How to Start, Continue, and Finish a PhD

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Full disclosure: I have submitted my dissertation and am awaiting the necessary feedback before scheduling my oral defense. Therefore, I have NOT finished my PhD, so my title might be a bit misleading. I have been wanting to post about this for awhile now and feel that I have achieved the necessary level of “done-ness” to finally post about it. Also, Pete Enns has a great blog post about this whole thing. His post should carry a little more clout than mine, considering its source.

First Step: Starting the PhD:

I have been in my program now for 6 years. In that time, I have been asked by several people (mainly my students when serving as their TA), as well as some close friends, if I think they should do a PhD. I have told every single one of them blankly, “No.” I don’t always know each of their situations fully, nor do I know what type of people they have in their life. I just want to offer each person (and will continue to) the chance to hear someone say no to their ambitions. When it came time for me to finish my Master’s programs, I asked many of my advisers for their recommendation letters, etc. and what they thought about my career aspirations. Many of them said, “You’ll be great! This is the right path for you! You have what it takes!” I had one professor in particular (side note: he served as one of my references on all 9 of my applications) who flatly told me, “Don’t do it.”

I was taken aback when he said that to me. Naturally, I was hurt and a little surprised/ worried. I asked him in a panic, “You don’t think I have what it takes? Am I not smart enough? Do you think I’ll fail??” He simply told me, “I will keep telling you no until you have decided you want it. It has to be in spite of people telling you no. You need to have the attitude that you will go forward anyways.” This sentiment has guided me in the ways I have responded to others. Getting a PhD, especially in humanities, is at least a 4-5 year process and is NOT for everyone. In fact, it’s not for most people.

That brings me back to starting a PhD. The simple answer to starting a PhD is making sure you really want it. Like really, really want it. You do not need to be the smartest person in the room (I learned that right away in my program). In fact, some of the smartest people in your PhD program won’t be able to handle the stress and drop out. Did you see that number at the top of this post? 43%. Forty. Three. Be prepared to to at least consider dropping out at one point. You will. Which brings me to my second point…

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Step 2: Continuing a PhD:

The simple answer here is “Don’t Give Up!” It’s more complicated than that. There are many blogs on the phenomenon of “Impostor Syndrome.” Basically it’s the idea that you somehow snuck past the admission board’s radar/ qualifications and do not belong among your peers. Honestly, I did not shake mine until about 2 years in. It’s actually a  good thing to be surrounded by some of the most astoundingly intelligent people you will ever meet. In my program, I quickly learned that I was going to have to work probably 1.5x harder than them to keep pace. It was a shock, but it also helped me develop very powerful tools in order to continue my program and get to where I am today.

The second part of continuing your PhD is to endure setbacks and surprises. In my program, I have dealt with several surprises and setbacks that in total probably delayed my program for at least 6 months. Things happen. Surprises happen. Issues arise that you were not expecting. You will need to engage your work ethic all the more in these instances. In fact, without going into specifics, the setbacks in my program have actually helped my dissertation topic become much more relevant than it would have been had I finished a year ago. Sometimes it hard to see the forest for the trees. Just keep going!

The final part of Continuing a PhD that I want to cover here is nasty: Comprehensive Exams (“Comps” as they are called at my school–I’ve heard others call them “Quals:” Qualification/ Qualifying Exams). I have finished and submitted my dissertation. It took me 3 full years from proposal to submission. Comps were worse; way worse. They were hands down the hardest part of the program for me. I took the normal time off to study (at Fuller this equates to a full quarter of studying and then about 75% of the next quarter to study before taking the exams at the end; i.e. studying from January until the exams at the end of May). I had to read and remember about 150 books for my exams. Seriously. It was horrible, awful, trying, and overall nasty. If you are in the early stages of a PhD program, get started now on some of your comps studying, assuming of course you have the extra time. The sooner you get through those exams, the sooner you can fully focus on your dissertation topic. Also, make sure to choose varied areas of study if you have any say in what topics your exams will cover. I had complete freedom to choose the topics, but I realize that others don’t.

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Step 3: Finishing your PhD:

This part might seem less complete, but that is because I am not completely finished. I want to really talk here specifically about finishing your dissertation. As I mentioned above, mine took 3+ years from proposal (July 2014) to submission (October 2017). My wife and I had our daughter in 2015, and I was a stay-at-home dad from Aug. 2015-Spring 2016. It was amazing, and I do not for one second regret the time I took off for that role. I mention it here to note that if you are just charging through your program (or maybe you have a topic in mind from the get-go), it will probably not take you 3 years to do your dissertation.

