Urban Cohort Student Learned to Balance Life, Work and Family at GRTS
Zachariah Char (M.A. ’17) is a ministry leadership graduate from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary’s Urban Cohort program. He came to the United States from Sudan in 2001. One of the Lost Boys of Sudan, he had lived in Kakuma Refugee Camp and finished high school there.
When he arrived in Grand Rapids, Char studied at Grand Rapids Community College and received his associate degree in 2005. In 2007, he enrolled at Kuyper College for social work while also working as a caseworker at Bethany Christian Services.
It wasn’t until 2015 that he saw a story about GRTS’ Urban Cohort on the news and realized it was a good opportunity to further his education. “It fit with my busy schedule of family and work,” Char said. “It felt very practical.”
Char learned a lot about ministry during his time at GRTS. “The cohort worked as a group,” he said. “We started together, and we finished together.” He also appreciated hearing different perspectives from various denominations.
What mattered most to him, however, was the focus on pastoral care. “My mentality used to be, ‘If the job is not done, I am not going home,'” Char said. “We had an evaluation course where I learned how to avoid burning out and balance work and family.” Char developed spiritual disciplines like praying with his family but also took the time to pray by himself.
“Self-care is very important, no matter what your job,” Char said. “Educators should teach that on a high school level. I used to take work home with me on the weekend, but then I heard a speaker who came to GRTS and talked about managing work and family. Why worry about tomorrow’s work?”
Char is still taking classes at GRTS to further his education. He has been leading a Sudanese Episcopalian congregation since 2003, and recently began working at St. Phillip Episcopal. He also runs the Jok Char Development Foundation for refugee children in South Sudan.
“The Urban Cohort helped me gain connections,” Char said. “The church has many different branches, and we embrace different parts of the Bible, but the Urban Cohort opened the boundaries to discuss our beliefs.”
The Urban Cohort at GRTS has given international students like Char the opportunity to study the Bible and better serve their communities since it was founded in 2010. Students from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Puerto Rico and Nepal have all been involved in the Urban Cohort so far.
Char was one of the first Lost Boys of Sudan to become ordained in the Episcopal church in America. He was featured in a New York Times article in 2007 and is the subject of the documentary ‘Lost Boy Home.’ Char has a strong congregation here in Grand Rapids, but he still has a heart for the community in South Sudan.
“I have a goal of collecting non-food items to send to South Sudan,” Char said, “along with raising money for talking Bibles so they can hear the Gospel in their language.”