Rebecca Gilmer ’19 MDiv shares about her field education experience at the Academy of Integrated Christian Studies in Aizawl, Mizoram in Northeast India.
Q: What drew you to Mizoram and to the Academy of Integrated Christian Studies?
A: I befriended a student from Mizoram, a state in Northeast India, and I was drawn by the way he talked about Mizoram and his passion for his people. My husband, Charles Gilmer, is a full-time PTS student as well, and when we read about the opportunity to do our field education in Mizoram, we were interested. When I found out that I could teach at the Academy of Integrated Christian Studies (AICS), work with people who were stricken with leprosy, preach in local churches, and discovered how these people had responded so radically to the gospel—all of those things became reasons for me to go.
Q: Take us through a typical day. What were your tasks and responsibilities?
A: Most mornings, I got up around five o’clock and went to chapel. After that, I had breakfast. Then I would go and teach. On Mondays, I taught an elementary school class English, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I occasionally sat in or taught communications in the seminary while my husband taught Greek or Hebrew. There was also a midmorning devotion with faculty and staff, and most days we had tea around noon. In the afternoons, Charles and I taught Theological English.
“You made me feel like I could learn. You made me feel like I could do this.”
Q: What was the most rewarding part of your experience?
A: The way the gospel has taken root in Mizoram is very compelling and it really fortifies my faith. I’m thrilled by the way Mizo people embrace their mother tongue and the way they talk about tribal ecclesiology. They understand the church so differently than we do here in the U.S. I love everything they say about their pride in their culture and their appreciation for who they are, and I never want to see that changed.
I taught Theological English with my husband to a class of AICS students, some of whom had never before studied English as a medium. When we first started, some students would hardly speak with us because they were embarrassed of their English. They tended to laugh at one another when English was being spoken—a very human thing to do—so I established a rule that they could laugh at our Mizo, but they couldn’t laugh at anyone when they spoke English. And that opened up something—people would start taking more risks. I made sure to praise anyone who spoke. I would try to meet them wherever they were, encourage them, and give them a couple more things to practice. Little by little, we bonded as we got to know one another, and our hearts became knit together in unity. When Charles and I left, our students gave us very meaningful gifts, including a picture of us all together.
One of my goals was to learn if I was effectively communicating across cultures, so I sent an anonymous survey to my students at the end of the course. The comments I received were very positive, but the most meaningful and rewarding to me were when students said, “You made me feel like I could learn. You made me feel like I could do this.”
Q: How has field education enriched your experience at PTS?
A: International field education is a treasure that’s placed in our laps! It’s funded and constructed with students in mind. The goals are really applicable to ministry or academic study, and the Seminary takes great care in crafting an experience that will mark a participant for life. Although it’s structured, there’s freedom to embrace the experience so that the student can get out of it what the student wants while staying open to surprises. I’d love to see more students apply to the International Field Education program. It’s a gem that is often overlooked.
More specifically, field education also broadened my understanding of people from India, especially Northeast India. Having grown up in the South as an African American, I have this sense of affinity, this allegiance, to the motherland, Africa. I feel a kinship to the people in general and to those who live in the various parts of Africa to which I have traveled and lived short-term. Now I feel a kinship with India, especially Mizoram.
Q: How has field education helped clarify your call?
A: It reaffirmed some things that had already been affirmed in me. The advantage I have, being a student at this point in my life, is that I’m not asking the same questions that I would have asked thirty years ago. So, it was gratifying to be reaffirmed in my abilities to communicate effectively across cultures and to help people feel at ease and valued and help them soar.
“Informal time in discussion groups with faculty and students discussing feminist theological literature, altered my views, excited my spirit, and greatly influenced my teaching.”