Regardless of how long yours takes, I would bet that as you get closer and closer to finishing it, you’ll find some laziness, lack of work ethic, or just general disinterest creeping in. I certainly did. Once you are at the editing phase, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “I’m almost done;” or “It’s just a few days of editing left, I’ve earned a few days off.” Fight through this. Remember: after you submit you can take days off. Full disclosure: I probably could have submitted mine in late August or early September if I had just pushed through these 50% “on” days. It’s hard to quantify, but I think I hit the wall there at the end. If you find yourself in that stage, just keep going. You’re so close and you can take your “well-earned days off” after you submit. It’s just around the corner.

To close this post, I just want to say that everyone is different. You will likely think the things I struggled with in my program are trivial or small matters. Maybe you’re struggling with other things such as funding, support, or adviser issues. If so, reach out to someone you can trust. Make sure you have people you can count on that are outside of your committee members, especially if your problems concern one or more of those members. Also, find at least one other PhD student you can talk to honestly about the program. We’ve all had struggles. Even if that person doesn’t struggle with the things you do, chances are he or she has other problems to discuss with you. This PhD thing is a process and we ought to help each other through it.

If you have questions for me, drop them in the comment box below. I’d be happy to answer them as I am able. If you’re thinking of pursuing a PhD program, talk to someone about it. But make sure that he or she is honest with you; i.e. that they will tell you to not do it unless you’re really sure it’s what you want.

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Some Random White Guy’s Thoughts on the National Anthem Protests in the NFL

Image taken from:
https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/08/22/national-anthem-protests-list-players-kneelnfl-players-protest-list
Hey readers. Apologies upfront for the humongous gap in posts (last one was in January). I have been working hard to finish my dissertation and am almost finished. Also, apologies for the simple fact that this post has very little to do with Church History. I wanted to pause in that work today to post about all these national anthem protests going around the NFL. I am sure you’ve read about these from thousands of angles and mine will undoubtedly not blaze a new trail. That said, I do want to address it as a lifelong NFL fan, a white man, and as an aspiring academic. Many of these protests address issues of race (and a lot of the division in response to them is along racial lines);  therefore I think acknowledging my own race and perspective at the outset is important.

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First of all, the responses:

By now you’ve probably read a lot of tweets, Facebook posts, seen the memes, watched videos, or have even seen the protests being covered on NFL pregame shows. During last season, there were sporadic instances of players either taking a knee or raising a fist in the air during the national anthem, beginning with Colin Kaepernick. Many people weighed in on whether or not players should be allowed to do so throughout last season. In the preseason and first weeks of the regular season of 2017, many more players began to join in, such as the Browns in the first picture (that was from the preseason). However, probably the biggest catalyst on all of this was Donald Trump’s response to the issue. Trump basically intimated that players who protest during the national anthem ought to be fired. His comments, including some made at a rally in Alabama last week, provoked massive numbers of players protesting, with over 200 joining in this past week in the NFL.

Some consumers have even pledged to boycott the NFL over the protests. DirecTV has even begun issuing refunds for the NFL Sunday Ticket package for customers who want to boycott the league over the protests. Many people have come out in support of the players’ right to peacefully protest during the anthem. However, others have responded in a much more despicable way.

In order to not give too much of a platform here for such hateful responses, I will just urge the curious to do a simple google image search for “anti-Kaepernick memes” or something related to that. It’s horrendous, often racist, and hate-filled. There have even been some national anthem singers at NFL games who have protested. The singer at last week’s Lions game took a knee at the end of his performance. Meghan Linsey, the singer at the Titans game, also took a knee during her performance. She received support, but she also had people say she should have been executed on the field or that they hope she gets cancer. Many of the players have been receiving death threats throughout this movement, and Delanie Walker even had someone threaten him and his son over his part in protesting last week.

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Here are my thoughts on the whole thing:

Again, I’m not claiming to have some breath-of-fresh-air take on this, or some ground-breaking approach to the issue. I have several responses which I will spend the rest of this blog covering.

First of all, and this should not have to be said, but it’s never okay to issue death threats to someone else, no matter how much you disagree with him or her. Just because you think they are trampling on everything you believe or support does not mean that they deserve to be executed, or get cancer. Shocking, I know. If you have ever tweeted something like this to someone, even as an internet troll/ joke, please don’t ever do it again. These are real people with real families. Imagine what it would be like to see a tweet like that.

