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The Commons When Heaven and Earth Collide

There is a hope that resonates in most (if not all) students about to graduate from seminary. We hope that God will finally reveal why he called us to seminary in the first place and that all this time invested will not have been in vain. Throughout seminary there is much talk about “your sense of call,” and once I graduated I anticipated how God would make that elusive call clear to me, which I hoped would be through the offer of a full time pastoral position. Little did I know God’s call upon my life was about to take a significant Sarah Farkas turn and would be far different than what 2013 grad M.Div. I had imagined. I spent three years of my seminary career as a pastoral intern at Second Reformed Church in Zeeland, Michigan. Duke Guy was a parishioner in the church who had kidney disease. I did not know Duke well, but I was aware he was suffering from renal failure from reading about it in the weekly bulletin’s prayer concerns. I joined the rest of the congregation in praying

photo courtesy of Holland Sentinel

A recent graduate is surprised by God’s call

for Duke and his family as they coped with the disease. One day in May of 2013, I felt prompted to pray more boldly for him, but I was conflicted, wondering if praying for a kidney for Duke meant I was praying that another family would have to suffer the loss of their loved one. I shared my feelings with God and, regardless of my reservations, prayed that God would bring forth a donor for Duke. At that moment it was as if the heavens opened and a loud booming voice asked me a question that would change my life (and Duke’s) forever: “Why don’t you give him one of yours?” I immediately began to tremble and weep yet felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I fell forward on my knees as I wept, knowing I had just experienced the presence of God. After three months of wrestling with God over his very unusual and


Sarah Farkas, left, leads a prayer in Duke Guy’s hospital room the night before she will give him one of her kidneys. Also in prayer are Deb Guy, Joyce Raab and Sergio Reyes. January 14, 2014. (Chris Clark |


momentous question, I went through a number of medical tests and it was determined that I was a perfect match for Duke. This was a miracle—Duke has a rare blood type (that I share) and had been told the odds of finding a donor who was not a family member was one in 100,000. Fast forward to January 13, 2014. On that day, Duke and I were wheeled into side-by-side operating rooms and he received one of my kidneys, which is now functioning within his body. He is no longer living with the kidney disease that has plagued his life for 30+ years. I often wonder why God spoke to me that day in May, and I also wonder why God chose me to take part in this miracle. Questions like these are part of the mystery of faith. I do know that when we are attentive to God and willing to listen, he will speak. The voice may not be audible, but he definitely does speak. In hindsight, it seems fitting that God asked a question. After all, God gives us opportunities to answer and step out in obedience several times a day, but often we aren’t listening or even paying attention. God does not ask everyone to donate a kidney, but he does ask that we slow down, close our laptops, turn off our televisions, and silence our cell phones so that we can give our uninterrupted attention to him and to the people he has chosen to place in our lives. We are called to be the light of the world, and our light shines a little brighter when we take the time to listen, because when we listen, heaven and earth collide. —Sarah Farkas

In his classic book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes that throughout the ages those who have left their mark on earth did so because “their minds were occupied with Heaven.” From the moment I learned my kidney was a perfect match for Duke, I prayed that God would be glorified through this experience. He has indeed answered that prayer. Local news outlets picked up our story, and as soon as one of the pieces hit the Associated Press, the article spread like wildfire throughout the world. When I learned it showed up on a website in South Africa I said, “You have got to be kidding me.”

Duke and Sarah walk together two days after the transplant. January 15, 2014. (Chris Clark |

Although I am uncomfortable when anyone calls me a hero or tries to put the focus on me, I am grateful that Duke and I have been given countless opportunities to share our faith through this experience. We’ve also been able to advocate for organ donation. Neither of us asked for this type of attention, yet it has become part of the package. All that has happened is evidence to me that when we occupy our minds with the things of God, God will reveal himself in real and tangible ways. As C. S. Lewis eloquently states, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in,’ aim at Earth and you will get neither.” —Sarah Farkas


To learn more about our journey, visit the links below (or search “Farkas”): The Grand Rapids Press index.ssf/2014/01/god_told_me_to_ give_you_one_of.html Holland Sentinel 20140116/NEWS/140119367/10981/ NEWS Fox 17 interview (TV) The Pledge 96.5 FM/1260 AM (radio interviews)


Dispatch from the Snowy Midwest Reflections of a distance learning student January 9, 2014

For the next week-and-a-half, I find myself in Holland, Michigan. I’m here for an in-person intensive in my otherwise distance-learning seminary program. It’s two weeks of Hebrew for over five hours a day and two other classes in the afternoon and evenings.

