Why Go to Grad School?
Daniel Walker, author of God in a Brothel, on how grad school impacted his life and career
When I first became a Christian, I remember thinking I was either going to give it my all—or nothing. If God could be known and loved, then I wanted to know and love Him the best I could and with everything I could muster.
I had always wanted to be a police officer or a soldier, and so when I joined “God’s army,” I decided I was going to take the Special Forces route. If there was some way of living and following Him that was costly yet rewarding, then I wanted in. That was why I went to grad school.
I initially saw grad school as a way to hone my skills and talents and gain the necessary knowledge to be a better fighter, a more consistent disciple and a more fully alive human being. While these things certainly occurred, I also matured in ways I could never have foreseen.
I learned to value my own heritage, culture and worldview, while at the same time learning to engage with and understand new and very unfamiliar ones. I was forced to persevere through some course material and fieldwork I did not enjoy and would never have chosen, only to find in hindsight it was often at these times I grew and developed the most.
I was initially very clear about how God was going to use my particular course of study, and worked hard to ensure I completed all of the coursework to the necessary standard to do just that. Which is why I was confused and somewhat crestfallen when, in spite of my graduation, the doors to the path I had chosen remained closed. What had I gotten wrong?
After graduating with a Master’s in Third World Development, I fully expected the doors to open to all manner of opportunities in the developing world with relief and development organizations. I was confident my newfound knowledge and skills would be quickly put to good use by helping others escape the cycle of poverty and desperation.
However, I was soon to learn the development ethos at the time was moving away from sending Westerners to the third world, and instead training and empowering those locals on the ground. This made sense as they already knew the language, the culture and often had a better idea of what the real problems were and how best to solve them.
When one door after another closed, I became increasingly despondent. Ultimately, I decided either God had made a mistake or I had gotten my wires crossed. I still had my childhood dream of becoming a police officer, and so I decided to pursue that instead.
I joined the New Zealand Police, got married a few years later and began to accept my life as it was, devoid of any opportunity to utilize my graduate studies and experience. Indeed, if I was honest, there were times when I wondered whether it had been a complete waste of time.
About 11 years later a friend handed me an article about an organization utilizing law enforcement and criminal investigators to travel to the developing world to rescue women and children from slavery. Suddenly my graduate degree made sense.
It was only some years later when I looked back that I could see the master plan at work. The skills, education and depth I gained during this time were able to sustain me and indeed propel me into a very different pathway, one that did not even exist when I first enrolled in grad school, and one I would never have dreamed possible all those years before.
Rescuing women and children from sex trafficking required all of me. I was stretched and broken in ways I cannot describe. But it was truly exhilarating to feel as if every ounce of who I was and everything I had learned was being used to set people free from this most horrific form of modern-day slavery.
I am reminded that in a world where evil permeates our fallen creation, there is no “secular” divide as far as God is concerned, and that every course of study—be it science, medicine, law, sociology, etc.—can all be used to set captives free from whatever sucks the life out of them and threatens to enslave.
The Bible says the Kingdom of God is advancing and that the gates of evil cannot stand against it. For me, grad school was and is about being proactive and taking the offensive. It is about doing those things that make us come alive. Pursuing those courses of study that interest and excite us and ultimately participating in those adventures that we feel called to from our core.
Grad school was a defining point in my life. The person I became during this time was someone who was ultimately able to do and be much more than I could have imagined. Grad school allowed me to expand my limited horizons, to go deeper into life and to suck the marrow out of it. And for this I will always be thankful.
Daniel Walker is the author of God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue. He holds a master’s degree in Third World economic development from Eastern University in Philadelphia.