Aside from the common human decency argument, I think something more ought to be said to those who are so vehemently opposed to the protests. It’s been stated over and over again, but the players and others who take a knee are allowed to protest. It’s freedom of speech/ expression. Now, as employees of the NFL, they could face fines, suspensions, or termination for taking part in these protests. Free speech is one thing, but freedom from the consequences of free speech is another. This is the argument of “you can say what you want, but you might lose your job over it.” Free speech just means you can’t be thrown in jail for telling your boss you hate his or her guts. He or she could fire you over it, though. The NFL has chosen to allow it’s players to protest. Therefore, if you have a major issue with the protest movement, your gripe is with the NFL, not the players. If you feel the need to make your disgust known, write to the NFL–not the players.

Furthermore, and this is one of my biggest issues with the responses, people need to actually listen to the players’ themselves over this. Most of the anger towards the protests takes the line: “You are spitting in the face of those who fought and died for your freedom;” or possibly the most common: “You are disrespecting the flag, your freedoms, and this nation.” This should not have to be said, but the players are not taking a knee with the goal of “disrespecting the flag.” They are largely protesting inequality, injustice, and police brutality in this country. The national anthem is just the forum that has been chosen. And it has pushed the conversation forward to a great degree. Say what you want about the protest movement, but it has certainly gotten people talking about these issues. This is why I think people need to actually take the time to listen to the players themselves about all of this, or read their posts and blogs addressing why they are taking a knee. Colin Kaepernick, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Jenkins, and Rashard Matthews have all offered very thoughtful comments regarding the movement as a whole, as well as their own personal messages.

The fact remains that in this country, white people have advantages that people of color do not. As a white man myself, I often forget about this. Systemic racism and injustice remain. Regarding the police, black men are still much more likely to be perceived as a threat first, and a person second. That’s injustice. That needs to end. That’s one of the main reasons these players are protesting. If you don’t believe me, read their thoughts and comments. Some people in this country actually believe that racism isn’t a problem anymore. As we’ve seen over the last couple of years, it’s as present as ever.

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Also, there is yet another element to this discussion: the anthem, the troops, and the flag. There are some people in this country who have responded negatively to these protests on the grounds of “disrespecting our nation’s values.” I think one of the strangest elements to this whole thing is how much people want to “defend the flag” in the face of these protests. While I am incredibly thankful to be an US citizen, I also do not get the obsession/ exaltation of the Flag by some. This argument has been made by others, but people need to realize that tablecloths, clothes, underwear, and even dog bandannas make the Flag more of a pattern akin to polka dots or stripes than a symbol of freedom. Furthermore, some Christians in this country need to do a little self-examination on how much they exalt the Flag, or the Constitution, or their political party. If it’s even remotely close to how much they exalt God or the Bible as authoritative in their lives, then it’s a problem. But I digress…

One final thought: I also think it’s fine to push back on these players and their protests. Ask them what more they are doing. Ask them how they hope to effect change other than causing rage on Twitter. Much of the arguments you hear are, “The troops did not fight and die so that these spoiled millionaires can spit in the face of this country.” It’s true that most of these athletes get paid more than you or I ever will. However, many of them are using their money and platform to support numerous programs focused on creating opportunities for people or on helping poor kids get out of poverty. Regardless of  your feelings on the protests, please applaud actions like those. By the way, Colin Kaepernick has given away $1 million towards various charities and other organizations which seek to help underprivileged kids and young adults. That’s a pretty high price to pay when you aren’t on an NFL team anymore.

I want to close by just offering a couple of “quick hits” to sum up. 1. If you want to not watch the NFL anymore because of this, go right ahead; but before you do, maybe stop and examine exactly why the protests really bother you so much. 2. Even if you want to keep watching the NFL but vehemently disagree with the players’ actions, read their comments and articles on why they are protesting. 3. Do your part to effect change for the better in this country. If you’re tired of “hearing about these whiny millionaires” (which is what many people say), then go out and take action in your own community. 4.Realize we’re not yet at a place where all people in this nation have the exact same rights and opportunities. Some people have systemic challenges that put them at a disadvantage. Don’t take my word for it, research these issues for yourself.

