Imagine planning a trip that requires a vaccination for polio, hepatitis and Japanese encephalitis. Imagine having to ingest live typhus bacteria and take malaria pills on a daily basis. “And why are you going there?” asked one person after another as I recited this list.
I was going to India, I thought, to satisfy a nearly lifelong curiosity about the place. But I’m beginning to wonder whether it was more than mere curiosity that led me there.
I spent January 2007 in Tiruvannamalai, India, volunteering at Quo Vadis Interfaith Dialogue Center as part of my master of arts degree program at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. It was the fulfillment of a childhood dream to touch the so-called “untouchables”—outcasts of India’s oppressive caste system.
But fulfillment may be the wrong word. For rather than a sense of completion, the experience created a restlessness to return. The inexplicable feeling is so strong that it changed the trajectory of my life.
I graduated from Luther in May. But the secure, career-furthering jobs I envisioned for my post-Luther life now seem unbearably mundane. I’ve passed up pursuing what I once would have considered dream jobs with generous paychecks and titles befitting one in her fifth decade of life. Instead, I’ll eke out an existence with part-time and freelance work as I make plans to lead a women’s interfaith dialogue study trip to India next year.
India—with its aromatic cuisine, frenetic urban life and beautiful, raven-haired inhabitants—is a feast for the senses. For me it was also an experience of passionate personal connections, a broadening of my theological horizons and a profoundly meaningful experience of Christian community.
Seminarians are frequently asked to describe their call to ministry. I never felt that the unanswered questions or the dissatisfaction with shallow theology that impelled me to seminary constituted a call. Was that grade-school social studies lesson about the untouchables or my passion to return to India a call? I don’t know. If somehow the mortgage gets paid, the student loan payments are kept up to date and I find myself at the travel clinic getting a hepatitis booster, I might have my answer.
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