Tenzin Dhondup’s parents immigrated in 1997 to the U.S. from Tibet, the East Asian region where nearly four in five residents identifies as Tibetan Buddhist. His parents considered themselves Buddhists when they eventually made a home in Minnesota, although they didn’t really practice the religion.
The family had little money or material goods when they moved seeking a more prosperous life than they experienced in their homeland. Tenzin’s dad went to work as a hotel chef, his mom as a caretaker at a children’s hospital in Minneapolis. The family lived in Edina, an overwhelmingly white suburb southwest of Minneapolis. Subsequently, at public school, Tenzin felt excluded and bullied.
“I didn’t have all the cool toys and clothes,” remembers Tenzin, now 22.
In an effort to appear cool, he began smoking marijuana and engaging in sexual intercourse.
The behaviors continued after graduating from high school, when Dhondup enrolled at the University of North Dakota (UND) at Grand Forks. Dhondup became the first in his family to attend college, with the expectation that he would make his parents proud. However, the rigors of academia mixed with frequency at fraternity parties resulted in Dhondup receiving all Fs his first semester — except for an A in gym class.
Dhondup contemplated suicide. He saw no purpose in continuing to live. He wondered if anyone would care if he no longer populated the earth.
“I felt truly alone and that I couldn’t bear the weight,” Dhondup recalls. “But in my dorm room I heard a voice as clear as day saying, Don’t give up!”
Although a deep thinker, Dhondup didn’t recognize the message came from God. He began exploring other religious traditions — Hinduism, Islam, Judaism. He resisted Christianity, believing many followers of Christ erected a façade.
But another student began sharing her faith with him, patiently answering the difficult questions Dhondup raised. She invited him to attend a campus ministry conference over the winter break his freshman year. The gathering changed his life.
“I saw the authenticity and vulnerability of people,” Dhondup recalls. He surrendered to Christ on New Year’s Day 2019. His newfound faith also improved his attitude. The second semester he had a 3.4 grade point average.
Chi Alpha staffer Josiah Anthony Negron became acquainted with Dhondup playing soccer at the university. After Dhondup’s salvation, Negron began meeting him for coffee every week or two to discuss the Bible. During his junior year, Dhondup began attending a Chi Alpha small group on campus.
“He asked really good questions,” says Negron, 27.
Already by his sophomore year, Dhondup sensed a calling from God to be a missionary.
“I want to be there for kids and let them know they don’t have to be weighed down with the pressures of life, because Jesus bore those on the Cross,” Dhondup says. “I want to create disciples.”
This spring, Dhondup graduated with an earth science degree. Come fall, he will be a Chi Alpha Campus Missionary-in-Training intern at UND.
Dhondup’s parents essentially disowned him for becoming a Christian and a missionary. He is hopeful they will accept Jesus as Savior, even if it takes decades.
Negron, who now is Chi Alpha director at UND, is impressed that Dhondup shows unconditional love toward his parents, even though they have repeatedly made it difficult.
“Tenzin has a heart for evangelism and he has grown more confident in sharing Jesus with anyone,” says Negron, a credentialed Assemblies of God minister. “He will be motivated to preach.”
Although he grew up in a Pentecostal home, Negron walked away from the Lord his junior year in high school. He started selling illegal drugs and became an addict himself. After college classmates in Chi Alpha befriended him, he repented and rededicated his life to Jesus in 2015. Negron, who has a Puerto Rican, Colombian, Ukrainian, English, and Irish heritage, served as an intern at UND for two years. In 2023, he and his wife, Kenzie, will pioneer a Chi Alpha group at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
Photo: Josiah Negron befriended and discipled Tenzin Dhondup