David Nickels '01: Understanding Many Faiths

David Nickels in the classroom - ThailandDavid A. Nickels ’01 says that living oversees for four years in two very different countries, India and Thailand, changed him at the core. 

After graduating from LC with a double major in philosophy and political science, David attended Asbury Theological Seminary because of his interest in the Christian faith, an interest which began in his senior year. As a student, David says he was particularly influenced by the Lynchburg College Symposium Readings (LCSR) and discussions required in Senior Symposium. Favorites were Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Herman Melville’s Billy Budd.  

Following seminary, David ministered for two years as associate pastor at Heritage United Methodist Church in Lynchburg. David said the best part of the job was “being with families in moments of happiness, times of sadness and uncertainty, weddings, funerals, graduations, babies being born. But I most enjoyed teaching.” He taught his congregants about different religions to broaden their perspectives.

David and his wife, Ruda, currently live in central Thailand, where David teaches English to 900 students in a government-run public school. The students are generally low-income and come from villages as much as an hour away from the school. At times, there are not enough desks in the classroom to accommodate the kids, and there is no fixed curriculum. To keep the students motivated, he makes his classes fun, focusing on music, food, and movies.

“What I teach is relevant to them. Now they can have a conversation with a foreigner and say ‘what type of Thai food do you like?’ When I teach, I try to be positive, and try to encourage my students to be confident while speaking English."

Before moving to Thailand, David and Ruda lived for three years in India, where they became involved with further academic studies. David was made an adjunct lecturer at a seminary and taught Greek and Hebrew to aspiring Christian pastors. He also served in social projects, including New Ark Mission, a shelter for the destitute of Bangalore. 

While David grew up in a Christian nation, he found that learning to value other cultural belief systems is vital to surviving and thriving in a new country. “I grew up in a private all-boys Episcopal school in Richmond, received a great education, went to LC in Lynchburg, and then seminary. But now in Thailand I am not around Christians or the church much, and it forces me to think differently and come out of my comfort zone. It is not that I blindly accept everything, but I see the devout faith in the people I interact with daily.”

He is finishing work on his PhD with the South Asian Institute of Advanced Christian Studies. His research focuses on the Gospel of John, specifically on the use of the term “Jews” in that gospel, and on the meaning of religion, ethnicity, and interpretation. He also continues with the tradition of the LCSR program he began at LC, and is currently reading Moby Dick