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“I Am NYTS” Student Stories
Our students share stories of their Seminary journey…
To share your “I Am NYTS” story, please submit a high quality photo and brief writing piece (approximately 300 words) to A. Cathy Morales at email@example.com.
I Am an NYTS Partner – 14th Annual Urban Angel Awards Gala – Wednesday, April 19, 2017
I Am an NYTS Student Stories – 13th Annual Urban Angel Awards Gala – Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Catherine Jordan-Latham, MDiv Graduate 2017
In August of 2011 I entered the Master of Divinity program at NYTS. I had just graduated from college in May and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I had just begun discerning a call to ministry but didn’t know where it would lead. I decided to enter seminary, and found that NYTS would allow me to work full time and take classes. The plan when I started at NYTS was to aim to finish the program in 3 or 4 years, and hopefully have a clear idea of where God was calling me to go at the end of it. What’s that saying? Humans plan, God laughs…
As I write this I am preparing to graduate this coming May. It has taken me 6 years to get to this point and honestly, I can barely remember the woman who began this journey in 2011. I’ve held five different jobs in the corporate and non-profit world, I moved from my beloved Brooklyn to New Jersey, I began my ordination process in the United Methodist Church, I got married, and I began my first appointment as a licensed local pastor. To say that nothing changed during my time at NYTS would be a lie!
At 22, I was the youngest by a few years in that incoming class. As a United Methodist, I was a denominational minority. Yet I knew in my first class that I was supposed to be there. That first year was a journey; I was working my first full-time job, I was taking 10 or 12 credits, and I had a church job on the weekends. There was enough going on to push me to a breaking point, but I survived. By the end of the first year I started considering the process for ordination as an Elder in Full Connection in the United Methodist Church, which led to becoming a member at a church in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.
Yet till that point I had still tried to control what was happening in this journey of ministry. In the fall of 2013 I decided to change how I approached my seminary experience. By this point I had finished most of my core classes and was preparing to begin fulfilling my elective requirement. While it would have been easier to take fun courses with professors I already knew, I decided to sign up for things that would add to my ministerial toolbelt. This decision has helped shape me as a student and as a pastor. The course selections at NYTS allowed me to expand academically, but more importantly the passionate nature of the faculty helped inspire me to be passionate about my work and call.
NYTS allowed me to figure out who I am and gave me tools to continue to figure it out. I am grateful that NYTS helped me discern and affirm my call to ministry, challenged me through coursework and classmates, pushed me into comfortable and uncomfortable places, and helped to shape me into the leader I am today. To trust in the plans God has for me, and to make space to hear what God is saying for me as I continue to walk this journey of ministry.
James Thornton, MDiv Graduate 1990
I came to NYTS in 1987, not really knowing or understanding what a theological education was all about or even how NYTS would transform my life. Suffice it to say that my life and my vision of the world through my journey through the MDiv program changed my perspective of life and made an indelible imprint that remains until this present day.
During my journey at NYTS I learned that we are called to be God’s instruments in the city. We are called to see God’s divinity in all humanity regardless of one’s religion, orientation, native origin, or ethnicity. The word of the psalmist is true, “How good and pleasant it is for human kind to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1)
The first person that I encountered upon my arrival to NYTS was Dr. Keith Russell. He was the president at the time and was also my preaching professor. He taught us that we had to live with the text and allow God to speak to us through God’s word as we work, live, and even relax in our respective environment and community. These wise words continue to inform and inspire me to this day.
Today as the senior pastor of the Salem Missionary Baptist Church, Brooklyn, NY, and adjunct professor of Ethics in the Certificate Program in Christian Ministry at NYTS, words are just too inadequate and limiting for me to capture in the space allotted the impact that NYTS has had and continues to have on my life. NYTS is a place where practice and intellect come together. One’s knowledge of the Word is only as effective as one’s efforts to practice the lessons learned in community.
I am reminded of the words that Dr. Emily Gibbs spoke to our Introduction to Ministry Class, “If the church in your community burned down, would the people in the community feel that they had lost a viable resource or just that another building burned down?” In other words the church is not the building but the people who practice the teaching of Jesus in community and beyond.
