Birth Pangs

Leah and I have a pattern. Beginning nearly six years ago, we happened to birth a baby at every new stage of my education. In each case, both kids were born just one week before classes started (who cares, you don’t need sleep in a Masters program!). For the nine months prior to our move to Edinburgh we were certain that Leah was going to get pregnant or just have a miracle baby a week or so before I matriculated.

Leah pushing out babies.
Leah pushing out babies.

Though we didn’t have an actual baby, something else was birthed in our lives…my dissertation (they call it a “thesis” in the UK). The UK PhD system is beautiful for those who are ready to move directly into the writing process and avoid two more years of classes. This seemed the better option for me considering I had to rectify my teenage screw-ups by taking years of community college courses. In any case, the average U.S. PhD in Religious Studies / Biblical Studies is completed within 6-7 years whereas in the UK the program is designed for completion within 3-4 years. The UK has a high expectation of readiness for language skills in the field of biblical studies—typically, incoming students are required to have strong proficiency in Greek and Hebrew, and a healthy level of scholarly German, French, and Latin (or another biblical language) along with strong writing skills. During the application process I had to present a dissertation proposal along with my plan to execute that project. In the U.S., this part of the project is done only after the second year of classes are completed. So, to say that I hit the ground running when we got here is an understatement.

One of Mark’s translation projects.

The project has in many ways been like a baby, needing my full attention and nurturing as I bring her to maturation. She has changed, and has changed me, so much in the six short months that she has been alive; and she continues to grow stronger and healthier each day. She regularly causes me to lose sleep, consuming my mind and testing my patience. However, I wouldn’t change my situation for anything. Over the next month, I will be wrapping up my first completed chapter and preparing for my boards (May 31st), where I will stand before five notable scholars to explain and defend my thesis (sweating bullets I’m sure!). This process is not an intimidation tactic, but rather a way to assess the student’s progress and to make sure the school is providing them the best representation possible (or so they say). My project, for example, has shifted so much attention to Roman Studies (Classics) and Numismatics (study of coins) that I may need to double dip by getting a secondary supervisor in Classics as well as Biblical Studies. This will be brought up at my evaluation and the board will help decide the best course of action. Still, a PhD student can fail the process and be recommended to change or rewrite their thesis (worst case scenario). So, the heat is still on and it is important to perform well. Therefore, over the next few weeks I will continue to strengthen my arguments and tidy up my languages. Though this process has been quite difficult I am thankful for this opportunity and look forward to watching my new baby develop into something beautiful.

In the next blog, I will elaborate more on my project and discuss some exciting opportunities I have coming up this summer.

My Supervisor: Poopy Diapers and Potty Training

Poopy diapers and potty training is not typical conversation with doctoral supervisors, so I hear. Soon after deciding to pursue a PhD, a professor offered some valuable advice. He told me, “A supervisor’s character is just as important as their academic abilities.” So, while on the hunt for a suitable PhD program, I took his advice seriously. Each year, an annual meeting for Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) takes place in America. Often times, U.S. PhD applicants are encouraged to setup meetings with potential supervisors (especially, if their supervisor lives in another country) to discuss prospective projects. Usually, doctoral supervisors will only take one to two new students each year, so helping them associate a face with an application is important.

Professor Helen Bond

With the help of friends and professors, I was able to setup a few meetings with potential supervisors last year. Sadly, I was quite disappointed by all but one pre-arranged meeting. I came to realize that my field—like many in academia—was nothing short of a “pissing contest.” In fact, the experience rattled me to the point where I questioned pursuing a PhD at all (I am thankful for those who convinced me otherwise). At SBL, hundreds of seminars occur during overlapping times and on numbers of topics. I happened to stumble into a seminar (after my planned session had switched times) on the Gospels, with fifteen other people. One of those people was Professor Helen Bond. As I recognized her face, and was previously acquainted with her work, I stammered through our first conversation—a conversation, I am sure left no impact! However, I remember being impressed by her gentleness and kindness. I had already been convinced that she was a stellar scholar, but chatting briefly proved she was human as well. The other scholars I had met seemed consumed by their work and achievements (talking about themselves the whole time), and she just wanted to know, first, about me, then, about my work.

After returning from SBL, I had narrowed my search down to two potential supervisors. I spoke to several Professors at Fuller Seminary (where I received my MA) who knew Professor Bond; and her character was apparent as everyone spoke gold about her. Also, my friend (pastor and boss) David graduated with Professor Bond, who also studied with the renowned James D.G. Dunn—I didn’t think this a coincidence. I decided I wanted to study with her. So, we exchanged emails. She was a godsend throughout the whole application and proposal stage—correcting my work with gentleness, confidence, and expertise. I was happy to receive acceptance as one her students.

David Goh with Professor Bond and James Dunn.
David Goh with Professor Bond and James Dunn.

Currently, we meet every couple of weeks and each time I am encouraged that she’s not just invested in my work, but in me as a person. Much of the discussion in our last meeting consisted of potty training and family stories (family is far too neglected in academia). Working—over these last few months—with Professor Bond has further affirmed my suspicions about her…not only is she a star scholar, but also embodies a character of grace I have found in few. I am so thankful for her guidance and investment in me, and continue to look forward to the next three years studying under her supervision.


Some of Professor Bond’s Works/Books:

  • 51fGrJRiyAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Peter in Early Christianity:


  • 51j8L6G1RxL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_The Historical Jesus: A Guide for The Perplexed


  • 41nkTFJc9yL._SX302_BO1,204,203,200_Pontius Pilate in History and Interpretation


  • 51XprKbAELL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Caiaphas: Friend of Rome and Judge of Jesus?


Welcome To Our Blog

Hey there family and friends!

     As many of you know, Leah, myself, and the kids are moving to Edinburgh, Scotland. I (Mark) was accepted into a PhD program in the department of Religion and Theology at the University of Edinburgh. We ship out September 9th! We are excited about the adventures ahead, sad about leaving family and friends, and a little nervous about entering into the unknown. However, we are confident of our decision after seeing countless opportunities and provisions made possible only by God. The last few months have been a whirlwind of change and excitement for us all. Selling nearly everything we own, picking up shop, and moving to another country is no simple task. From managing finances or selling our house to preparing immigration papers, life has been anything but idle. So far this journey has challenged us, focused us, and most importantly, proven to us that we are moving in the right direction. We are thankful for such an outpouring of support by family and friends. To those of you who have believed in us, encouraged us, and supported us through the years, we are beyond grateful…and this blog is for you!

Blog-Family Pic

We are beginning this blog with a number of goals to achieve. We hope to keep family and friends connected to us through chronicling our lives: achievements, failures, and successes. We’re excited that we’ll get to share pictures of Penelope’s first day of school, Leah’s paintings, or Markie’s first time using the potty (hopefully, before he’s 30). We want our family and friends to be with us while we are away, and this blog was our solution. Also, this blog will be useful for strangers attempting the same process that we are (whether moving for school or otherwise). With only nominal resources available online for those attempting a PhD in the UK, I (Mark) hope to provide useful tips / warnings along the way. Lastly, Leah and I hope to write occasionally on areas pertaining to our family adventures, creative experiences, my dissertation topic, favorite books, church ideas, or any other fun stuff that pops into our heads. While Leah and I are still in the country we hope to write weekly, updating everyone on our progression as we countdown the final weeks before our departure. On the right-hand side of the screen there is a “subscribe” button, and we ask that our friends and family subscribe to receive regular updates and prayer requests. Thanks for all the support, and we look forward to seeing you in the blogosphere.

Best wishes,

The Lamas Four