I am not naive enough to think I have this all figured out. I have appreciated some of the players’ messages about why they kneel. I also think that it’s a good thing for people to say, “Well so you took a knee that cost you a commercial, but what else are you doing to back up your message?” It’s a great question for people to pose to these players. If they want to be a catalyst for social change, they do need to do more than just take a knee at a football game. Many of them are. I applaud them for that. Also, their actions have moved the conversation forward greatly. That much is to be commended as well.

What are your thoughts? Do you disagree? Are you opposed to the players no matter what? I am open to hearing from all sides on this.

Why Fake News Is a Good Thing

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Hello again, everyone! It has been a long time since I have posted a blog. I have to admit that dissertation writing has consumed a lot of my time and left me with little inspiration to write blog posts as well. However, I do hope to get back into the blogging habit over the coming months.

Today, on the eve of the Presidential Inauguration, I wanted to write a post about everyone’s favorite topic: Fake News. This has been a trend over the last several months, especially surrounding the 2016 Election. Many people have been duped by fake stories circulating on various websites, especially Facebook.

There was a New York Times article posted just yesterday about the creator of the fake news website ChristianTimesNewspaper and how he made a fair bit of money by posting extreme news stories which he made up. This guy, Cameron Harris, garnered a lot of clicks after posting a story about Hillary Clinton allegedly stuffing ballot boxes. Harris took advantage of a statement by President-elect Trump in which Trump noted a potential for the election to be rigged.

Harris’s website is just one among many out there posting fake stories. I myself have seen friends buy in to headlines and stories about the election, or about other “news” which seemed to be fishy to me. I would then go to Snopes.com and check into these headlines. Often, there would an article debunking these stories which had been shared many times on Facebook. I would post the link to the article from Snopes in the comments, but sometimes would get the push-back, “Snopes is not an unbiased authority! You need to not trust it as a factual site! It’s fake news!” Even the anti-fake news websites were getting branded as untrustworthy. Biased journalism was everywhere! Either news sources were too liberally-biased in favor of Hillary Clinton or they were too conservatively-biased in favor of Donald Trump. Nothing could be trusted. Both sides claimed theirs was the “truth.”

So why can the Fake News phenomenon be a good thing? I have spent way too many years in school working towards my degree. Over these past several years, I feel as though I have gained a valuable tool: how to critically think about sources. I feel like one of the most beneficial things about pursuing a college education, or degree of some type, is learning how to do correct research. I have also been working as an adjunct history professor recently at an undergraduate institution. One of the things I always have to address is how to research proper websites and proper authorities. This usually includes talking about Wikipedia, or other online sources which allow anyone to edit entries.

One thing that Fake News has taught us recently is to be skeptical of certain bold statements. For example, people want to simply attach “BREAKING NEWS!” to a random story in order to get clicks and website visits. This is logical, since like Mr. Harris mentioned above, website visits and clicks actually translate into real-world, literal money and revenue. Sometimes people are trying to become the next Onion.com, a wildly successful satirical website (one of my favorite recent imitators of the Onion is the BabylonBee). These comedic sites are usually looked at for entertainment purposes and people often know when visiting them or when seeing these websites’ articles shared on Facebook that the articles are fake and supposed to be funny. The problem arises when a website is unfamiliar or contains words in the title that make it seem legit. The title ChristianTimesNewspaper, mentioned above, could appear to be addressing actual world news from a Christian perspective. I have seen others with similar titles sharing fake stories with the purpose of seeing End Times type events in “the news.”

But the fact that Fake News has become a buzzword(s), including a popular hashtag on Twitter, has allowed people to be more skeptical when encountering headlines. This is a good thing. Critical thinking is a good thing. Reading a story or article with an eyebrow raised can be helpful and make readers wonder if the story they have just read is fake, real, or at the very least, unverified. One major thing I have learned in my years of research is how to check sources, which sources are typically more trustworthy, etc. For example, picking up a monograph from Oxford University Press that is filled with footnotes and sources is much different than reading a source which has no notes or bibliography and is self-published on Amazon. Both might be good sources, but you need to do more digging with the second book.

I’m curious what you all think. Is Fake News a bad thing? Or, like I have mentioned here, can it be helpful? Can we “trust” any news sources anymore? Who has the time to chase down all sources for an article that someone shared on Facebook? There are positives and negatives, but I think overall Fake News has created more critical thinkers.

