PhD Student Smitha Gunthoti on How Scholarships Made Answering the Call to Ministry Possible

A portrait of the Gunthoti family with Smitha, Manoj, and their three sons.

For LSTC PhD student Smitha Gunthoti, the call to ministry has long been in her family. Her grandfather was a pastor in an Indian Evangelical Lutheran Church and was a teacher in India, her husband, also a PhD student, is studying with her at LSTC, and she was fully supported by her parents and relatives when she decided to pursue theological education. 

That decision in part, was inspired by the wife of her pastor in her hometown. “My mother, she used to take us to church regularly. And in those days, I used to see my pastor’s wife preaching and sharing good news. The way she gave her sermons amazed me,” Gunthoti says. In a nation in which women’s theological leadership is not always supported, this experience proved to be foundational.

After deciding to respond to the call of ministry herself, Gunthoti followed up her Bachelor of Theology program with a graduate program, where she met her husband, Manoj Gunthoti. Both Smitha and Manoj ordained pastors of Lutheran Church in India, deeply wanted to continue their education and earn their PhDs. Originally, they had planned to stay in India, close to family and friends. But there was a snag—the scholarship. With financial barrier after barrier in front of them, the Gunthotis faced significant uncertainty about how to move forward.

Enter Rev. Dr. Joseph Prabhakar Dayam alumnus of Union Theological Seminary, New York. He suggested that the Gunthotis pursue a PhD at LSTC. “He said that LSTC is a very good [institution], and that it welcomed international students…he spoke very highly of LSTC. He even helped us fill out the necessary forms for our application,” Gunthoti says. Their application was successful—even better, both were awarded partial tuition scholarships and opportunities to work on campus so that they could provide for their rest of the tuition, housing, and children while working towards their PhDs. 

By September of 2016, Smitha, Manoj, and their three children had relocated to Chicago and began their journey. For Smitha, the community at LSTC made the transition a positive experience. “I was so happy to see LSTC, and the people welcoming us,” she says of her introduction to the campus. “And we were welcomed very warmly.” Upon beginning her classes, Smitha was pleased to encounter new pedagogical methods that encouraged taking advantage of experiential learning opportunities and a faculty that supported her research interests.

Today, under the guidance of Dr. Linda Thomas, Smitha has found personal and academic support as she approaches writing her dissertation, which proposes Indian Womanist Theology. “I’m focusing on Hinduism, on the prevailing beliefs about women and the matriarchy…and how it came down to patriarchy,” she explains. 

Next, the family plans to celebrate Manoj’s recent appointment as a pastor in the ELCA under the Metropolitan Chicago Synod and the arrival of their fourth child. And to other international students considering attending LSTC, Gunthoti highly recommends they take the leap: “LSTC is very unique and very supportive,” she says. “So, I encourage everyone to go for it.”

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