I haven’t told anyone yet…. but I think God thinks I can do it!

House Scholar Application

Disciples Divinity House, Chicago

November 3, 2008

Having grown up in the church, the child of two Global Ministries missionaries, I have long recognized the church’s profound influence on my life.  Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that my call to ministry predates my adolescence.  So many of the pieces of my life, events and decisions, seem to clearly point me toward theological study and ministry, yet I have not always recognized this direction, and I now approach this process with a fresh sense of call and urgency, as if at last a veil has fallen from my eyes, and I can see the direction the path ahead leads.  A childhood journal entry I came upon this past August relates an experience of call.  Ironically it occurred during a visit to Disciples Divinity House:

“May 28, 1994.  Yesterday was a great day!  Ana [my mom] and I got here early so we walked around.  We saw the apartment we’re going to live in and the school Mandla and I will go to.  We had lunch and Ana got me an ice cream cone.  Yum-yum! After lunch and a bit more walking around we went and saw the mummies at the museum.  That was neat too!”

“In the chapel the service was wonderful!  I’m not sure how to explain, it was so good!  In the chapel god called me to live with the poor.  To become ‘poor’ myself.  To live and work hard.  Kind of like St. Francis.  I haven’t told anyone yet.  It’s a big thing, and I think god (sic) thinks I can do it!”

In the eager, exclamation-marked writing of a nine year-old, I share the joy of my visit to Chicago, and at the end, almost as an afterthought a call by God to live with and work for the poor.  More than that, to be poor.  At twenty-four, this call frightens me.  What did I mean?  Surely not to give up my material possessions and go and be poor.  I recently read about a minister here in San Francisco who goes on a weeklong “Street Retreat” once a year, during which she and several others live on the street, in solidarity with those who have nowhere else to go.  Is this what God calls me to do?  For the rest of my life?

I find it fascinating, and somewhat troubling, that I could so clearly receive a call and then forget its clarity and urgency as I continued on my path through childhood and adolescence to adulthood.  I failed to see the big picture as I entered college declaring myself “undecided” and then majoring in Religious Studies.  I approached my senior thesis, “Whom Shall I Send? An Exploration of Call,” as an opportunity to learn about the theologies of friends and family instead of as a chance to discern God’s call in my own life.   Having no other post-graduation plans, I signed up to work overseas through Global Ministries (I was a Global Ministries Mission Intern in Tamil Nadu, India for nine months).  Despite this seemingly directed journey, I often felt adrift.  Although I made conscious decisions to serve others and live deliberately, I avoided articulating my decisions in the context of my faith, God’s call for me to pursue ministry.  Finally, a powerful spiritual experience in south India caught my attention, sweeping a veil from my eyes so that what had been blurred, God’s invitation to deliberate theological inquiry and eventual ministry, regained the clarity of my childhood experience of call (a detailed retelling of this event is part of my application essay for The Divinity School).

In applying to be a Disciples Divinity House Scholar, I look forward to living and breaking bread with others who, together, grapple with questions of purpose and responsibility, of life with its cycles and progression, of the earth/universe and our place in it, of the divine and how we relate to it and to each other.  I hope to find others who are willing to address issues of wealth and poverty, power and privilege, including the power and privilege of education.  As Sandhya Jha, a DDH Scholar and University of Chicago alum explained to me, she sees part of her work as being a “steward” of knowledge and wisdom.  I want to study with people like Sandhya who apply the academics they learn in class to their own lives, people who reflect on their experience to create theologies of praxis and presence.

Although it frightens me, I want to be able to pursue the call that I heard so clearly at age nine, the call to work with the poor, underprivileged and marginalized, the people who live on the fringes of our society.  Disciples Divinity House, in supporting its scholars financially, enables its students to graduate from seminary and follow their call without having to worry about repaying student loans.  This is a tremendous gift, particularly since I do not know how my ministry will eventually manifest itself. I do not know whether my path will lead me into parish ministry or a special education classroom; whether it will lead me overseas, or to a Native American Reservation in North Dakota, or to the streets of Chicago.  In pursuing theological studies, I anticipate being part of a community of fellow discerners and seekers who share their wisdom and guidance with one another as each of us discerns God’s call to us. I come to seminary open to possibilities and the mystery of their unfolding.

In the meantime, I am blessed to attend Forest Hill Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) here in San Francisco, where I am a part of the church’s hospitality ministry.  Forest Hill Christian Church is a community of faithful people who come together to seek and celebrate beauty, to hold pain and offer comfort, to accept and embrace each individual in their brokenness, utterly human with no pretense of perfection.  And in this humanity, we may recognize the god in each, the god in all.  I am inspired by the pastoral and lay ministry that I witness and am able to be a part of at this church.  Together we worship, and when worship is over, as our bulletin reminds us, our service to the world begins.

Today, my ministry happens as a caregiver at Margie’s Residence for Seniors.  It happens in a lay capacity at Forest Hill Christian Church.  It happens as I walk down the street and greet people around me, recognizing both their humanity and their divinity.  The next step for me on this journey is seminary, which will provide the opportunity for me to continue my ministry but with greater deliberation and responsibility.  I believe Disciples Divinity House’s commitment to academic rigor, inquiry and community will provide a strong foundation to prepare me to respond to God’s call in my life with and through a community of faith.

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About Thandiwe

Hopeful cynic, creative, seriously silly, lover of people and places, hypocrite, third-culture kid, queer, life-long learner, white woman, Christ follower, outdoor enthusiast: I am a seeker of justice and truth who has re-found my spiritual home in progressive Christianity. I serve as the Associate Pastor at a small Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation near the mountains of Colorado where I live with my beloved.
This entry was posted in Chicago, India, Nepal, Seminary, South Africa, Theological Reflection, United States of America, Zimbabwe and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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