The Love of the Spirit in an Age of Black Lives Matter

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Greetings, everyone and apologies to my readers for the lengthy gap between posts. I was working on a chapter for my dissertation over the last few months. Usually this blog focuses on figures from church history. We have examined men and women from throughout church history, from the beginnings of Christianity up through to very recent examples. Today’s post, however will look at two very recent, very polarizing events in the United States: the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I want to frame a discussion of these events in light of the popular Bible passage on the “fruits of the Spirit.”

This past Sunday at my church, the pastors began a new series on the fruits of the Spirit. If you are unfamiliar, these are found in Galatians 5.22-23. This passage notes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (NIV). The pastors at my church are going to take a week-by-week look at each “fruit,” and this past Sunday’s focus was on love. The sermon covered a lot of elements of love and community, especially examining Jesus’ image of the vine and the branches (John 15.5-12). I really enjoyed the pastor’s linking to Jesus’ picture of love: between Jesus and God and between fellow humans. However, I found myself wondering what Galatians means when talking about love.

As the pastor was giving context for the passage of the “fruit of the Spirit,” I was looking for passages nearby that include the word “love” (in the NIV at least, which I had open at the time). I found 5.13-14 to be helpful. It says, “Serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Okay, so humility is important. Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is important (this one is pretty well-known). These didn’t really blow the roof of my doors, so I turned to chapter six hoping for something more. Galatians 6.2 says “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (NIV).

Now we’re talking.

This passage set my mind spinning in a number of different directions. Full disclosure: I am a white male. I spent the first twenty-eight years of my life living in Ohio, the last 6 of which were spent in a town that was about 10,000 people and probably 95% white. My high school (in the suburbs of Cincinnati) was mostly white. I went to Ohio State, which was a pretty diverse place, especially compared to the two aforementioned towns. I now live in a very diverse city (Los Angeles), and have for about 5 years now. However, I might be as confused as ever about the plight of African Americans in this country.

Back to Sunday. After I read Gal. 6.2 I began to get really frustrated, even angry. I spent a little bit of time last week dialoguing on social media about the two murders of black men by police officers. However, sitting in church and reading a passage that said I am supposed to show love by “bearing the burdens” of my black brothers and sisters caused me a great deal of consternation. How on earth can I bear that burden? How can I, as a white male living in a world of white privilege bear the burden of others in this country when I don’t have to deal with the same fears and realities that they do? This past week we saw a black man who was selling CDs wrestled to the ground by two cops, get shot several times, and killed. Then just a day or so later, a woman live-streamed a video on Facebook after her boyfriend had been shot four times by a cop (who was still pointing the gun at the victim) as the victim was reaching for the requested license, proof of insurance, etc. The ensuing outrage of the country was provoked, and several protests arranged (one ending in a horrible circumstance in Dallas after a lone gunman ambushed police). The Black Lives Matter movement organized, and continues to organize, protests. Some of these protests have resulted in viral videos of camaraderie between police and protesters, between white and black individuals. While this is a good thing, it has yet to solve the problem.

This brings me back to my questions from Sunday. How can I as a white man in a world of white privilege bear the burdens of my black brothers and sisters? Is it possible? I have never left my house fearing that I might later that day be killed. I have been stopped by police before (for speeding, at random sobriety check-points, and even after I swerved across a lane line on a freeway because I was getting drowsy). In each and every one of those interactions with police, I have never for even half of a second worried that one of those cops would pull a gun and shoot me several times. This is sadly not the same reality for black Americans. Black lives don’t matter enough in this country, and that’s a major problem. That is something that needs to change, but how? What’s the answer?

I have been wondering this week what I can do to bear their burdens. Do I need to protest at Black Lives Matter rallies? Do I need to support legislation and/ or call my senator? Do I need to “just pray?” None of those seem like enough. I would love some of my African American readers to provide insight on how white people in this country can help, because we have to. In fact, a recent Christianity Today article addressed this very topic. All I know is that we can’t keep responding with statements of “Hold on, let’s wait and find out all the details before we charge the cops with murder.” That allows the problem to continue. That shows just how systemically racist this country still is.

I want to close with a quick account from later in my church service on Sunday. Our church sang the song “You’re a good, good, Father” at the close of service. I found myself wondering if songs like that in a time like this would cause pain among African American Christians. I also found myself starting to think, “Yes, God you are good, but please help this country.” I found myself pondering Psalm 13.1-2: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” Again, I am a white male, and I find myself greatly outraged. How do my black brothers and sisters read this Psalm?