I am delighted that for the past 30 years my relationship with NYTS continues to grow stronger. I was most humbled that on May 1, 2017, I received the Distinction in Ministry Award from my beloved alma mater, NYTS. This would not have been possible if it was not for the grace of God and the teachings and impact that NYTS continues to have on my life and ministry. To God Be the Glory!
Lydia Rodriguez-Bumgardner, Registrar’s Office
My journey at NYTS began in 1992 when I came to register as a student in the MDiv. Like many others who have done the same, I walked in by faith that day. I emptied out what little I had in my savings account and paid for the first semester, not knowing how I would pay for the rest. I was a bundle of nerves. As I sat with the person handling the finances, she did her best to set me at ease.
Finished with the registration process, I went to visit Dr. Jose Caraballo, the Director of the Certificate Program. I had known him since I was a teenager serving in my local Presbyterian church and he always encouraged me to go to Seminary. When I came into his office his face lit up and after finishing a call about a bi-lingual job somewhere, he turned and asked, “What are you doing here? Did you finally stop fighting with God and come to Seminary?” I laughed and assured him that I had just registered. He told me I was going to love being at NYTS, and his excitement gave me confidence that I had made the right step in my spiritual journey. All of a sudden he stopped talking, looked at me and said, “Do you speak Spanish?” Taken aback a bit, I affirmed that I did. “Do you need a job?” he asked.
To make a long story short; that day I interviewed and was hired as the Assistant Registrar. I had walked into the Seminary that day to become a student; little did I know that God was going to provide the way for me to pay for my education! My life at NYTS was a whirlwind of work, study and service as a Student Government representative. Looking back at it now, I often wonder how I was able to do all of that. The answer is: by God’s Grace! I can truly say that I love my job and am so grateful that I have the opportunity to serve this wonderful institution. The greatest joy is Commencement day. When I see the candidates for graduation receive their degrees I feel so proud of them and I am so glad that I was a little part of their journey.
As a student I remember truly delectable bits of wisdom garnered from professors…Minka Sprague’s “dance through the scriptures”…Dr. Han’s “What does the text say?”…Dr. Weisenbach’s “know how to appreciate the volunteers”…Dr. Alfaro’s truly amazing mind…Dr. Russell’s preaching! As a staff person I celebrate the truly wonderful persons that work tirelessly every day. I am thankful that we come together and uplift each other in prayer; that the Lord has made us into a community of love, acceptance and caring of one another. I look forward to the rest of the journey with joy! Blessings to all!
Dr. Jerry Reisig, NYTS Professor
During interviews with prospective students, I always ask the question: “Why NYTS?” My 12 years at the seminary have taught me the strength that is only possible through prayer. When I came to the seminary my sense of the power of prayer was limited to asking for my lost house keys and the success of the 1986 Mets. Other than these magical rites, prayer was for pious people, who were not like me.
At NYTS, I have come to understand that prayer is the force that creates and maintains communities. It is everywhere in the process of teaching; it begins and ends every class and every faculty meeting. As a teacher, I knew I would have to say profound things; I never imagined that I was called to NYTS to learn how to pray. In one of my early classes, I had an interaction with a student where my Quaker calm left me and I spoke rather harshly. To my astonishment the student was in tears. After class I was numb at my behavior and wondered why I even considered myself a teacher. While I beat myself up, a young woman from class came back and stood by me. “I screwed up,” I said. She did not respond to my need to be the bad guy, but said, “I think that you need a hug.” I was literally blown away; I would never have had the pluck to go up to a professor of mine and do such a thing. But here was this small African American woman who was offering simply to hug me; that was it, no fuss, just a hug. But in accepting it I began to understand what prayer was.
