Tue | Jun 2, 2020

From river baths to world travels - The Dr Sherrefa Burchell testimony (Pt 2)

Published:Thursday | January 18, 2018 | 12:00 AMTamara Bailey
Dr Sherrefa Burchell
Dr Sherrefa Burchell camping in south Dakota.

Mandeville, Manchester

If someone had told this little girl from rural St James that life would take her from humble beginnings to rubbing shoulders with the academic elites across the world, she would have laughed.

Last week, we introduced you to Part One of Dr. Sherrefa Burchell’s testimony, and this week we will show you just how she was able to transcend boundaries.

“Life away from home was an amazing journey of faith and immense growth. We had some exciting road trips across the US, filled with so much laughter and adventure. It was so interesting to see the lifestyle in different states - California seemed like a whole different world - and to be able to explore some of the wonders of nature to be found,” she told Family & Religion

“We went to the Grand Canyon, one of the most spectacular sights in the world; the great Yosemite National Park; Yellowstone National Park (the 1stnational park in the US, with some of the most interesting natural wonders); Carlsbad Caverns (one of the world’s oldest cave systems, with humongous underground caverns!); the beautiful Horsehoe Bend; Antelope Canyon, and so much more. I’m so happy I found friends who were as much nomad as I was.

“Being abroad also gave me the opportunity to travel to several different countries, which was most exciting,” she added

But her life away from home was not always filled with fluffy pink clouds and sunshine. There were days when she felt like throwing in the towel and returning home.

Tempted to quit

“A doctoral programme does have its rigours. Statistics show that the dropout and depression rate among PhD students in the US is very high, and many times during the programme, I could definitely understand why, because I felt like doing just that. Particularly, after being there for several years, I felt burnt out, disheartened, and almost like it didn’t make sense anymore. I really struggled with whether I should take a break or not, or even stop. But God sent me constant reminders never to give up, that He was with me, and in control. And He took me through it, in spite of it all.”

It was God all right, as days before the scheduled graduation exercise, Burchell had not yet defended her dissertation.

“Up to two weeks before graduation, I still did not know for sure that I would be marching. As a matter of fact, I did not defend my dissertation until three days before the graduation exercises began. Definitely a miracle! And this was only possible because I had decided several months before to believe God that it was going to happen no matter what the circumstances looked like since I learned that, ‘Faith has nothing to do with feelings, impressions, outward appearances, nor the probability or improbability of an event. Faith rests on the pure Word of God alone’. So I took Him at His Word. And He did not fail me.”

Acting as the co-author on several papers published in various journals, as well as a few book chapters, presenting her research at several conferences across the US, and getting the chance to meet and interact with some of the top minds and leaders in her field, were a few of the occurrences that made her journey worthwhile.

“Outside of academia, I served as president of the Black Health Professional Student Association on campus (and vice president in subsequent years), during which time we increased our connections between the school and the community and increased outreach to various underserved groups.”

Top of the class

In 2011, Burchell graduated from NCU as the valedictorian, and has now returned to serve as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry, and director of the Agriculture Research Centre.

“This, again, I believe, was divinely orchestrated. There are several passages of scripture that push me to strive for great dreams, even when they seem impossible, because they speak of the power of faith and the power that is available through Jesus Christ. Therefore, when anyone asks how I was able to accomplish these things at my age, my response is simple: Jesus.”

With a plan to over time establish a lifestyle medicine centre where individuals can come to get advice and coaching on how to make changes in their daily life to promote better health at the university, Burchell is happy she has always had the support she needed and is eager to give back.

“My parents and sisters, my best friends, my uncle, my Fider family, who, though they are not my biological relatives, have given of themselves selflessly, and have been very instrumental in my success. The fact that I was so blessed to have walked on the shoulders of giants to be where I am, drives me to be the same for someone else, and to be an inspiration for some young person who also has big dreams, but not the means to attain them,” she ended.