So I end by saying, I don’t actually know what to do. I don’t know how the “love fruit” of the Spirit can be evident in my life when I live in a world of hatred. I pray for change in this country. I pray for justice, for mercy, for peace. Most of all, I pray for African Americans to finally be treated equally with white Americans.

I welcome your thoughts on this with the goal of having a discourse.

Heading into Africa Needed a Woman’s Touch: The Ministry of Mary Slessor

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Greetings, everyone. Today we return to our blog series on the History of Missions. Today we are focusing on Mary Slessor (1848-1915), a Scottish woman and missionary pioneer. She came from a horrible home with an alcoholic father who frequently kicked her out of the house (Tucker, 170). She grew up working and earning a wage to help support her family, but found fulfillment in church life away from her familial responsibilities (Tucker, 170). She spent time fighting against street gangs in Scotland in her early adult life before heading to the Calabar Mission in present-day Nigeria (Tucker, 171).

She embarked on her missionary journey in 1876, working in the established missionary center at Duke Town; but she quickly grew dissatisfied with the “cushy” setting (Tucker, 171). Ruth Tucker describes that Slessor rubbed the established missionary families the wrong way because she “admittedly had climbed every tree worth climbing between Duke Town and Old Town” (Tucker, 171). Eschewing a “soft” African missionary setting, Slessor felt called to embrace a more radical role by going into the interior of Africa, but was repeatedly stricken with malaria and had to return to her home country in order to recuperate. She returned to Africa, but this time she was stationed in Old Town, which was much further inland. “She was free to work by herself and to maintain her own lifestyle-living in a mud hut and eating local produce which allowed her to send most of her mission salary to her family back home” (Tucker, 171).

She began a new role as an itinerant evangelist and fought against the local customs of witchcraft and also the fear of twin-births, which often led to the murder of the babies and an exile for the mother (Tucker, 172). She ended up adopting seven children from such rescue efforts, and even took one back home with her on another recovery furlough (Tucker, 172). Her visit home was extended because she lost a sister and her mother grew very ill. Not long after getting back to Africa, her mother and another sister died, which actually freed her from any lingering attachments back home (Tucker, 172). These events led her to head further inland, even into places that had been hitherto closed-off to missionaries, including Okoyong. This village had the reputation of frequently killing missionaries, but Slessor insisted that such an endeavor simply needed a woman’s touch, since women were less likely to come across as threatening to the tribes (Tucker, 172).

In Okoyong, her role expanded, as she soon became a judge for the area, being “appointed the first vice-council to Okoyong, a government position she held for many years… Her methods were unconventional by British standards… but they were well-suited to African society” (Tucker, 173). Later during her career she became engaged to another missionary, but he became ill and had to leave, which ended their engagement since she would not follow him and leave Africa (Tucker, 173). She moved on to another village after some time, taking her adopted children with her. New missionaries took over her post at Okoyong and followed after her, and also after she died in Africa in 1915 (Tucker, 174). Many new mission societies targeted these African villages in the interior, largely due to Slessor’s resolve and determination to work in such remote places (Tucker, 174-75).

Unfortunately there were not reports of huge numbers converted due to her missionary work. She did not seem to mind, however, since she saw herself as preparing the way for others. Tucker describes, “She organized schools, taught practical skills, and established trade routes, all in preparation for others to follow. In 1903, near the end of her term at Okoyong, the first baptism service was held (with seven of the eleven children baptized being her own), and a church was organized with seven charter members” (Tucker, 174).

Slessor’s legacy therefore ought to be seen in her laying the groundwork for future missions. She led the way into the interior from coastal missions which she perceived as too comfy and not African enough. Thankfully she felt the call to even enter areas which were notoriously hostile to outside missionaries. She risked her life to bring the mission into Okoyong and other remote villages. She rescued children marked for death, adopting them as her own. I think, however, her willingness to eschew markings from her home country allowed her the chance to effectively minister to those in such villages.

Tucker notes, “The image of her as a Victorian lady dressed in high-necked, ankle-length flowing dresses, escorted by tribal warriors through the African rain-forests in a painted canoe, is far removed from the reality of the barefoot, scantily clad, red-haired, working-class woman who lived African-style in a mud hovel, her face at times covered with boils and often without her false teeth” (Tucker, 170). It is also noted that Slessor’s hut was frequently riddled with rats and roaches and she did not really care about her own hygiene (Tucker, 174).

