From fear to faith: Earle Hall chaplain’s journey to Christ

Earle Hall Chaplain Kinley Tenzin, who shared his story of finding Christ and his way to America Assoah Ndomo | Photographer

By Jonah Kramer | Staff Writer

Truett Seminary student Kinley Tenzin serves as Earle Hall’s chaplain, mentoring students spiritually and helping them grow in the Christian faith — a faith that Tenzin said he did not grow up with himself.

Born in Bhutan, a country of around 800,000 people bordering China and India, Tenzin said he was instructed in the teachings of Bhutan’s state religion: Buddhism.

“I was a very hardcore Buddhist,” Tenzin said. “I had that huge, strong belief in Buddhism.”

At the age of 7, Tenzin moved with his parents and younger brother from Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, to Wangdue Phodrang, a district in central Bhutan. Three years later, his family’s world was flipped upside down.

Tenzin’s father died, leaving him — at 10 years old — with a big responsibility as his mother fell into depression and alcohol addiction.

“Both of them were very lovely as a husband and wife,” Tenzin said. “And after that incident, everything changed.”

At the age of 14, Tenzin worked on construction sites and private farms in addition to jobs at hotels and restaurants in an effort to support his mother and younger brother. In the same year, he said he heard the gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time while visiting his uncle for winter break back in Thimphu.

“When I heard the gospel, I was not able to accept it easily because I had that fear: what other people will say, what the government will do, what my family will think about me [and] what my friends will say about me,” Tenzin said.

While Tenzin was not ready to identify himself as a Christian, he said he was curious about Jesus. Two years later, his uncle gave him a New Testament pocket Bible, which he eagerly read. Verses like John 3:16, Romans 3:23 and Ephesians 2:8-10 “struck” Tenzin and stood in stark contrast to what he grew up believing.

“[Buddhists] believe that you have to earn good merits,” Tenzin said. “You have to do good things, and your next life will be better.”

In comparison, Ephesians 2:8 challenged Tenzin’s mindset, saying, “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

“I had all that fear, fear of sin [and] fear of death,” Tenzin said.These few Bible verses brought a newfound hope. In the same year that Tenzin received the pocket Bible, he accepted Christ, got baptized and joined Christian fellowship groups in Thimphu.

Tenzin moved back to the capital permanently, engaging with churches that met in homes due to restrictions on public worship that were imposed by Bhutan’s government. Tenzin’s mother and brother joined him, not only in moving back to Thimphu but also in accepting Jesus.

“I told them that humans cannot be saved by doing good deeds,” Tenzin said. “I told them about [how] Christ is the way, the truth and the life.”

Tenzin also taught them about “a real joy in suffering” that Christ brings, which became a reality for his mother.

“My mom was still struggling with that depression, mental illness and addiction,” Tenzin said. “Now she has left that all. I give credit to the grace of God. That is the power ofGod.”

Tenzin, who said he has “seen many people transform,” continued to share the gospel with those around him. However, the reaction to his belief in Christ was not always positive, as he said he faced verbal harassment, discrimination and exclusion.

“My own relatives hated me for believing in Christ,” Tenzin said. “‘What a stupid thing you’re doing,’ [they said]. ‘We don’t want to consider you as a part of our family.’ ‘You are a traitor of your country, of your government [and] of your kin.’”

Tenzin did not let the denunciation deter him, as he said, “God has given me that boldness to stand firm in what I believe to tell about the good news.” He faced further criticism when he decided to attend Clark Theological College in India to pursue a bachelor’s degree in divinity.

Initially desiring a career in business, Tenzin had received a scholarship to the Royal University of Bhutan and planned to enroll in the national university. However, he said his plans changed after a revelation at a youth conference in India.

“[At] that time, [it was] kind of like God gave me a very new being,” Tenzin said. “God spoke through that preacher.”

Tenzin excelled at Clark, earning an academic proficiency award and serving as a student chaplain during his final year at the college.

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented Tenzin from returning to Bhutan after graduation, so he stayed in India, where he served with several organizations — primarily as a gospel recorder at Words of Hope Ministries.

Tenzin worked with Words of Hope to produce gospel message videos in Dzongkha, Bhutan’s official language. He said the distribution of Christian literature and media resources in his home country is crucial, as “there is no strong Christian literature in Bhutan.”

In order to best prepare himself to spread the gospel in Bhutan, Tenzin decided to attend seminary in the United States.

“Coming to America was my dream,” Tenzin said. As he began researching schools, Tenzin said he heard about Baylor from a former Clark classmate. In August, he began his pursuit of a master’s degree in divinity from Truett Seminary, becoming the first Bhutanese to come to the United States and study in seminary.

In the future, Tenzin said he plans on pursuing a non-theological graduate degree — one that the Bhutanese government will recognize.

With the hope of one day returning to Bhutan, Tenzin said he aspires to spread the gospel while advocating for religious freedom.

“My vision for coming here is to be an advocate of Christians in Bhutan — to be the voice to them [and] to see them one day have that complete freedom to worship God,” Tenzin said.

The fellowship that Tenzin said he desires for Bhutan is the type of fellowship that he fosters as Earle Hall’s chaplain — a role he assumed about a month into the fall semester.

Before moving into Earle Hall, Tenzin lived in an apartment with other graduate students, including fellow Truett student Praveen Kumar, who said Tenzin has a “very joyful spirit.”

“He’s one of the few that I’ve seen that is always smiling,” Kumar said. “It’s hard to find somebody like that.”

Tenzin brought his smile with him to Earle Hall, where he said he wants to “give students a new perspective,” challenging them to grow in their faith while promoting the hope and joy that come from Christ.

One of Tenzin’s outreach programs is “Chai Time,” a weekly event where he prepares a popular Asian chai recipe for students in the Earle Hall lobby.

United Arab Emirates freshman Dinili Suraweera said the chai reminds her of what she makes back home. She said she and Tenzin bonded over their international backgrounds the first day they met; Tenzin knew exactly where her home country was — a familiarity she said she rarely encounters in the United States.

“He was so welcoming,” Suraweera said. “He’s really easy to talk to. I feel like I can just come up to him and tell him anything.”

While Tenzin is over 8,000 miles from home, he is already working to promote and propagate the goodness of Christ in Bhutan and in the world as a student at Truett Seminary and the chaplain at Earle Hall.