How Scholarships and a Leap of Faith Created New Opportunities for International Student Char Laywa
When Char Laywa thinks about God’s role in her life she thinks immediately about the ways that faith has motivated her. “I can learn in the midst of good and bad times where God is and how God can help me,” Laywa says. “From those times, I know I’m not alone.”
Faith, and her commitment to service, was especially important to Laywa’s dedication to attending the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) in spring of 2021, when she made the arduous journey from Myanmar, her war-ravaged home country, to attend LSTC in Chicago, all during a global pandemic that affected both countries.
Still, Laywa knew from the first moment she experienced the message on LSTC’s website that this was the place for her. “The first thing that motivated me was when I opened the LSTC website,” Laywa says. “The slogan said: ‘go deeper, go further, go beyond.’” She saw the words, and the promise of a truly diverse institution connected to the ELCA, and knew that this had to be the next step.
There were, perhaps predictably, challenges. Amongst them: leaving home, leaving family, and coming to a country that at the time required a two-week-long quarantine and entering classes that were in Laywa’s third language and temporarily offered exclusively online. To complicate matters further, Laywa learned that American pedagogy is far different than what she had experienced in Myanmar, which had focused on rote memorization.
Thankfully, Laywa found that LSTC was there to support her financially with a full tuition scholarship towards her MA and academic support to help bridge the culture gap. Laywa saw God, through people, at work. “I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to those who donate generous gifts for the theological students who look at the face of God and support students even though we did not know each other before,” Laywa says. “I would [also] like to thank the LSTC faculty and staff, LRWC, my friends, my learning partners, and the LSTC community.”
Laywa’s call to pastoral ministry began when she taught Sunday school, prior to seminary, when she was a Bachelor of Theology student in Myanmar. “I felt [during that time] that God was calling for [my] ministry,” Laywa says. The joy she experienced in sharing her knowledge and faith with young people brought new meaning to what she had come to value while earning her undergraduate degree and Master of Arts in Theology in her home country: the importance of “knowing God’s will and living God’s will in my whole life.”
Laywa’s call is centered on the knowledge that, as she says, “God can show love and mercy to everyone in our lives.” Though Laywa will graduate with her MA at the end of the Spring 2023 term, she hopes to continue on with a PhD program in her field, to which she has already applied, and plans to pass on all that she has learned, one day, to her community in Myanmar. And for those students from similar backgrounds who may also have the desire to attend seminary and may require financial support, she has a message of hope: “[The combination of] prayer and letting your situation be known to the admissions office,” is what Laywa advises. “They will guide you towards scholarships and further opportunities too.”