Mary Slessor is thus a picture of dedication to the mission. She kept going back to Africa after heading home due to malaria and other illnesses. She embraced African living and used the African ways of reasoning to grow in fame and renown as a judge. I also like how she didn’t really bat an eye about the perceived lack of converts. In viewing her own work as preparatory for others to step in and continue it, she showed a true dedication to God’s calling in her life. She was not concerned with results, just the process and her own willingness to step out in faith.

I think that she can teach us what it means to be faithful to God’s calling in our lives, even if we don’t always see drastic positive results. I think in the United States today, this often one of the most difficult aspects of ministry and following God.

The Problem with Being a Foreigner on the Mission Field: John Coleridge Patterson and the South Pacific

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Greetings, everyone. Today’s blog continues our series on the History of Missions. For this week’s blog, we find ourselves in the South Pacific in the 19th century. Today I want to study the missionary John Coleridge Patteson (1827-1871). He was the first bishop of Melanesia, an area encompassing many islands between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn (Tucker, 210, 228). Patteson was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church and then went to New Zealand in 1855 at the suggestion of his mentor George Selwyn, bishop to New Zealand (Tucker, 228). Patteson arrived and found a vibrant, successful ministry in New Zealand, but soon colonization began to injure the mission (Tucker, 228).

Ruth Tucker observes that “by 1870 there were seventeen Europeans to every three Maoris.” The land was only so large and the more European colonists arrived, the more restricted the native populations became (Tucker, 228). The younger generations began to become very suspicious of white settlers due to these factors and many of them walked away from the Christianity that had begun to take root in New Zealand. However, Patteson had a different idea for how to minister to the area of islands as a whole. He sailed around and recruited native young men to join the missionary training area in New Zealand, so that once they were educated, they could go back to their native islands to evangelize (Tucker, 229). Patteson was a gifted linguist, learning many of the languages and dialects, which in turn allowed him to become more successful (Tucker, 229). He would often personally accompany the young boys back to their home islands after they were educated to help them become established missionaries as well as recruit new students (Tucker, 229).

One may say that Patteson understood the native/ colonist dynamics very well, seeking to train native young men to be missionaries to their own people. His actions illustrated a knowledge of the rampant distrust for white colonists among native peoples. However, he was to run into many more obstacles in his future missionary work, notably the problem of “blackbirding.”

Tucker observes that the growth of cotton and sugar plantations in the South Pacific led to a need for a larger workforce. Unfortunately, a kidnapping/ slavery industry developed in response. Usually young men and boys were kidnapped, but often they were tricked into going with slave traders. This practice was known as “blackbirding” (Tucker, 229). One can see why many native citizens would become suspicious of Patteson and his ministry model, worried that he was just another blackbirder trying to trick young men into a life of slavery. Tucker notes that over 70,000 young men were ripped from their homes in the blackbirding trade (Tucker, 230).

The widespread kidnapping of young men basically signaled a death knell to Patteson’s ministry, as suspicion and fear spread. In 1871, Patteson went to Norfolk Island to preach and gather more young men to come to his school to be trained as missionaries. However, after going ashore, he never returned. His ship, The Southern Cross, sent a couple of native boys who were on board inland to find out what had happened. They found Patteson’s body in a canoe with five wounds, which represented five men who were stolen from the tribe by blackbirders (Tucker, 230). Patteson’s life was given for his ministry, but his death brought worldwide attention to the blackbirding trade and helped to end it (Tucker, 230).

Overall, Patteson represented a faithful missionary who employed a creative model in his ministry. His goal of training natives to evangelize their own people proved rather successful. However, the fact that he brought the natives to a specific location, often on a separate island from their tribe and family, coupled with the blackbirding trade, brought about his death. Despite the fact that Patteson was such an outspoken critic of blackbirding, he was ultimately blamed for it and paid for it with his life. We can always debate whether or not Patteson should have set up training centers on each island he visited; however, his perseverance showed that he was genuinely interested in simply evangelizing and educating the natives with whom he worked.

I would argue that Patteson was simply a victim of his own historical context. Had the blackbirding trade never developed, perhaps Patteson would have been able to keep serving the islands in the South Pacific. However, his death did bring about a renewed interest in the South Pacific region for would-be missionaries (Tucker, 230). Something else that stands out from Patteson’s ministry is his devotion to his ministry. He knew that mistrust and fear were spreading throughout the region, yet he continued to not only be an outspoken critic of the blackbirding trade, but he continued to operate his ministry as he had before.

