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Monday, June 15, 2009

Ph.D.

For those of us who live outside of the world of academia, we like to refer to Ph.D.'s as Piled Higher and Deeper. Even though I like to joke about academics, I have a very high regard for those who complete the work of a Ph.D. It is no small task, often taking years to complete. Those who seek their degree in science are often lab rats, spending years in a lab, seeing the world mainly through a microscope. Sometimes the experiments go awry and months of work simply vanishes.
I've never met so many scientists as I have since we moved to Sweden. We have a lot of Ph.D. students in science at our church as Stockholm has several university programs that are attractive to foreigners. It's been a neat experience to see this world more upfront and personal and come to a deeper understanding of this discipline.
One of our students recently completed her Ph.D with studies in tuberculosis. As we have understood it, her work has been instrumental in the development of a new and improved treatment for TB, which is still a big problem in the developing world.
We were invited to her celebration party which was indeed quite a celebration. Held on a docked boat on the shores of Lake Mälaren, across from Stockholm's City Hall with stunning views of the city as the backdrop, it was indeed a memorable evening. It was one of the few evenings we've had where this unrelenting rain, relented!
It all started with a glass of champagne on the deck, followed by an elaborate three course meal, all served with the perfect wine accompaniment. Throughout the evening various professors, friends and family members gave tributes to Emma's good work. Our close friend, Sven Britton was present as he had played an important role in Emma's development as a scientist.
Sven is one of the most highly respected doctors in all of Sweden. I would guess that most everyone at this party knew of Sven in one way or another, that is how famous he is in the scientific and medical fields here. He is well-known for his compassionate work with AIDS/HIV as well as his investment in students' lives. He has taken groups of students to Ghana and Ethiopia for studies in tropical diseases. We've never met a student who has accompanied him on one of these trips who has not talked about it as a life changing endeavor. Sven is also a Christian and quite outspoken about matters of faith, two things that are almost unheard of in Sweden. First a scientist who believes in God, even Jesus Christ, and secondly, dares to speak openly about it.
I was privileged to get to sit next to him at the dinner. He was one of the first called upon to give a speech that night. He rose from the table and in his own eloquent and simple manner proceeded to give witness to his faith among this group of scientists and skeptics. He began by saying that he and Emma had met on one of his trips to Ghana but that their relationship was further foraged in their church, Immanuel International. Some of the people around the tables did not even know that Emma went to church let alone someone as esteemed as Sven Britton.
After making clear how he knew Emma, he launched into an eloquent speech stating how for many, studies in science are incompatible with a life of faith. He went onto explain that he doesn't believe that they are incompatible. In fact, he said, if one has an open mind, then matters of faith and science actually have a place beside one another. If one has an open mind, one can indeed have belief and hope. He then gave her Darwin's biography and affirmed that the studies of Charles Darwin do not have to nullify what the God of our universe is up to.
It was a moving experience for me on many levels. First, Sven is a dear friend of ours. We don't know him in his academic setting and don't really fully grasp the prestigious place he holds in the scientific community here. To us, he's Sven...great guy, warm heart, generous spirit, funny and gentle. So to see him in his esteemed role as senior scientist was a treat. Second, to hear him speak of his faith to such a difficult audience was indeed inspiring. And to see that he did it in such an inviting, whimsical manner was deeply moving. He gave witness to the true joy that is ours when we embrace a life of faith and made it clear that a life of faith does not mean that you leave your intellect, your curiosity, or your integrity as a scientist or any other type of person at the door. No, he firmly gave witness to the reality that one can indeed embrace a life of scientific study and a life of faith in God. One just needs an open mind to enjoy the hope that belief brings ones life.
Sven has been one of our best "evangelists" here at Immanuel. He speaks openly and freely of his faith, unafraid of consequence of ridicule. I suppose his work as a Dr. is so widely respected that people know they can't take pot shots at his work. What they can marvel at is how the story of Jesus Christ has so deeply impacted his life and work and perhaps by seeing a man of such great scientific intellect also embrace a life of faith, it may open up new possibilities for those people who have long felt that in order to have a life of faith, they must then give up an life of intelligence.
I congratulate Emma on obtaining her doctorate. And I thank Sven for giving witness to our magnificent God in language that is so alluring. I am thankful that I got to be a part of this gathering. It has inspired me on many levels to not be ashamed of the gospel for it is indeed good news for all who dare to believe.