On Friday, April 30, Isaiah Cruz will graduate with a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (M.A.T.S.) from Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. He will be the first person in his family to have received both an undergraduate and graduate degree.
The son of Salvadoran immigrants, Cruz came to Beeson in 2019 to pursue a Master of Divinity degree because he thought God was leading him to become a pastor like his parents, who co-pastor Iglesia Misionera Renacer (Rebirth Missionary Church) in Manassas, Virginia.
“However, like so many of us, the COVID pandemic gave me time to reflect upon what the Lord wanted me to do after Beeson,” said Cruz, who spent last summer studying the history of the Latin American Church. “After much prayer and discussion with my family, I sensed that the Lord was calling me to use my gifts in humanitarian work that focused on refugees and immigrants, given my own immersion in that world as a child.”
Cruz’s parents had come to the United States as refugees after a violent military regime in El Salvador forced them from their home in the 1980’s. As immigrants, they faced language and socioeconomic barriers, which limited their job opportunities. Growing up, Cruz struggled to reconcile his American identity with his Salvadoran heritage.
“I saw that the struggle for human rights from a Christian perspective is not rooted in an abstract notion of the universal brotherhood of humanity,” he said. “Rather, the political task of the church is rooted in Jesus Christ, who has taken the godlessness of all people upon himself and nullified their rejection through his death and resurrection.”
While Beeson Divinity provided the theological rationale for humanitarian work, Cruz said he now needs “the how and what … so that I can put into practice my own impetus for humanitarian work with a Christological vision.”
This fall, Cruz will begin a Master of Arts in Latin American Studies at Georgetown University, with a Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies through the Institute for the Study of International Migration. This move also will allow him to be closer to his parents, who are retiring from pastoral ministry this summer.
“My prayer is that I will be able to engage in humanitarian work related to refugee resettlement, immigration reform and the protection of human rights (especially women) in Latin America at large and Central America in particular,” he said.
As his time at Beeson comes to an end, Cruz is grateful for three professors in particular who shaped his time as student: Dean Douglas Sweeney, New Testament Professor Osvaldo Padilla and History and Doctrine Associate Professor Piotr Małysz.
“In the classroom with all three, not only was I allowed to ask theological and biblical questions that pertained to my Hispanic background, but they all provided safe spaces for me to know that the voices of the Hispanic church mattered,” he said. “They all wanted us to ask: how is what we are learning good news for the disinherited, the poor, and the rejected in our society? These questions reaffirmed the importance of my ethnic heritage and bolstered my calling to use my theological education for the sake of ministering to the poor.”