When Seminary Surprises

This article appears in the Stories edition of the Calvin Seminary Forum

With one semester of undergraduate study left, Ruan Bessa was ready for the next step in his ministry formation. That’s precisely when his friend Eduardo, a Calvin alumnus, told him about the seminary.

“At the time I knew I wanted to continue my theological education and serve the church as a teacher,” Ruan recalls. “Eduardo spoke highly of CTS, so I applied.” Ruan was accepted into CTS’ PhD program to pursue a focus on moral theology.

Like his friend Eduardo, Ruan would be coming to CTS’ Grand Rapids campus from Brazil. Some things in his life would remain consistent, like his desire to learn and grow in his walk with God and overflowing ministry. Other things would be different, like the rhythm of each day.

“In Brazil, I spent most of my day at church and attended classes at night,” he explains. “At CTS my classes were during the day. To be at home by 5 p.m.? That was a surprise!”

He also found Calvin’s extensive support system surprising.

“Any student is naturally concerned with food, shelter, finances, and meaningful relationships,” Ruan begins. “For international students, in a strange land, these concerns perhaps are felt more acutely. Calvin has a good food pantry, affordable housing, great scholarships, and constantly seeks to foster our community life.”

Ruan has also enjoyed connecting with the seminary’s adjacent community of Calvin University, which shares a campus with CTS.

“I enjoy playing soccer every Sunday with Calvin Uni students,” Ruan says. The Calvin community also has ties to several countries, including the Netherlands. “I picked up some of Dutch card game culture,” he says. “Euchre, Dutch blitz, I am down!”

Besides a rich social culture, Ruan has found the seminary has exceeded his hopes for spiritual formation and growth, noting: “I grew spiritually at Calvin not only because I sat in class with my professors as teachers but, more importantly, because I sat around a table with some of them as friends. We laughed and cried, I encouraged and was encouraged by them.”

In addition to faculty mentorship, Ruan notes that his friendships with peers were also points of deep connection and spiritual growth: “The opportunity to spend time with your classmates from around the world will remind you that the kingdom of God speaks of a universal redeemed community and that our particular vocations are to be windows into the general call to follow Jesus.”

When it comes to recommending Calvin to future seminarians, Ruan has a list of things he highlights in conversation:

1. There are excellent teachers in this house.
2. At CTS I engaged Christians from all over the world.
3. Hekman Library—and all it offers—is just a gem.
4. The PhD program at Calvin made me a well-rounded thinker, a generalist as they say, without preventing me from acquiring depth in my desired area as well.
5. CTS anticipates your basic needs.

“Any student is naturally concerned with food, shelter, finances, and meaningful relationships,” Ruan begins. “For international students, in a strange land, these concerns perhaps are felt more acutely. Calvin has a good food pantry, affordable housing, great scholarships, and constantly seeks to foster our community life.”