteered with a church group that advocated for those who had been unjustly incarcerated and lacked the resources for legal representation. “I would go into the prison, and I would sit with them and encourage them with scriptures and friendship,” she said.

After getting married, Bell-Gam suddenly found herself transported to faraway places that included England, where her husband attended Oxford University, as well as Switzerland, China, Argentina, Spain, and Poland. The global experience opened her eyes in ways she had never imagined. “When I began to travel, I saw people beyond my culture, and I saw beyond my skin color,” she said. “I saw that we all love differently, but that we all love. When you are able to see life that way, you won’t condemn, you won’t judge, and you won’t assume you know everything.”

“Seminary is about learning who you truly are as a person”

While raising three children, Bell-Gam seized every opportunity to further her education. She learned Spanish at the University of Buenos Aries and became a fluent Spanish speaker. “I wanted to learn Spanish because I wanted to be with the people,” she said. “I wanted to hear what they wished to tell me confidentially. I wanted to hear their pain for myself, without translation or interpreters."

More recently, with her children grown, Bell-Gam returned to school, earning an associate’s degree in social sciences from Ocean County College and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Kean University. Then she began making inquiries at the Rutgers School of Social Work, where an admissions officer gave her some advice that left her stunned and then thrilled. “She told me I seemed like a good candidate for the Seminary and that they (Rutgers) can take me from the Seminary,” Bell-Gam said. “I looked at the profile of Princeton Theological Seminary, and I thought: ‘This is really what I want to do.”

Bell-Gam said her Seminary experience has been an awakening. Her courses have brought new insights and wisdom that compliment her lived experience and deepen her understanding of the human spirit. She particularly likes Life Together courses as well as classes in World Christianity, Reformed Theology, Pastoral Care and the Life Cycle, and Confession and Forgiveness in Pastoral Perspective. “Seminary is about learning who you truly are as a person,” she said. “The classes have been transforming.”

She has done field education at Liquid Church in Princeton, and at Arm in Arm, a Mercer County nonprofit organization that helps feed, shelter, and employ those in need. She is now ready for the next step in her life.

“My calling and my passion are combining my Seminary training with social work to focus on women and children,” she said. “I want to be that person who listens reflectively and collaborates with those in trauma, and provides the safe space and time for healing, reconciliation and restoration.”

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Associate Rector at Trinity Church, Princeton, New Jersey

Nancy Hagner, Class of 2013

“Preaching is one of the most important things we do as pastors. You get to challenge people’s minds and hearts, as the gospel challenges all of us.”