Paul Burkhart First year M.Div. student works as a case manager in social work in Philadelphia, PA

I’ve been here since Sunday, and to my surprise, it really has been extraordinary. Tons of snow caused travel hiccups for a lot of people, though I came in just before the worst of it. I’m staying with some guys from the program in a house right on Lake Matacawa. Going into it, I expected it to appeal to my introverted self; mainly staying to myself (happily so), keeping my nose in books. I wasn’t looking forward to taking this much time off from work, and I wondered why these classes couldn’t continue being online. I didn’t need to know these other people in the program.

Why was I being forced to spend time with them in person? Instead, it’s been hard to get a moment to myself (and—surprisingly— happily so). The guys I’m staying with are all amazing men, and the classes have been learning experiences unlike anything I’ve ever known. I get to have conversations that are so refreshing compared to my previous seminary experiences elsewhere. Yes, the talks are still about those things most normal people don’t (and shouldn’t) spend much time over (theories of lapsarianism, the mutability of God, the influence of Western philosophical models on classical theology, etc.). And yet, these talks have been marked by two big differences from prior college and seminary iterations. First, few of these talks have stayed in the ether for their duration. Eventually they get to how it affects how we do ministry, serve others, how we communicate these ideas in helpful ways, and how we can peaceably coexist with others who disagree with us on any particular niche issue. It has challenged my pastoral sensibilities and has connected high theology with the mundane in beautiful ways. That leads to the second thing. In my particular program, there is so much

diversity in opinion on even major parts of theology and church life. This school is a denominational school with lots of beliefs about lots of things—and they don’t hide it—they’re anything but wishy-washy on doctrinal issues. And yet, those that are here have such a beautiful sense of what’s essential and what’s not. To see the most theologically conservative members of our group joking around and living life with those that would be considered some of the most rebellious “liberal” theologians in the church truly is a beautiful thing. So many of our theological conversations have simply been exploring what the other thinks, why they think it, what led them there, and how it affects their lives. It’s not debate or argument— just sharing and, in a sense, playing in the playground of theology. And when theology becomes that— not a battle ground with God as our theological general, but a playground with our loving Father watching, kissing boo-boos and bandaging scraped knees— theology becomes an exercise in freedom, worship, beauty, and invitation unlike anything the rest of the world has to offer. Would that all of our brothers and sisters felt the same way.

—Paul Burkhart

Thank you, Dr. Warren and Carolyn Lowry, for hosting a group of distance learning students during January Intensives. Also, we are grateful to Don and Lynn Wickstra for many years of providing our out-of-town students a place to stay. Are you interested in hosting students for one week twice a year? Please contact Kathy Ehmann at 616.392.8555, x186.

Students from the WTS-Newbigin Grace Distance Learning Master of Divinity program Andy Rogers, Miguel, Trevor Berrien, Ron Radcliffe, share a meal with Newbigin Houseand of Studies director, Dr. Scot Sherman. Dan Unekis. photo by Tyler Richards



A Glimpse of the Spirit’s Work Intercultural Immersion trip, January 7-18, 2014 Hosted by RCA missionary Mark Wilson ‘10

We were only in Cambodia a short time, yet it was enough to give us a flavor of what the country holds. Traveling 28 hours one way and 36 hours back was well worth eight precious days spent with lifefilled people in a beautiful country. Although not even 40 years have passed since the end of a terrifying genocide, Cambodia feels like a country brimming with hope.

