Fulbright Professor Dr. Lisanne Winslow sees God's hand in triumph and tragedy
BY NANCY CAWLEY ZUGSCHWERT
“Biology is part of my life,” said Professor of Biology Lisanne Winslow, Ph.D. “I love it and it’s my way of getting to people who wouldn’t hear the Gospel.”
This philosophy was well in Winslow’s mind as she spent January into July 2009 in Japan as the recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award for Research and Lecturing overseas. God used her science, her family, and even painful circumstances she could not possibly have anticipated, to share His love and show His love.
“Better Than I Could Have Imagined”
Professionally, Winslow’s experience was a dream come true. “It was better than I could have imagined,” she said of the success of her research there. She explained that typical science often involves conducting an experiment with a great result, followed by the challenge of repeating and replicating the first results. “It’s a very arduous, long process with many setbacks along the way,” Winslow said. “But in Japan, everything was working. Every single experiment was perfect and repeatable.”
Her supervisor, Dr. Koji Akasaka of the Misaki Marine Biological Station of the University of Tokyo, was “extremely happy” with Winslow’s work. He arranged for Winslow to do three presentations at the main campus of the University of Tokyo which she said were “the pinnacle of my entire scientific biology career to date.” Through webcasts and podcasts, an audience of about 10,000 international scientists heard her presentation.
To say her time in Japan was scientifically productive would be an understatement. Her research with sea urchins is being used by the Japanese government to establish pollution control policy. In addition, her collaboration with Dr. Akasaka led to a key discovery of a protein vital in understanding the immune system pathways in marine invertebrates. “This was huge news in the marine biology world,” Winslow said.
A Change in Plans
Winslow’s family had desired to live together in Japan during her Fulbright assignment, but despite many attempts to make it happen, her husband John was not able to secure temporary employment or extended leave from his Minnesota job.
“We accepted this as God’s will,” she said. “John would stay here in Minnesota while the kids and I went to Japan. We would contact each other by e-mail and Skype [online video phone connection]. It became this grand adventure. We just knew that God was going to do things in John’s life and in my life and the kids’ lives that He needed to do while we were separated.”
God was indeed at work in their lives, and the fruit of the time she and her daughters (Arianna, 11 and Sophie, 8) spent in Japan included “God bringing seven people to know Him” in the few months they were there.
“God just used us to bring people in and minister to them and get to know them,” Winslow reflected. “Cook with them. Laugh with them. He just did the work. It was truly amazing.”
Northwestern will continue to reap benefits from Winslow’s work in Japan. The University of Tokyo has expressed interest in partnering with University of Northwestern and plans are under way to take 10 Northwestern students to Japan next spring break. There they will partner with 10 of the best University of Tokyo students for an intercultural intensive marine biology course.
Personal Loss, Far from Home
The Winslows had made plans for John to spend his vacation with the family, and Lisanne and her daughters were eagerly anticipating a reunion with him the first week in July. On July 1, Lisanne became concerned because she hadn’t seen an e-mail from John for two days. Then she received an e-mail from a close friend who said she was “so sorry about John.”
“It was enough to cause flares to go up,” Winslow recalled. “And as I was reading [the e-mail], the [department] secretary came running up the stairs and said, ‘Lisanne, you have an urgent phone call from the U.S.,’ and I knew something was seriously wrong.”
Winslow’s sister was calling with incomprehensible news: her husband had died of a heart attack while mowing the lawn. He was 45 years old. Prior to calling, her sister had made arrangements with Winslow’s pastor to be present at the lab so she would have immediate support. But the next thing she had to do was the hardest, by far.
“How do you tell this to your kids, just days before he’s supposed to arrive? In one second your entire life is changed forever.” With her pastor’s support, Winslow told her children the news. “It was amazing,” she explained. “The first thing the kids said was, ‘Can’t we just pray and ask Him to raise Daddy like He raised Lazarus in the Bible?’
“I look back and see that the first thing they did was trust in the Lord. And that, for me, was probably one of the best moments of this. They weren’t blaming God; they weren’t angry at God.” She was stunned and the details she faced were overwhelming. With her research not yet complete, she needed to return home to plan her husband’s funeral.
Embrace and Support
And God provided. A student, Takuya, whom she had been mentoring, rallied other students to get the work to an acceptable stopping point and helped pack up the lab. Winslow’s sister flew to
Japan to assist with packing up her home. And upon her return, Winslow and her daughters were embraced and supported by family, neighbors and the Body of Christ, through their church and the University of Northwestern community.
“It was this complete enveloping of me and my girls in this Christian community of love,” Winslow shared. “We had hundreds of e-mails, cards, letters, flowers, gifts, Scriptures, prayers—from people who I did not even know. People offered to clean my house, babysit my kids, drop off meals. I can’t imagine going through this anywhere else.”
Winslow believes the response she received at home—especially from her workplace—exhibits a powerful part of what Northwestern is all about. “My daughters and I are so grateful to the University of Northwestern community. I don’t know how we would have gotten through this without them.”
She knows her experience will always reflect both triumph and tragedy and said, “I never would have written this chapter [in my life].” But even more than any success in the laboratory, she is grateful for her faith and God’s plan. “Although I will never be able to separate my Fulbright from this tragic set of circumstances in my life, it’s all part of this story. It’s what God intended and it’s His divine plan. His hand was in every single piece of this puzzle.”