John Patteson is thus an intriguing figure to me. Stubborn missionaries are not hard to find in studying the History of Missions, but what is striking is Patteson’s willingness to essentially walk into a situation that he must have known could lead to his death. The dedication to his ministry and his heart for the native peoples in the South Pacific demonstrate faithfulness and a strong calling. I wonder if it were me, would I have left. Would I have at least changed how I ministered? Should Patteson have done so?  What do you think? What is Patteson’s legacy? Should we ultimately see him as “successful?”

The Hesitant Missionary: Ida Scudder’s Profound Impact on India

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Last week, we continued our series on the History of Missions by examining the ministry and life of Temple Gairdner and his heart for Muslims. This week, we once again find ourselves in India in order to examine the missionary work of Dr. Ida Scudder. Her story is one that fascinates and thoroughly impresses me. She is renowned for her impact on medicine and education, particularly among women, in India in the first half of the twentieth century.

Ida Scudder (1870-1960) was born in India into a missionary family. The Scudder family could boast an amazing statistic regarding their devotion to missions. As Tucker notes, “In four generations, forty-two members of the Scudder family became missionaries, contributing well over one thousand combined years of missionary service” (Tucker, 368). These numbers shocked me, especially the thousand years of combined service. To say that this family has had an impact on overseas missions would be quite an understatement. Ida’s role in the family’s legacy had somewhat of an auspicious beginning. Having grown up on the mission field, she actually did not want missions work for her career.

As Tucker observes, Ida ended up back in India shortly after her high school graduation to care for her mother who had fallen ill. As a result, Ida ended up in charge of a school for girls with sixty-eight girls (Tucker, 368). While she was there, she felt called to minister to young women, particularly young pregnant women. Tucker relates how there was a night with three men seeking help for difficult childbirths, but customs would not allow Ida’s father to help, so the women all died. It was at that point that Ida saw the need and felt her calling (Tucker 368-69). She went back to America to go to medical school, and attended Cornell in 1898 because they began allowing women students (Tucker, 369). She brought a check from a wealthy woman donor in order to start a hospital, but soon saw the need to educate women as well. She had to raise a great deal of money to support both avenues. “While home on furlough, she captivated her largely female audiences by her stories of the hopeless plight of the Indian women, and every meeting brought more money for the project” (Tucker, 370).

Things really took off for Scudder, as she served as a doctor, teacher, and operated an orphanage for homeless children (Tucker, 370). Unfortunately, despite her successes, she struggled with government bureaucracy, with a requirement in 1937 that all medical schools had to be affiliated with the state-run medical school (Tucker, 370). The difficult decision was made that her school, Vellore Medical College, should be the first co-ed medical school in India. Unfortunately, this led to a bit of a scandal, since many of her donors had given to the cause of female education and training (Tucker, 371). These issues aside, Ida Scudder was really quite successful, both as a doctor and as an organizer. She helped start a medical school which trained numerous women and provided them with education which they might not otherwise have been able to access.

Tucker relays a couple of interesting anecdotes regarding Ida Scudder that I wanted to highlight as well. The first speaks to her fame. Tucker notes that someone actually sent a letter simply addressed “Dr. Ida, India,” and it was taken directly to her (Tucker, 371). The second story is that Scudder defeated a teenager (in two sets, winning every game) in a tennis tournament when Scudder was 65 after the teenager complained of “having to play a granny” (Tucker, 371). I wonder what the teenager said after losing to Ida so resoundingly.

Overall, Ida Scudder had a monumental impact upon the country of India. Her family already had quite the legacy, but Ida stands out for her work as a medical doctor, teacher, and innovator of women’s education and women’s health. Her work from 1898 to 1946 in India left quite a mark on the nation. If her tennis game is any indication, I am sure she was someone you would not want to cross. Her medical school was the first college of nursing in India and today “serves over two million patients and trains thousands of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals each year” (https://www.vellorecmc.org/who-we-are/history/).

I think that one of the most intriguing parts of Ida Scudder’s story is her initial desire to not continue the family tradition. She wanted something else for her life, but God had bigger plans for her. Her work obviously impacted people’s daily lives in numerous ways. If one ponders how Ida might not have even become a missionary at all had her mother not fallen ill, it seems like the illness was quite the fortuitous, if not providential, circumstance. Women’s education and health in India owe a great deal to Ida’s willingness to serve God’s calling on her life.