Nicole “I thought about doing that!”

This is the response I receive the most when I tell people that I am a dual degree student studying theology and development. It truly is a great idea, as they also tell me. This is because the Master of Divinity and Master’s in Development Practice (MDiv/MDP) degrees allow me to focus on the intersection between religion and one’s overall wellbeing, which has been highlighted as an important element of effective global change.

In short, if we ignore a community’s spiritual leanings, we ignore their primary needs. Religion is not a supporting detail in many communities of the Third World, but the main idea. It is fluid with their laws, culture, and daily lives. Does this mean we all have to come to know Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha or the like before administering aid to our fellow beings? Of course not, but it does mean we may need to learn a new respect for them as icons, and do a little research on the relationship between spirituality and policy. Once you decide that you can do that, much of your understanding of religion and culture begins to come together, and behaviors may not strike you so much as strange.

Spiritual understanding and cultural respect also bring you closer to those you serve. If you doubt this, just look at our nation today, where the absence of these two factors is contributing to the racial and political divide. I find that when I can name certain aspects of a culture I have entered rather than having to be taught everything anew, people around me know that I am really invested in learning, and eagerly teach me more. This has proven true from working in hospital operating rooms with Alabama surgeons to a women’s clinic with Togolese midwives. My questions regarding their cultural procedures and religiously practiced protocols may have seemed elementary to them, but each time I took interest, I was welcomed into their space.

I suppose it’s as the song says, “Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts…” be it in Christian love, or with medical suture—or a combination of both.