Chris Ndjungu ’08: Seize the view from the margins

As a junior college student in Jacksonville, Texas, Chris Nkemba Ndjungu ’08 applied to Cornell University. Then came an acceptance letter from Cornell College.

Chris Nkemba Ndjungu ’08
Chris Nkemba Ndjungu ’08

A generous scholarship and the opportunity to step away from the demands of Division I soccer led Ndjungu to choose the college over the university he thought he had applied to. He stayed, he says, for the “academic rigor, small classes, the block system, and friends who today have become family.”

That Cornell family, along with his unofficial advisor, Professor of Economics and Business A’amer Farooqi, are the two things that would bring Ndjungu back to campus.

Ndjungu, who once pursued a business career, today is a pastor in St. Louis, Missouri. He was drawn to his profession, he says, through “spiritual awareness, indignation in the face of injustice, and very specifically, the desire to be equipped to offer pastoral care and counseling to survivors of war atrocities in eastern DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo].”

Since 2017 he has led a ministry in St. Louis, Missouri, and Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, his birthplace. The church has a partnership with three independent social service entities. Bridge Builders STL creates cultural awareness by putting St. Louis youth in relationship with Lakota Sioux youth. InExcelsis works with the St. Louis homeless population. The Espoir Foundation offers services, including medical treatment, to children in the DRC.

Ndjungu has thoughtful advice for marginalized students.

“Being on the margins does not mean that you are forever excluded. Instead, it means that you have a big picture view of the center,” he says. “You can see what those in the thick of it cannot, and you can therefore choose your moment to jump onto the main page. Being on the margins does not rob you of your agency. So use this agency to decide who you want to be and what you are going to accomplish. Then use that same agency to seek out an ally and/or advocate who will help you integrate and subsequently navigate life in the center because no person is an island, as the saying goes.”

But first, he says, people on the margins must acknowledge their marginal reality and own it instead of living in denial: “Only then can we begin the work of dismantling the barriers which confine us to the margins in the first place.”