At NYTS, prayer is integral in coming together; it is the recognizable oral prayer and the prayer of action in support of another. The phrase, I will pray for you, means more than I am thinking of you; it is not only a memory but also a call to caring action. Students openly pray for one another, get notes for one another, counsel one another, create community with one another. Every second of every hour of every day, those communities of care arise naturally among students faculty and staff. Prayers are constantly given for other members of the community, prayers so honest that even God cannot deny them. Prayers of need go out from those in need for those in need. The community grows deeper and closer out of need, out of care, out of rejoicing. Even a balding white professor can learn to accept his need for a hug and a prayer. So why NYTS? Because we need each other.
Monika Cummings, MDiv Graduate 2016
Although I hadn’t completely finished wrestling with my commitment to the call of ministry, nor did I have any desire be a pastor of a church, I enrolled in New York Theological Seminary in 2012 believing God would be, “A lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalms 119:105 NRSV).
While attending and participating in an NYTS sponsered trip to Ethiopia with Rev. Dr. Eleanor Moody-Shepherd, my mission and calling to ministry began to take shape. Over the past three years I have been working towards developing a non-profit organization called TheEyeCareProject, which redistributes unused eyeglasses to children and adults who suffer from visual impairments in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The project has collected over 500 pairs of unused eyeglasses, provided over 50 vision screenings and 30 pair of newly prescribed eyeglasses. While continuing to work on this project, I became aware of another need that affected the students attendance in this community and formed The Red Tent Project, which distributes reusable feminine hygiene products to empower women and girls who are less fortunate. These projects have expanded to other countries such as Ghana, Kenya and Jamaica and are now called the iCareProjects. So, unlike my fellow seminarians that are preachers or lay ministers, I have chosen to answer the call to ministry in the form of missions as an example of God’s universality and the promises to God’s creation.
My experience at NYTS has been transformational. Through the various courses, conferences and the intimate connections that I have made through this diverse community of faith, I now believe that true ministry doesn’t take place just in the pulpit but it can take place in the pews and more importantly outside of the church’s structural walls.
Hyo June Lim, Current MDiv Student
After finishing my degree at Keimyung University in Korea, I decided to enter New York Theological Seminary. Studying abroad was an exciting decision, which filled me with passion and anticipation for delivering the gospel. Although it required the courage to familiarize myself with a new environment and language; I was certain that God would provide and protect me through my academic journey.
Prior to arriving, I had heard that many people in New York City didn’t believe in God and about the difficulty faced when delivering the gospel to their closed hearts. I believe that God placed me in this busy and hectic city with a plan for those who are waiting for God’s words. God instructs me on what I have to do and confirms why I am here.
Every moment is precious at NYTS – the leader of the urban ministry. The seminary is equipping me for this great ministry challenge. To glorify God, give thanks, study hard and deliver the good news of Christ. Currently, I serve in the Manhattan Korean Presbyterian Church as an Assistant Pastor. I also serve as the president of Korean Student Union at NYTS. We gather once a week to pray and praise God. We also support Korean students wholeheartedly.
There are many international students who study at NYTS under hardship but the school provides academic support and scholarships opportunities. I deeply appreciate NYTS for those opportunities given to students similar to myself transitioning into this new environment and great opportunity.
Sharon Olatoyan, CP Graduate 2016
The study of God’s existence, who God really is and how God is manifested captivated me during my studies in the two-year Certificate Program in Christian Ministry at New York Theological Seminary (NYTS). I found myself moving from a life of deeply embedded theology to understanding deliberative theology. The faith that emerges from the process of carefully reflecting upon the two became rewarding rather than challenging. I’ve learned that Jesus is bigger than our creeds, confessions and reflections. This broader thinking has and will assist me in the leadership role I assume in Prison and Revival Ministry.
Learning about the Christian Spiritual Disciplines has enhanced my focus on the study and glorification of God. My studies have deepened my personal relationship with God, enabling me to become a sacrificing witness to the living God. I have a clearer vision of how I can be a benefit to others. I have learned that I must know God before I can truly love God, and I must love God before I can desire to obey. Then I can truly serve others in love.
