Just a few months ago, Ishmael K. Mathiu, a third generation Methodist and an ordained minister, was serving as mission coordinator for his church in Kenya.
Now, he’s sharing his gifts with the community at Perkins School of Theology.
Mathiu is one of six students in Perkins’ newest class of international students—a substantial increase from previous years, when only two international students were admitted per year. This increase is due to a change in the decision to admit qualified international students and not limit admission to only two. The six students came from Zimbabwe, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and China.
“They truly enrich our classroom and community life in significant and unique ways,” said Tracy Anne Allred, Assistant Dean of Student Life and Director of Community Engagement at Perkins. “It’s a different dialogue when you have that diversity, not just U.S. diversity but the global context of ministry and experience.”
Perkins’ international reputation helped attract the students, but most also had some personal connection before arriving on campus, said the Rev. Dr. Margot Perez-Greene, Associate Dean for Enrollment Management at Perkins.
“Our alums recommend Perkins to their friends and former undergraduate classmates,” she said. “They’re our best recruiters.” Alumni returning to their home countries, combined with strong ties nurtured with overseas institutions such as the United Methodist Church’s Africa University in Zimbabwe, helped feed the pipeline. Francois Kazadi Mukosa, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a graduate of Africa University who toured the U.S. about 10 years ago as the school’s choirmaster; Mathiu visited the U.S. in 2015 through mission connections with First United Methodist Church of Grapevine, located in a Dallas suburb. In other cases, Perkins faculty who travel to other countries for speaking engagements or musical performances also help get the word out.
Perez-Greene notes that international students make incredible sacrifices to come to Perkins.
“Most of our new students have spouses and children at home,” she said. “They are sacrificing two years of their lives with their families to be here. The value they place on being able to acquire this education is nearly incomprehensible to us.”
Mukosa has a wife and three young children, ages 7, 3 and 1, back at home. Mathiu has a wife and two children, ages 15 and 11. Most international students do not have the opportunity to return home during their two years of study.
“This is the first time my family has been split up for a long time,” Mathiu said. “Other times, I’ve traveled for only one or two days. It’s a big sacrifice for them.” He joked that he “campaigned” with his children to get their blessing for his plans to study in the U.S., which led his wife to agree, too.
In the past 10 years, Perkins has awarded full scholarships annually – including tuition as well as room, board and other expenses – to two students. This year, the decision was made to
to provide an opportunity for more international students to be part of the Perkins community.
At a recent tea time for international students, Mukosa played his guitar for attendees. At home, he’s part of a musical group called Band Umoja — “Umoja means unity in Swahili,” he explains – now, he’s part of Perkins’ Seminary Singers.
“In the last two months, we have seen how much richer we are because of these six students,” Perez-Greene said. “They have become good friends. They have provided so much with regard to music, worship, reflection, and conversation.”
Allred notes that, while the new students are part of the scholarship program for international students, there are many others who bring a multicultural perspective – students whose home countries include Mexico, Korea, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Cuba, and Peru.
“They all add to the diversity that we value here at Perkins and bring that global perspective,” said Tracy Anne.
A memorial service was held on October 18 for M.T.S. student Yan (Judy) He of China, who died Oct. 5. The service, attended by members of the Perkins and SMU community, included an original composition by Dr. Marcell Silva Steuernagel, Director of the Master of Sacred Music Degree Program and Assistant Professor of Church Music. In addition, a quartet of international Perkins students led a congregational hymn in four languages. The homily was delivered by Herbert Coleman, Director of Retention and Student Success. Gifts from the Perkins community and a letter of condolence from former U.S. President George W. Bush were presented to Yan (Judy) He’s mother and sister by Perkins Dean Craig C. Hill.