Brad Zwiers Second year M.Div. student

This is what our group of eight students, one professor and our host (missionary Mark Wilson ’10) did… Most of our time was spent talking and listening. We sat in circles and asked questions filtered through translators. We heard the story of an 85 year old woman who survived the Khmer Rouge in refugee camps in Thailand and came back eager to share the Christ she had met. We learned that only three Christian pastors inside Cambodia survived the mass killings of 1975-78. We listened to a man who had been a leader of the Buddhist Pagoda in the refugee camps but became a Christian after attending a worship service, where for the first time he met people willing to love him. His heavenly Father became a parent to him after he lost his own parents to the regime’s brutality. Later this man became a pastor. And we were interviewed by Cambodian college students learning English—they asked questions like, “How are you feeling?” “Tell me about a time you shared the gospel,” and “Do you get good grades?” 4

We met a torchmaker who supplements his farming work by dipping tree leaves into boiling pitch for hours on end, a village savings group that pooled their earnings and started a local grocery, a community kids club that taught us how to dance Khmer (a skill we utilized poorly the next night at a wedding reception). We prayed with small church communities. We learned from a chicken farmer. We hummed along to familiar hymns while our friends sang in Khmer. We visited ancient temple complexes at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, where the Khmer empire of the 10th -12th centuries centered their rule. We heard about the constant vacillating in that time between Hinduism and Buddhism: one king dedicated his temple to Vishnu and the next to Buddha or the compassionate bodhisattva Lokeshvara. Our guide told us he never goes to these temples to pray because prayer is something to do in silence, not something to do to show off. We thought of Matthew 6:5-7. Many in Cambodia met their end in the late 1970s, and many more returned to their country thinking the end was near. But now Cambodia moves like a land on the mend, filled with many people ready to make an impact and full of the Spirit. Of course, we did not meet every Cambodian. Our short experience in Cambodia does not mean any of us are experts, or that we know what everyday life is like for everyday Cambodians. But at the same time, it is impossible to come back from that trip and not feel the Spirit moving in Christian communities; it is impossible not to feel encouraged by what we saw and heard and encountered: a people standing upright and resolute, and new life filling the cracks.

—Brad Zwiers

photos by Rob Sackett

Upon arrival, we were greeted by missionary Mark Wilson and a crew of tuktuks (motorbike taxis) to transport us.

Annastasia Bonczyk, Allison Theune and Lindsey Sackett try to dance Khmer at a wedding reception.

Although Cambodians don’t usually celebrate birthdays, they made a special cake for WTS student Jeff Vedders.

The WTS group visits Angkor Thom, the capital city of the Khmer empire in the late 12th century.


Peanut Butter and Jelly Generosity Like Sarah Farkas on page one, a fundraiser reflects on calling

In his wonderful little book, A Spirituality of Fundraising, Henri Nouwen writes that fundraising is not—as it is so widely misunderstood—a “necessary but unpleasant activity to support spiritual things” but instead a “call to Jeff Munroe conversion.” Vice President of Our attitudes Advancement and toward money Communications often need conversion. Many of us approach money with fear, thinking we don’t really understand it, wondering if we have enough of it and being afraid to give much of it away. I’ve been guilty of these attitudes. I realize these attitudes are evidence of moments when I lack faith. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus bluntly says, “You cannot serve God and money.” He’s asking each of us what (or whom) do we really trust? On top of that, the Bible consistently challenges us to realize that God is a God of abundance instead of scarcity. The Psalms say he owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and when Jesus takes five loaves and two fish into his hands he feeds 5,000 people with twelve baskets of food left over. With God there is always enough! This is the central theme of those wonderful passages on giving found in II Corinthians 8 and 9. Paul reminds us of how generous our Lord has been and expects generosity in return.