Deborah Lindsay, DMin Graduate 2014
Rev. Dr. Deborah Lindsay chose New York Theological Seminary because it was the only seminary in the country offering a specific Doctor of Ministry track and cohort dedicated to multifaith ministry.
In August of 2010, Rev. Lindsay’s sermon about “Islamophobia,” the stereotyping of Muslims and our failure to see them as fellow people of faith, went viral on YouTube and was seen by over a million people around the world. The experience illuminated a call to multifaith ministry and clarified what she wanted to study in a Doctor of Ministry program. Her research led her to NYTS and she exclaims that it was one of the best decisions she ever made. “The diverse academic environment was exhilarating,” she adds, “to study in a cohort with a rabbi and imam deepened the learning and growth, and created what I expect to be lifelong relationships.”
Currently serving as the Minister of Spiritual Care at First Community Church, Columbus, Ohio, in January 2016 Rev. Lindsay will become the Executive Minister. She believes the church is changing in America and the need is “greater than ever for educated clergy to partner with the people of God to do the work of reconciliation and peace-making.”
Noting that Rev. Dr. Wanda Lundy, NYTS Doctor of Ministry Program Director, often spoke about the importance of transformation in the DMin projects, Dr. Lindsay added “Transformation is also what happened to me as an individual, as a leader, as a woman in ministry, and as a human being. I am a more competent and confident leader thanks to my education at NYTS and I am profoundly grateful for my experience.”
Rev. Dr. Lindsay says she would encourage anyone entering a Doctor of Ministry program to consider NYTS. She shares “I was affirmed in my work and at the same time stretched beyond what I thought was possible in my thinking, academic work, and dreaming about what is possible in ministry.”
Jonnel Green, MDiv Graduate 2015
Jonnel Green (MDiv 2015) was the recipient of the Bible Award for Second Testament at the NYTS 2015 Commencement. Using his own life as a testimony, Jonnel inspires others through preaching and his spiritual walk to “Never let the limited language of broken individuals become a blueprint for your possibility.”
Jonnel has been called to be for young people what he so desperately needed as a youth: a mentor, an advocate and a leader who could inspire young people to hope and to dream. A former high school drop-out, this licensed minister has launched a nonprofit organization that partners with the Public School System to undergird young people.
The Executive Director of Young Harlem, Inc., a multi-faceted dropout prevention program that transforms students into scholastic and behavioral achievers, Jonnel is partnering with the New York City Department of Education and the New York Department of Probations to instill hope, confidence and strength in the emerging generation.
Raised in Harlem by his grandparents who brought him up in the church, Jonnel’s life began to spiral out of control as a teen. He not only dropped out of school, but he also began living a lifestyle that did not reflect who Christ called him to be. Jonnel credits God’s love for him as the primary motivation to turn his life around and to help others to turn their lives around. He maintains that young people are not “at-risk”, but rather “at-hope: the point where success is possible.”
Young Harlem, Inc., seeks to organize and motivate youth to pursue a three dimensional life: living the height, the length and the width God designed for them. “It’s important for me to preach and teach that there is Hope and God is in charge of it all,” Jonnel says.
Incorporating what he learned while pursuing the Master in Divinity at NYTS, Jonnel says “transformative ministry is what happened to me and what I aim to bring into the lives of today’s youth.”
Susana Araujo, CP Graduate 2015
My heart is forever thankful to Jesus Christ, to the professors at New York Theological Seminary (NYTS), and especially Dr. Cano, Director of the Certificate Program.
I was a leader serving in Ministry at the Catholic Charismatic Church, when God called me to transition to the Pentecostal Church of God. As I embarked on a deeper level of spiritual formation in the spring of 2008, the Spirit of God led me to the Certificate Program at NYTS. Unfortunately, my seminary educational pursuits temporarily stopped with the sudden death of my mother. I wrestled with my mother’s last few words, “pray, pray always… and finish seminary.” It was the ultimate brokenness. I wept like Jeremiah, suffered like Job, and ran from serving God like Jonah. Like Jacob, I was literally physically limping in the process as I wrestled with the call. Like Jacob, I’ve worked seven hard years balancing employment and unexpected child-care responsibilities to complete the Certificate Program at NYTS.
