When Beulah Yusuf began as a freshman at Lenoir-Rhyne University (LR) in the fall of 2018, she could not imagine all that the next four years would bring. While other freshmen were being dropped off at school by their parents, Beulah had left her parents 6000 miles away in Youla, Nigeria. LR’s Director of International Education picked her up at the airport. She had left her home earlier in the summer to join the ELCA’s International Women Leaders program (IWL) with program managers, Kaleb and Ann. Four years later, when Beulah learned that both Kaleb and Ann would be with her for graduation, she was giddy. “I’m so excited—really excited—and am looking forward to their coming! They’ve been such a blessing.”
One of the biggest challenges was being away from home for so long which, of course, was made more challenging by COVID-19. “My plan was to go home between each year, but because of the pandemic, I couldn’t. When I could go home this past summer, three months felt like three weeks!” Another big challenge was being without family at crucial times, including her recent graduation. She’d hoped her father could come but he was not granted a visa in time.
Beulah’s father learned about the ELCA’s IWL from their Lutheran Church in Nigeria. “I think my dad wanted this for me so badly because he’s so into education and so into exposure.” Education and exposure were just what she got! During her time at LR, she says, “The best part has been literally the people. This experience has really exposed me to different people and I’ve learned so much.”
She was able to do an internship for a semester in Washington D.C. with the Legacy Premier Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to empower individuals and underserved communities through capital and socioeconomic development, work she really enjoyed. As a Politics and International Affairs major, Beulah hopes to begin American University in the fall for graduate school. “I learned how to walk fast in D.C!”
While academic studies in her major were the main focus, she found interest in other things too including favorite classes in both Spanish and history. As she looked for a church home, Beulah admitted to a stereotype she’d learned of churches in the U.S., “You can only find old people in church in America.” She did find Christian community, however—with young people!—at Gathering House Ministries adjacent to campus which included a Friendsgiving for folks who couldn’t go home for the Thanksgiving holiday. And, Beulah enjoyed attending sporting events. “I will miss the basketball and volleyball games. Also, football games (even though I don’t understand it)!”
After graduation, Beulah plans to pursue graduate school at American University’s School of International Service, a top-10 graduate school for international relations programs. She hopes to find financial solutions which will allow her to continue her studies.
Being in the ELCA’s International Women Leaders program has been a life-changing experience for Beulah. Through her four years of study, having other IWL students at Lenoir-Rhyne became a great support. “They are in my inner circle!” Beulah said. When asked why the ELCA should support this important program, she replied:
Just the structure; it brings diverse people from different countries together. It gives you the potential to bring something back to your country. We’ve had students who have taken bold steps to change the world, sometimes together with each other. It creates a community of wonderful people—wonderful girls (and women)—to enjoy life together while they’re studying together.
The ELCA recently celebrated its fourth full graduating class of International Women Leaders with a Facebook Live 2022 Graduation Celebration. Watch it to see Beulah (16:50) and meet the seven other women leaders who have graduated this spring. The support our congregations and our synod have given to the ELCA connect us all to these beautiful women and the good work they will go on to do in their churches and their communities around the world. Learn more about the program at www.elca.org/IWL and consider an individual gift of support for women today!
Thanks be to God for the International Women Leaders program, the 2022 graduates, and the support this church gives to bring about faith-filled global change.
2022 Graduation Celebration—ELCA International Women Leaders Program
Commencement ceremonies scheduled for 2022 graduates—Lenoir-Rhyne News