I was visiting a church a while ago on “Stewardship Sunday” and heard the pastor say he wasn’t entirely comfortable with how Christians talk about stewardship. “Too often,” he said, “we use ‘stewardship’ as an excuse not to give instead of as a reason to give. We say ‘I’m simply trying to be a good steward’ to justify being miserly instead of being generous.” If, when we talk about “stewardship” we assume we are managing a scarce and limited resource, we are missing the biblical call to generosity. A friend of mine was building an orphanage in Haiti and was followed by groups of begging children. Even though they moved him with pity, he was told the best thing was not to give them money—nor food, since he would need to eat to have the strength to complete his building project. One particular kid caught his eye, and one day my friend decided to bend the rules. He called the boy away from the others and covertly slipped him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “I can’t save all these kids,” he thought, “but I can give one of them a sandwich.” My friend then watched in stunned silence as the boy walked back to the group of begging children and broke his sandwich into about 20 small pieces, so that everyone could have a bite. That boy shamed my friend by showing the heart of Christ through generosity! It doesn’t take wealth to be generous. It takes a tender, loving heart that’s being converted daily to follow Jesus more closely. Jeff can be reached at 800-392-8554, x111 or

Learning Opportunities Available for 2014: Online Group Study Course Commonly Misunderstood Verses with Dr. Robert Van Voorst

Update New leadership structure Due to the enormous growth in Ridder Church Renewal, the receipt of the $500,000 Lilly preaching grant (see pg. 6), and expanded programming offered through Journey, the seminary has restructured the leadership of Journey. Rev. Steve Vander Molen is the new director of Journey, effective Feb. 1. Steve previously served as Associate Director of Advancement Specializing in Church Relations and as a Ridder Church Renewal Facilitator. He retains some targeted advancement responsibilities in addition to his new role leading all aspects of Journey. Rev. Keith Derrick will now focus his efforts on Ridder Church Renewal. He is passionate about his new role as its associate director, saying, “This initiative has become enormously successful in ways that are absolutely strategic to our life and witness together with the church.”

Journey now has three specific branches: • Leadership, led by Rev. Keith Derrick (Ridder Church Renewal, Transition into Ministry) • Preaching, led by Rev. Lindsay Small (a variety of preaching initiatives) • Discipleship, led by Rev. Pam Bush (Journey groups, theme groups, learning events)

March 13-October 31 Writing as an Act of Faith A Journey theme group with Rev. Adam Navis March 23-28 John Bell Week at Western April 24-25 Annual Youth Conference with Dr. Walt Mueller April 29-May 1 Transition into Ministry Summit for graduates from classes 2009-2013 “Hugging Porcupines: Navigating Situations with Prickly People” (registration deadline April 14) June 1, 2014 - May 31, 2016 Violence and the City 2 year Journey group with Rev. Chris Dorsey For questions or to register for any of these events, call Tara Macias at 616-392-8555, x133


News from WTS WINTER 2014

Dennis Voskuil retiring Public invited to his last lecture on April 29 “Back to the Future: What History Tells Us about the Direction of the American Church”

Grants Awarded to the Seminary WTS is pleased to announce that the seminary has been awarded three important grants. The first came from Lilly Endowment, Inc. for a new

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

initiative to strengthen the quality of preaching. This


$500,000 grant allows us to expand our Bast Preaching

Dimnent Chapel, Hope College

Initiatives by creating preaching-focused learning communities of 8-10 people following our Journey Group and Ridder

(The President’s Club dinner that evening

Church Renewal models. These models have shown that

will conclude with Dr. Voskuil’s lecture)

transformation happens best when people learn together over time, in and out of their context, and then share their learning

Welcome We welcome back Dr. Theresa Latini to the seminary as Professor of Practical Theology and Pastoral Care. Dr. Latini taught at WTS from 2005-2007 and then spent six years at Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN) teaching in pastoral theology and ministry, congregational leadership and community care. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Prior to becoming a professor, she worked as an associate pastor in a Presbyterian congregation and as a spiritual care coordinator serving adults with developmental disabilities. Dr. Latini seeks to cultivate communities of compassion and care in response to God’s ongoing ministry of listening, healing, and reconciliation. Our Bast Resident Preacher this semester is Rev. Rebecca Jordan Heyes, Minister of Discipleship at Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. As our resident preacher, she mentors students in preaching class, leads chapel, and is given time for personal goals and replenishment. We are grateful to have her here as a resource to our students. Coming to us from Pullman, WA, we are pleased to have James Vlisides on staff as Educational Technologist. James provides assistance and technical support to faculty as they create or modify courses through Canvas, the seminary’s online learning management system.

