An Un(Warren)ted Interview with Mr. Gillen
Second Year, Master of Divinity
Interviewed by Harold J. Milliner
You’re in your second year here at Andrews University since coming here from the United Kingdom. How was your experience during that first year abroad?
To be more specific, I come from London, one of the best cities in the world. I live in an area near Stratford on the eastern side of London. I came to the seminary last year and everything was new to me. New environment, new people; I didn’t really know anyone on campus. It was an interesting time for me. It’s interesting to see the change that have happened since last year.
What’s the biggest difference between here and home for you?
I’m from London, a hardcore city: hard concrete jungle, people and traffic. I’m from a very much urban inner-city community. Coming from there to Berrien Springs, you know, things close early, there’s lack of transportation, and there’s not many people here. I guess the environment is what I still have to get used to; I have to go 20 minutes to find decent items and two hours more if I want that urban feeling again in Chicago. Another thing would be the support system that I built up at home. I was born and raised in London; you create a community, you make friends—friends I can’t even imagine not being a part of my life. Leaving the things that I built up for 21 years to coming here not knowing anybody has been a struggle. But that’s also a good thing. Coming by myself, it pushed me to be friendlier and forced me to create and build new support systems and friends. Currently I’ve met a bunch of new people, made a few close friends, and I’m looking to meet loads more. It’s part of the Andrews University bill, man, I have to take advantage of it.
So what made you choose Andrews? I mean you were in London—this is definitely new territory and a different culture entirely; what made you decide to go here? Did you go to school in America before?
Andrews was just a logical step for me. Obviously my end goal is to become a minister, that’s why I’m in the seminary. I actually studied Banking and Business Management prior to coming here. I went to a business school back in the City of London—the banking district of London. That was kind of like my root; as for becoming a pastor, the logical step was to get a Master of Divinity at Andrews because you didn’t need to study theology in your undergrad to get into this program. It was just a logical step. A well-known institution, obviously, Andrews’s seminary has been around for a while, has a progressive reputation and has produced great scholars and thinkers in Adventism. It was just the smart next step for me to become a pastor.
Did you always want to be a minister?
Yeah, that’s the thing, even prior to studying Banking and Business Management, I knew I was going into ministry. To me, it was more of a question of when I was going into the ministry as opposed to if I’m going into the ministry. I was advised to do another degree prior to theology because I heard that sometimes the Master’s degree and the undergrad could overlap, so it was just better for me. Banking was like my secondary path. If I wasn’t in the seminary, I’d probably be somewhere in Wall Street or some place in Hong Kong, the banking districts of the world just trying to climb the ladder of investment banking and corporate banking.
Is there a specific area of ministry that you see yourself going into?
If I’m honest, that’s something I’m anticipating to gather during my time here. I’m still in the process of deciphering, or rather, pinpointing where my calling is. I was hoping that here, I’d be exposed to a variety of different areas of ministries. I did youth work and other ministries back in London; but here I kind of want to determine if I want to be that youth guy, or more evangelism focused, or be more of a centralized preacher or all those other fields. I’m praying that through the classes I take, I find what truly spurs my passion.
I know it’s a little cliche, but did you have a pre-theology life?
I don’t have a long history of Adventism in my family. I come from a broken, single-parent home and from a rough community. For my family and I, Adventism is still kind of new for us. When people hear I’m from England they think of the Queen, high-class and posh—but I’m not that; I’m from the streets of the East End. If I could equate it to something in America, I’d say I’m from the hood a low-income high-crime kind of area I went to schools that mothers wouldn’t want to send their kids to; I lived in the area where you didn’t want to be in at night. Where I came from you didn’t really see success. The community is either black or south Asian. Where I come from you didn’t see much real success—you either became an athlete, a musician, or a drug dealer at the end of the day, and that influenced most of the young boys in that area...I mean, I’ve left some friends and family members back home who are still into the black market and all that other stuff. That’s the context that I come from.
There were times in my younger years, when I became curious and caught up in that stuff. That’s what success looked to us; we didn’t see successful lawyers or doctors come out of out of our community, we saw successful drug dealers—they were the ones wearing new clothes and rocking new cars. Not having a father around, that was something that I wanted to attain to as well. I had older cousins and uncles who would do that stuff and were really influential in my early years. For me it’s still mind blowing that I can be here at Andrews University preaching the gospel. It’s amazing because the statistics keep showing that people that come from where I come from are either dead, selling dope, or in prison. So it’s kind of strange for me that I passed the statistics and that this life can be a reality; for some reason I’m here and not just another number.
Now that you’re on this different path of success, do you see yourself as a role model for the children back in your community?
Yeah for sure. I mean because what we heard when we were growing up was that the only way to make it out of the hood was to be a soccer player, for example. In my community they would push and direct the black community to engage in the performing arts. We didn’t see black lawyers, doctors, accountants or just businessmen. So I feel that I pose as a different option for people in my community.
Are you thinking of going back to the U.K. to do your ministry?
Well I’m kind of open to adapt. I’m open to go where God wants to lead me and to do what he has planned for me. I definitely want to go back but I feel that is a question of when as opposed to if. I feel a sense of responsibility to pull back to my community. I’m trying to better myself and it’s not just for me but for all those people in my community as well. This Master’s degree is not just to have a certificate in my room but it to reach someone else as well.