While It took me seven years to complete the Certificate Program, it’s not about starting, but completing God’s purpose in your life. I was in a state of dormancy but, today, I declare that by the grace and mercy of God, I’m still standing. When God calls and has chosen you, He will preserve you in the midst of any storm. Proverbs 3:5 NIV says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your path straight” (NASB). I now plan to pursue the doctorate program at NYTS.
Gary Morello, MDiv Graduate 2016
I was brought to Seminary at the age of 24 and have been under the wing of my pastor for five years. I remember specifically saying with a Bible in my hands held to my chest “God if you help me get through this, I will dedicate the rest of my life to you and serve you in any way I can.”
I remember being in church on a snowy December day in 2012, and I could feel during the sermon my stomach palpating and the presence of God in my life calling me to a greater purpose as it pertains to ministry. By February 2013, I found myself
enrolled in NYTS. The confirmation for this journey was that one of my pastors had a mentor named Jerry, and the first time I walked into NYTS I met with Dr. Jerry Reisig to go over my course schedule. I left NYTS prior to registration with an overwhelming feeling of confirmation and conviction for God’s call in my life.
My message to anyone who is thinking about a theological education is that the growth, maturity, and biblical foundation I have found over the last three years of my studies at NYTS has been fundamentally, unbelievably, fantastic. For my life, for my ministry, for the youth that I teach in church, for my family, for the deep and profound relationship that I have developed with Jesus Christ, I am eternally grateful for my experience here at NYTS.
Gail Davis, DMin Graduate 2015
My experience at NYTS was rewarding, enlightening, and memorable. My mind was exposed to new ways of reading and studying the Bible. The diverse student and teacher population presented new experiences in worship. More importantly, I was transformed because of the pedagogy of theology. I found my voice in black liberation and womanist theology because I was introduced to some of the theologians who laid the groundwork for theological discourse in these areas.
The experience at NYTS has allowed me to impart the knowledge I learned and introduce theological discussions with the congregants at Berean, where I attend church. This past February, I organized black history month at church and invited some of the theologians I met at or through NYTS – James Cone, Obery Hendricks, and Onleilove Alston who discussed the black presence in the Bible and the justice of Jesus.
I understand more the power of theological education and the need to discuss theology more, particularly in the black church. It’s alarming to realize that the word theology still has a negative connotation by laypersons and some clergy. I’m thankful, after completing the DMin, that NYTS is a place that continues to evolve to make theological learning relevant.
Valerie H. Holly, MDiv Graduate 2014
Having obtained an MSW degree in 1986, I had a sense (at least I thought I did!) of the study and work habits necessary to complete the MDiv program. However a lot changed between 1986 and 2011; the biggest change was the technology. I thank God that the NYTS leadership was astute enough to provide computer training and on-going assistance for students like me. The MDiv program required me to become more familiar with the technology- which I was able to do with the help of staff and students.
The MDiv program at NYTS has been one of ongoing enjoyable learning. Since I am in ministry, I had openness and an excitement towards my classes. The professors were sound theologically and experientially. They are not only academics, they are also preachers, chaplains, and most are pastors. Thus, these individuals have an understanding of ministry from the books and from the “front line”; they have been in the trenches; they have put their teachings to the test; they know what it means to work with people from all walks of life. Therefore their life experiences in ministry allowed for invaluable insights in the classroom. I also appreciated the spiritual component of prayer and devotions before each class. These classroom customs spoke to my heart and informed me of the importance that NYTS placed on invoking God’s spiritual principles in the classroom and whenever we were studying.
NYTS has taught me the importance of having a sound theological foundation to the preached word.
Valerie is the 2014 recipient of the President’s Award.