with others. The groups will be made up of college students, seminary students, and pastors. Rev. Lindsay Small is leading the implementation of the Lilly preaching grant as Associate Director of the Bast Preaching Program. Assisting her, the Bast Advisory Team is made up of Tim Brown, Ron Rienstra, Trygve Johnson, Denise KingdomGrier, Erin Beckerink, Jill VerSteeg, Brian Keepers, Karen Barker, Jeff Barker, and Jon Brown. The second grant, also awarded by Lilly Foundation, Inc. is part of its Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Issues Facing Future Ministers. WTS was one of 67 theological schools in the USA to receive $250,000 to examine and strengthen financial and educational practices to improve the economic well-being of future ministerial leaders. Recent research indicates that student educational debt in excess of $30,000 is common, with some students graduating with loans of more than $100,000. The financial pressure caused by this debt severely limits the ability of graduates to accept calls to Christian ministry and undermines the effectiveness of too many pastoral leaders. Western Theological Seminary will use its funding to research the systemic nature of student debt, provide financial counseling and economic education to our students, and explore creative partnerships with undergraduate institutions

Faculty Positions Filled Dr. Suzanne McDonald has accepted the position of Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology and will start on July 1. Currently Dr. McDonald is an assistant professor in the Religion department at Calvin College and teaches in the area of theology, biblical literature, eschatology, and the doctrine of election. Han-luen Kantzer Konline will be our Faculty Fellow during the academic year of 2014-15. She is a graduate of Wheaton College and Princeton Theological Seminary. Currently she is writing a doctoral dissertation on Augustine’s conception of will at the University of Notre Dame. She will teach classes in theology at WTS.


to lower the cost of a seminary education. The third grant came from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations in Jacksonville, FL. The foundation approved a $200,000 grant to support the expansion of Ridder Church Renewal. Securing the grant involved a year-long process that included several rounds of written reports and a visit to our campus by the foundation’s vice president of programs. Ridder Church Renewal, a partnership that includes the seminary, the Reformed Church in America, and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, continues to attract interest as it offers an effective process for personal and corporate transformation in pastors and congregations.

AlumLine May 12, 2014

On to glory...

Alumni/ae Day: For questions, call LuAnne VanSlooten at 616-392-8555, x109 or email

October-November, he visited 10 cities, seven seminaries, 30 churches and delivered 22 lectures and three sermons. He says the church in China is now the fastest growing church in the world.

12:00 Luncheons for 25th, 40th, 50th, & 60th reunions (Classes of ‘54, ‘64, ‘74, & ‘89) Luncheons are $10/person. An invitation packet will arrive in April.

James Taneti ’06 (ThM) has written Caste, Gender, and Christianity in Colonial India: Telugu Women in Mission (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). James is an adjunct professor at Campbell University Divinity School, Buies Creek, NC.

2:30 A presentation on biblical prophecy by Commencement Speaker Dr. Ellen Davis, Amos Ragan Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, Duke Divinity School. Location: Mulder Chapel, public invited.

Bob Yoder ’07 (DMin) served as editor for A History of Mennonite Youth Ministry, 1885-2005 (Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 2013). He began research on this book in his first year as a D.Min. student at WTS and later worked on it with Goshen College students and others for the final form.

5:00 Alumni/ae Banquet in the Western Theological Seminary Commons Honoring Distinguished Alums, John Nordstrom and Phyllis Palsma Dinner is $20/person.

Wei Jing ‘08 has completed a Ph.D. at University of Edinburgh. Her thesis was on the theological anthropology of Thomas F. Torrance. She is hoping to get a position at an international Christian organization in Beijing and is looking forward to answering her calling in China.

7:30 Class of 2014 Commencement held in Dimnent Chapel, Hope College No tickets are needed to attend; doors open at 6:45pm.

Kay Vinci ’11 is the Director of Publications and Senior Editor for MorningStar Publications at MorningStar Fellowship Church in Fort Mill, SC. She was ordained on December 8, 2013. Marla Rotman ’13 was ordained on January 19, 2014, at Vriesland Reformed Church. She is the pastor of Casnovia Reformed Church in Casnovia, MI.

