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The Next Chapter for Michelle Wright

By David Halbrook

Michelle Wright, 2011 PHC grad

In the spring and summer of 2010, Michelle Wright spent a difficult and eventful six months in India, helping Emmanuel Hospital Association in Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh to construct a palliative care policy to treat that country’s most desperately ill. Her work among some of the planet’s most impoverished villages put her in close daily contact with children and adults suffering from highly infectious, often terminal, sicknesses, and resulted in her enduring repeated bouts of malaria and other life-threatening infections. Back at Patrick Henry College in the fall, Michelle completed her studies, earned a degree in Government, and received special recognition at the recent commencement ceremony with two special awards: The Alumni Association Award and the Government Award, for her humanitarian work, excellent academics, and humble, giving spirit. In the following Q&A, Michelle, nearly one year removed from her Indian internship, reflects on what the experience taught her and shares what new adventures lie ahead.

First, Michelle, how's your health? Did that marathon ordeal in dismal health conditions leave you with any lingering symptoms?

I actually feel really fortunate on this account. India was a marathon health ordeal. We just don’t have any immunity to so many of the diseases there. Having been treated for malaria, a really bad spider bite, parasites, and more eye infections than I remember, I was definitely aware that I could spend a lot of the semester pretty sick. I am thrilled to report that with the exception of some “on again, off again” parasite issues, I had a great semester. I have learned that I will never be able to donate blood in the United States, but that is the only lasting health consequence. I even went to the doctor this week and got the “all clear” sign. I know that it could have been so different and I am grateful for the ways that God has provided for my every need.

Wright with a friend in India

Nine months after your return, how has that Indian internship experience impacted you, your worldview, and your view of your role as a Christian in the world?

I think that one of my biggest “take-aways” from my experience in India has been the compassion of God’s heart. I would sometimes stand on the platform of a chaotic, packed train station and just wonder, “What is it like for God to watch 1.2 billion of his people live without knowledge of his existence?” More than anything, India helped me understand just how much God longs for people to turn from their practices of gender-selected abortions and their insistence on worshipping man-made gods. I am convinced that spiritual blindness breaks God’s heart.

I think, too, that I gained a special urgency for working in a medical field designed to reach those with terminal diseases. For me, I never found it difficult to watch someone die. This might sound harsh, but in some cases, death really appeared the merciful option when a patient was forced to bear constant, unimagined pain without any relief. For me, the hardest part was watching a patient pray to the angry, mean, uncaring Hindu gods while on their deathbed. Truly, the greatest tragedy in a person’s life is first living and then dying without knowledge of Jesus.

When Jesus looked out into the field and commented to his disciples that "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,” he could easily been talking about India. The world is aching to hear the Gospel but there are few that are willing to go or even speak up in their own communities. Returning from India, I understand more than ever that Christianity is not about denominations, secondary doctrines, and the petty issues that separate Christians. There are too few of us as it is for us to disagree. Instead, we have an urgent responsibility to bring the light and hope of Jesus to a world that has not been privileged to know what we do.  
Have any particular opportunities materialized as a result of the experience or the coverage it received?

My experiences in India opened my eyes to so many of the challenges abroad. As such, I really have been privileged to share some of the lessons I learned and the things that I observed with friends, church groups, and others. With (PHC Journalism professor) Dr. Sillars’ help I wrote an article on India’s gender-discrimination issues and was able to get it published in WORLD Magazine. God really used the article to touch people’s hearts, and I received so much positive feedback from it. I never anticipated this, but I was able to use that article to increase awareness about the problems in India and direct other Christians to pray, donate to, and support the small group of our brothers and sisters in India.

Wright receives her diploma at the 2011 Commencement, where she also received two awards.

Would you encourage other students to follow in your footsteps? If so, why?

I certainly hope that other students look for opportunities to intern or work abroad. From an educational perspective, traveling abroad opened my eyes to the importance of understanding the global atmosphere of our world. Our generation must understand how to operate in a world that is diverse and internationally oriented. While I was traveling around India working on this development project, classes like International Relations, Politics of Developing Nations, International Economics, and so many others came alive. It’s so hard to understand the effects that the world has on our own country and political decisions until you have spent time abroad.

From a spiritual perspective, it is so encouraging and eye-opening to live among the body of Christ in another country—especially one where the Gospel is highly discouraged. My faith was challenged as I watched my Indian peers dedicate every minute of their free time to praying, visiting the sick, organizing Bible studies in the slums, and planning youth revival meetings. Indian young people know what it means to urgently spread the Gospel. Spending a few weeks abroad on a short-term mission trip is great! But there is something especially meaningful about dedicating a longer period of time to live in a foreign community for the purpose of using your resources and abilities to make a difference in the lives of others. As American Christians, we struggle to understand what it means to have a heart for the lost.

What is next for you? Can you share what the next year looks like?

In a week I am moving down to Nashville, TN where I will spend at least the next two years teaching in a low-income (most likely inner-city) school. I have signed on a two-year commitment with Teach for America and am thrilled about the prospect of using my education to make a difference in one of America’s forgotten schools. I have said this before, and it is true: I do not necessarily support America’s public education system, but I am convinced that there are too many young lives at stake for Christians to conclude that impoverished public schools are not the place for us.

Any final thoughts on your time at PHC?

In a recent conversation with a fellow graduating senior, I expressed my realization that, if possible, I was leaving PHC with even more optimism and excitement than I had four years ago. I love PHC and will be forever grateful for the professors who chose to invest in my life. PHC has taught me to write, given me a network of friends that I intend to know for the rest of my life, and offered a spiritual environment that has revolutionized my relationship with the Lord. Although I am ready to move on to another set of challenges and opportunities, I leave with mixed emotions. I will miss this place!!