August 6, 2016


I went all the way to India for the month of July and came down with an exotic case of… shingles?! Sometimes these juxtapositions of the exotic and the mundane in my intercultural life surprise even me. And sometimes that mix is part of the blessing. It reminded me of the time one of our students in InterVarsity’s Kenya summer program broke out in chicken pox. She and her Kenyan host family in a far-away town called to let us know. “Are you OK? Do you want to come back here to Nairobi to recuperate?” No, she was fine, just a bit itchy. As it turned out, the church lay leader hosting her also happened to be the chief medical officer for the district. His family took great care of her and she went home with a relational bond few short-termers experience.

Fortunately, I had a not-too-painful case of shingles, on my shoulder and down one arm, and fortunately I already knew an Indian dermatologist within walking distance of my guest apartment on the SAIACS campus. Some of you remember my first encounter with Dr P two years ago:

Me, walking into clinic without appointment: I have a mole on my arm I’d like to have removed. Is that possible?
Dr P: Yes.
Me: You mean right now? Or do you want me to schedule an appointment and come back?
Dr P (glancing up at overhead lights): Well, since the electricity’s working right now, and it will only take about 10 minutes, let’s do it now. Have you ever had a reaction to local anesthesia?
Me: Never. But I see what you mean – if I did, we’d have a problem.
Dr P (with twinkling eyes): No, you wouldn’t have a problem, you’d be gone. I’d be left with the problem.
Me: Good point. Can you give me some idea of what the fees are going to be?
Dr P: 250 rupees [US$4]. Is that alright?

I left minus one ugly mole that had bugged me for years and with a new appreciation for medical tourism in India. I’m glad that I feel enough at home in Bangalore now that after a fruitless search on Sunday for an accurate diagnosis and meds – on the back of a motorbike driven by one of my students, which is a whole ’nother story – I could walk to Dr P’s clinic on Monday and get the right help. But, she explained, she was going to double the shingles antiviral dosage she usually prescribes, because of my American height and weight compared to the average Indian woman (thanks, Dr P), and to match US protocols. “OK, I’ll trust you on that.” “You have to,” she twinkled, “You have no other choice.” A day or two later she passed me on the street on her own motorbike and cheerfully stopped to see if I’d gotten everything I needed. Which I had, except that this turned out to be one of those treatments that apparently kills the bug one day before it kills you. I spent about half of my month in India teaching for three hours in the morning and then languidly draping myself across the sofa for the rest of the day.

Frustrating, because I felt like my reduced energy level kept me from being as involved with students at the South Asia Institute for Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) and with local friends and acquaintances as I usually get to be during my annual visits. So being the somewhat compulsive type-A person I am, I made a list. Here’s what God graciously allowed me to do this month: 
  • Teach an MA course in biblical hermeneutics to 19 emerging ministry leaders from all over India – and grade all the assignments and exams (yuck)
  • Record eight video lectures for SAIACS’s new online course in biblical interpretation for Indian Christian lay leaders
  • Do a workshop on online teaching for SAIACS faculty members
  • Preach at SAIACS chapel
  • Have a series of lovely one-to-one conversations over tea with former students and young ministry leaders I’ve gotten to know. Friendship-cum-mentoring.
  • Serendipitously reconnect with friends from my former church in the UK who are now working in theological education in India
  • Serve as external examiner for an MTh thesis for the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology
  • Follow up with a graduate from my alma mater (UVA) who’s Hindu but also a spiritual seeker, and introduce him to leaders at the church I attend in Bangalore
  • Make some progress on my thesis for my MA in higher-education ESL (yeah, need to get that finished sometime soon…) 

I felt a lot better after I made that list. Although I suspect the Lord isn’t quite as worried about the productivity quota as I tend to be. And then on my way home at the end of the month, just as I was wondering how in my shingles-depleted state I was going to manage the long flight in a terrible airplane seat (because I’d bought my ticket too late for the better seats), collect my car in Washington, DC, and then drive the two hours to Charlottesville without succumbing to jetlag, Emirates suddenly upgraded me from Dubai to Washington. So instead of being packed among the sardines at the back of the plane, I spent 13 hours enjoying a luxurious flatbed seat, champagne, my own minibar with juices and Perrier water, high-tech audio and video, and gourmet meals on real plates. The flatbed alone was enough to make it blissful. And restful. Isn’t God good? I felt like he was reminding me that he knew exactly what this daughter needed at that moment and he cared. (The downside: I'm now utterly ruined for normal air travel.)

Now I’ve had a week at home in Virginia to move slo-o-owly and catch up on a few things, and tomorrow I’m going to the beach with friends for a week. Then when I come back from that… it’s time to kick into gear again reaching out to friends and supporters about my new role as an international theological education specialist with Serge (formerly World Harvest Mission) and EPC World Outreach – based with the Serge team in Dublin, Ireland, and traveling out to teach and work alongside Serge’s church-planting efforts in Africa, Asia and post-Christian Europe. As of today I’m at 44% of the needed ongoing financial support. It’s those promises of ongoing monthly and annual support that determine when I can ‘go active’ and relocate to Ireland. Still praying that the Lord will bring this together in time for me to leave at the beginning of January 2017. Soon I'll be visiting churches throughout the mid-Atlantic and southeast US talking about this new ministry and what God's doing in the world. Hope to see many of you along the way!

What I did at SAIACS in Bangalore, India, last month when I wasn't lying on the sofa with shingles 


Lights, camera, action for the new online lectures - notice our very high-tech teleprompter 

Intensity in the SAIACS library (yes, they're working on their assignments for my course) - love these students!