D. Jensen Seyenkulo couldn’t wait to return home. It had been 20 years since he escaped a brutal civil war in his beloved Liberia. And before his departure, twice he narrowly escaped being killed. “But your home is your home, and there is no place I’d rather be,” he says.
Jensen, an ordained pastor of the ELCA, returned home in 2012, when he was elected bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia. “Thrilled and flattered” by the trust of the people, Jensen says that it is “by God’s will that I have been called to this position.”
Although he returned to a more emotional and economically depressed Liberia, some things had remained the same.
“The people of Liberia are resilient,” he says. “Everybody hustles on a daily basis. We don’t have time to worry about Charles Taylor. We have a nation to build,” says Jensen, who had been elected bishop two days before Charles Taylor was convicted of crimes against humanity at The Hague. But Jensen says he’s forgiven the Liberian dictator. “We cannot stay angry. What will that do for us? We want to move on.”
That he has. As bishop, Jensen is working to strengthen unity among members of his church and to make the central office financially self-sustaining.
“These are two of my biggest priorities,” he says, hoping that within the next six years he could make the central office self-sufficient by “returning to the soil. There is a lot of land surrounding the office, which can be used to plant vegetables and other cash crops. I am absolutely convinced that we can achieve our sustainability by returning to the soil.”
Born in Kenata, a rural village in northeastern Liberia, Jensen was raised by his cousin whom he calls dad. Together they lived in a village where Lutheran missionaries took root and where Jensen learned about Christianity and was baptized. “I felt special. God forgave me of all my sins and adopted me as his child. It was so special to me.” After his high school graduation, Jensen was set on becoming a Lutheran pastor.
He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctorate, thanks in part to the generosity of ELCA members. In the mid-1980s, the ELCA awarded Jensen scholarships to support his studies at ELCA seminaries, where he received a Master of Theology degree from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. An international leadership development scholarship from ELCA churchwide ministries supported his doctorate studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In the 2011-2012 academic year, the ELCA provided scholarships toward the development of more than 60 global church leaders.
“The (scholarship) is a godsend,” says Jensen. “It has made me into a better leader,” and the program also supported other Lutheran Liberian leaders.
When Jensen returned home, some from the Lutheran Church in Liberia thought his absence put him at a disadvantage as a leader. “There may be some truth to that,” he admits, “but I’m smart.”
“Through the generous financial support provided by ELCA members, (ELCA churchwide ministries) make scholarships available to our international companions for the purpose of increasing the church’s capacity for mission and ministry,” says Tammy Jackson, director of the ELCA churchwide scholarship program.
“As a scholarship recipient, Jensen is a living example of the scholarship program’s intent. He is a strong and capable leader who will serve the Lutheran Church in Liberia well as the presiding bishop. We are thankful to have accompanied him and the Lutheran Church in Liberia along the way by providing scholarship support to meet his educational goals and the needs of the church,” says Tammy, adding that the ELCA currently supports more than 60 international students through the scholarship program.