Steven V. Jones, MDiv Graduate 2014
I never saw myself as a preacher. I did not think that God would use me in that capacity. I saw myself as a teacher of Sunday school or a leader of ministries in the church; but, never as a proclaimer of the Gospel. I however, was extremely interested in learning more about the Bible. I knew in my heart there was more to learn; I just had to be directed to the right place. As such, I listened to my wife and friend and took one class over the summer and I was sucked in. I could not play around the periphery; NYTS had drawn me into its womb for a 4 year gestation period. And, in the NYTS womb I received theological nutrients that brought sustenance for life and growth.
I began to grow by attending the classes that pushed me beyond anything I could have imagined. I began to not only be challenged intellectually; but, also challenged spiritually. Was the faith I was holding on to so hard really what I needed to hold onto? Was there a faith that God had specifically for me? In the classes I began to experience unexpected growth in the friendships with my peers and my professors. I actually grew in feeling more confident to express my understanding of God’s revelation. This growth occurred inside and outside of the classroom.
What will I do with this growth? I am simply to honor God, my family and NYTS in my future endeavors. First, I will honestly and earnestly approach ministry with a thought of the other. I will serve the people because the “People’s needs are Holy.” I will seek ways to give back and not just financially to NYTS. I will walk in the assurance that I am NYTS.
Steven is the 2014 recipient of the Keith A. Russell Preaching Award.
Eun Joo Park, MDiv Graduate 2015
As a woman in my country, I planned to study theology but I could not really decide or commit to it. For a long time I engaged in Christian Education studies at a theological seminary and even worked at several institutions of education and churches. When I came to New York, suddenly God led and changed my way. In this new land I felt like I could access the kind of study that I only imagined. I thank God that I am studying in the Master of Divinity program at NYTS. Among many reasons, here I have grasped a theology which relates to global cultures and the human condition. I think this theology demonstrates how God loves the world and his people.
I often wondered why God led to me this new land, but I realize that the theological education I am receiving here is preparing me for the important tasks as I pursue a ministry that is concerned and cares for the oppressed.
Kweku Sam Kwofie, Current MDiv Student
New York Theological Seminary is a blessing from God. I was afforded the opportunity to participate in the Seminary’s work-study program alongside my academic endeavors. I received this as a privilege and it allowed me to create more intimate relationships with students and faculty members. Being in close proximity to brilliant minds and being surrounded by dynamic ministers in Christ, created an atmosphere of challenge and provided the necessary depth required for God’s personal calling on my life to be supported and strengthened. NYTS is a good fit for the spirited academic. The five boroughs of New York truly become one’s campus.
Theo Harris, MPS Graduate 2008
There is no monetary value I can place on my New York Theological Seminary education. My Masters of Professional Studies degree was earned under the most difficult conditions imaginable – behind the maximum security walls of Sing-Sing Correctional Facility. Yet, I would not trade that experience for anything in the world, because it has given me insight into not only myself, and my beliefs, but also an insight into and a profound respect for the beliefs of others. This insight serves me well in my current position as Reentry Outreach Coordinator for The Interfaith Center of New York. Yes, I am truly honored to say that I am a graduate of New York Theological Seminary’s “North”
NYTS is celebrating over 30 years of the MPS program at Sing Sing.
Marilyn Ava Jolley, MDiv Graduate 2011
To Dr. Dale Irvin: Thank you and the entire New York Theological Team for your kindness, love and encouragement while I was at New York Theological Seminary. This institution has given me the tools I need to do ministry effectively. You helped me to see the direction God was leading me. You encouraged me to drum for Justice, Jesus, and Peace. I am now an ordained Minister of First Baptist Church Of Crown Heights. God has blessed me with a ministry. This ministry is the Djembe Drum Ministry, which comprises of close to fifty children, drumming for Justice, Jesus and Peace. This ministry has played for many organizations. This year we played for the Supreme Court in Brooklyn, New York. We are drumming in nursing homes, parks, and in the Crown Heights community. For the year 2015 we hope to take our message to the schools in New York: “Take up the drums not the Gun.” This ministry is growing. I thank God for leading me to this wonderful institution, New York Theological Seminary… a place where I learned the true meaning of ministry.
Rev. Jolley was ordained on November 2, 2014.