After 86 years, a Torrey is back at Biola

Junior intercultural studies major Joanna Torrey is the great-great-granddaughter of R.A. Torrey, Biola’s first dean, yet she is the first person in her family to attend the university.


Joanna Torrey peers at the large poster draped over Horton Hall that displays Biola’s founders and presidents. She is the great-great-granddaughter of R.A. Torrey, the first dean and a founder of Biola.

Heather Tanji, Writer

Junior intercultural studies major Joanna Torrey is unique to Biola, given that her great-great-grandfather, R. A. Torrey, is Biola’s first dean (1912-1924) and the Torrey Honors Institute’s namesake. But what’s truly exceptional about Torrey is her own life story.

Torrey grew up in Connecticut with her parents and two older brothers and had not heard of Biola until two years prior to her admittance. In fact, she is the first member of her family to attend the university.

“I didn’t realize who R.A. was until I came to this school,” Torrey said. “I learned about the huge influence he had on so many people. Like, he had a part in helping with Moody Bible College and he was the pastor of the Church Of The Open Door in Los Angeles.”

Torrey’s parents felt called to serve God in Korea and after she graduated from high school, her parents moved. At 18, most kids prepare to leave home, while their parents hold down the fort, but for Torrey, who planned to take a couple years off before school, it was just the opposite. When Torrey’s parents moved to Korea, she stayed behind at their house in Connecticut to figure out what she wanted to do before attending college.

“It was the hardest thing in my life,” she said. “It was a really scary year. I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I didn’t know what God’s calling for me was. I felt abandoned by my parents. I felt so alone.”

Despite the hardships Torrey encountered that year, she believes it has strengthened her relationship with God and taught her to become more self-reliant.

“Looking back it was the best thing that could have happened,” she said. “Their leaving forced me to gain a healthy independence. It also taught me to depend on Christ. I’ve developed a sincere respect and love for my parents that I wouldn’t have if they hadn’t been gone at that time.”

Prior to attending Biola, Torrey spent six months with Youth With A Mission, serving the Lord in both England and Albania.

“I fell in love with missions and cultures at YWAM,” she said. “My parents are in South Korea right now and their focus is bringing the gospel to North Korea. It’s dangerous but exciting.”

Torrey also had to face the challenge of going to college for the first time on her own — literally. She made the journey from Connecticut to California by plane without the company of parents or friends.

“I flew into California by myself and took the shuttle to Biola,” she recalled. “All I had were these two suitcases. I was the epitome of a pathetic college student. I remember being just so terrified and shy at the time. When I look back at it, I just laugh.”

The first semester was truly a difficult one. Having taken two years off of college, Torrey was already two years older than the students in her year and home was three time zones away. However, there were some memorable moments made that freshman year.

“I give props to my mom,” Torrey said. “She flew all the way from Korea for Parents’ Weekend to surprise me since she wasn’t able to be there for my first day. It was wonderful.”

One of Torrey’s highest aspirations is to travel worldwide both for leisure and for the Lord.

“I really want to go to the China border in Korea,” Torrey said. “God’s given me a heart to serve there.”

Starting from her great-great grandfather’s evangelical ministry and continuing through each generation, the Torrey family has always been involved in missions.

“I have a really blessed family,” Torrey said. “My great-grandfather ministered in China, and my grandfather spent his life in Korea. It has really impacted me to serve the Lord as fervently as they did.”

Through YWAM, being on her own and seeing her parents continue to serve the Lord faithfully, Torrey feels she has learned a lot during such transforming times in her life.

“I’ve learned from watching my parents that life doesn’t end after your kids grow up,” she said. “There’s a whole other half of life after that.”

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