News In 2013 Wendell Karsen ‘63 traveled extensively in China to teach and preach. In February-March he visited four cities, a number of unregistered and Three-Self Patriotic Movement churches, two seminaries, the new Amity Bible production plant and was involved in several lectures and workshops. In

Dan ‘13 and Grace Claus ‘13 were ordained February 9, 2014, at Third Reformed Church in Holland. They are serving as interim chaplains of discipleship for the Campus Ministries of Hope College. Correction: It was incorrectly stated in our Fall issue that Aaron ’12 and Elsie Punt ’13 were called together to First Reformed in Slayton, MN. Aaron is the pastor; they are not co-pastors.

January & February totals: 34 times plowing parking lots 9200 gallons of liquid salt 16.5 hrs loading snow 29 hrs trucking it away 4 hrs cleanup of parking lots

Norman Menning ‘57 b. Sioux Co., IA 3/23/1926 d. Rock Valley, IA 1/20/2014 Hope ‘54; WTS ‘57 Reformed churches served: (1957-61) Trinity, Allison, IA (1961-70) Firth, NB (1970-91) Bethel, Lester, IA and First, Doon, IA Richard Baukema, Sr. ‘88 b. Paterson, NJ 7/23/1938 d. Grand Rapids, MI 2/16/2014 Calvin ‘71; WTS ‘88 Reformed churches served: (1988-90) Hope, Muskegon, MI (1990-98) Ebenezer, Holland, MI (1999-2006) Home Acres, Kentwood, MI (2006-2014) assoc., First, Grandville, MI Also served as a chaplain for fire departments John Heeg,’78 b. The Netherlands, 1940 d. Guilderland, NY 2/5/2014 McMaster University; WTS ‘78 Reformed churches served: (1978-82) Matlock, IA (1982-97) First, Harriston, Ontario, Canada (1997-2010) Westerlo, Troy, NY Allen Gene Buurma ‘64 b. Holland, MI 8/7/1939 d. Flemington, NJ 11/11/2013 Hope ‘61; WTS ‘64 Reformed churches served: (1964-69) Williamson, NY (1969-79) Huguenot Park, Staten Island, NY (1979-2004) Hillsborough, Millstone, NJ

What a winter! Over 147” of snow in Holland left snowbanks like the one V.P. of Finance Norm Donkersloot is standing on. This winter’s snow removal bill? Over $25,000! This includes paying a roofing company to shovel snow off all the roofs and break ice dams causing leaks.


A Note from

PRESIDENT TIMOTHY BROWN Program. And if you didn’t know, I am the Henry Bast Professor of Preaching, a title I’ve been honored to hold for 20 years!

Oh my, what a thrill it is to have such vibrant, young talent on staff at the seminary. Here you see me with my two “Bast” colleagues, Rev. Rebecca Jordan Heyes, our Bast Resident Preacher this semester, and Rev. Lindsay Small, our Associate Director of the Bast Preaching

All of these positions (along with the yearly Bast Preaching Festival and Bast Preaching Fellowships) are part of the Bast Preaching Initiatives, named after Dr. Henry Bast, one of the RCA’s most gifted leaders. He would be pleased that the focus is not on him as a person, but on the glorious calling of preaching. A few months ago we received the marvelous news that Lilly Endowment, Inc. has awarded the seminary a $500,000 grant to

strengthen the quality of our preaching program. Through this 3-year grant we will reach out to college students, seminary students, and pastors to form learning opportunities all centered around preaching. Already Lindsay Small has started “The Pulpit,” a peer group of 18 female M.Div. students meeting monthly for encouragement and growth. And more ideas and opportunities are coming down the pipeline!

March 2014, Vol. 17, No. 2 Editor and Graphic Designer: Carla Capotosto Editorial Council: Rev. Jeff Munroe, Dana Daniels., Dr. Carol Bechtel. The Commons is published three times a year for alumni/ae and friends of Western Theological Seminary by the Office of Advancement and Communications, Jeff Munroe, vice president, 101 E. 13th Street, Holland, MI 49423. 616-392-8555; fax 616-392-7717. Reproduction in whole or in part by permission only.

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WTS Commons Winter 2014  
WTS Commons Winter 2014