Editor’s Note: It’s a good holiday muse, and a question professors, mentors, even editors get all the time: Where does the world need me?
Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Today’s symposium explores a cross-section of the world’s deep hungers, and Comment invites you to consider your own pursuits of the good, the true, and the beautiful.
See also the first symposium we did on this topic, back in 2010.
The World Needs Me Teaching Elementary School
By Gloria Stronks
The principal said, “I’ve hired a substitute for the next two days. I want you to visit the home of each of your children. You need stay only ten minutes in each home.” She added, “You won’t find fathers at home because many of them are in prison. I just want you to understand your students.”
I had never wanted to teach little kids but the only opening was a class of forty-seven third graders, my husband was a graduate student, and I needed the job.
Every home was a shack with a dirt floor. The children slept on the floor or on a car seat from the junkyard. The mothers spoke poorly and seemed frightened to have me visit.
I returned to school, amazed that my students could learn as well as they did and recognizing the fine teaching that had occurred earlier so that now each one of these children could read at least at a mid-second grade level. Those teachers had been the most important adult in the lives of the children . . . and now I was one of them.
I am most grateful for all that I learned from the forty-seven children I hadn’t wanted to teach.
Gloria Stronks was a classroom teacher and reading specialist in state and Christian schools for fifteen years. She later taught at Dordt College and then at Calvin College for a total of twenty-two years, and is the author or co-author of ten books.
The World Needs Me to Farm
By Phillip Jensen
Ida Grove, IA
For two summers in college I worked as a wilderness canoe guide. I led folks across vast, mysterious lakes and through ancient, hidden portages. I invited them into participation with the long and steady wilderness rhythms of silence and song, stillness and tumult, listening and response—what Sigurd Olson has called the “singing wilderness”; what I call the “liturgy of creation.”
Many of us have experienced this “liturgy of creation” in majestic places like the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, and the Boundary Water. But creation is also singing on farms across rural Iowa. And I have heard it there.
Few have. And of those who have, fewer yet comprehend. On farms the song gets easily confused with other noises. The clatter of “pragmatism,” “efficiency,” and “economies of scale.” As if the first heads of asparagus shooting through the snow on an early Spring day were but another commodity or a good source for healthy calories.
James K. A. Smith has argued that participation in a community’s framework of embedded practices implicitly orients us toward what that community desires as its ultimate end. He calls these embedded communal practices “liturgies.” As such, the “liturgy of creation” is oriented towards the ultimate end of the glory of God (Psalm 19, Colossian 1:16). And the elements of this liturgy that are daily practiced across my farm are profoundly articulate in their song. The world needs me to farm because the world needs places where this song can be heartily sung by an expanding chorus of voices.
Phillip Jensen and his family grow several acres of vegetables for the CSA on a farm that they started in rural Iowa, and have a herd of Red Wattle hogs, a flock of hens, and a milk cow.
The World Needs Me Seeking Wisdom as a Professor
By Hubert R. Krygsman
“Seek wisdom,” Proverbs teaches, so that you may gain knowledge and insight, and do what is right and just (Proverbs 1:2-3)—in other words, to learn how to live rightly as God’s image-bearer and agent of shalom in the world. If this is the calling of all of us, it is the special calling of teachers and professors to lead and guide in this pursuit of wisdom.
University professors have the privilege of seeking wisdom as their full-time calling, and the responsibility to guide others in developing understanding. Usually this guidance involves young adult students who are not only acquiring “information” and “job skills,” but making critical life decisions about their beliefs and worldviews, what or whom they will serve, and how they will live. In our modern times, we have an over-abundance of “information” and many scholars who are experts in the intricate details of how the cosmos works, yet we also have learned how that knowledge can be misdirected.
As most universities today recognize, students are desperate for learning that is “personally meaningful” and can equip them for contributing to the common good. Or, as Steven Garber suggests in The Fabric of Faithfulness, we need wise professors—those who can interpret reality in the light of Christ’s lordship, who know their students personally and can guide them in developing their own wisdom and talents, and in this way equip them for service and build them up into mature image-bearers of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).
University professors have a high calling and great responsibility. We urgently need wise professors who realize the full dimensions of this calling.
Dr. Hubert R. Krygsman is president of Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario.
The World Needs Me to be an Artist and an Entrepreneur
By Gregory Wolfe
For a long time I assumed that these two words—artist and entrepreneur—were antithetical to one another—and therefore I felt a conflict within my own vocation, which clearly combines these two roles. Because it’s true: I’m not only a writer but also a founder and builder of institutions.
On a very practical level, the time I spend on one vocation takes time away from the other. And it’s always the art that seems to suffer.
One of my favourite quips over the years is “I put the ‘non’ in ‘non-profit.'” It’s easy to claim that art and commerce are opposed to one another, precisely because the marketplace often places such a low value on the arts.
But I’ve come to feel that that’s a cheap shot, a half-truth. Art is about communication, about finding where your passion and experience meet that of others. The same is true of entrepreneurship. Both activities begin in subjectivity but yearn for communion; they require creativity and the ability to intuit, respect, and interact with the “other.”
To be honest, I wouldn’t mind, after twenty-five years, giving up a little of the entrepreneurship in order to give my art equal time. In the meantime, I’ll hope and pray that they continue to feed one another.
Gregory Wolfe is the publisher and editor of Image and director of the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program at Seattle Pacific University.
The world Needs Me to Cultivate Faithful Neighbourhoods
By Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma
Grand Rapids, MI
“What we need is here,” says Wendell Berry, watching wild geese fly, and I understand what he means in peopled places, too, as I walk the streets of my small town. There is friendship here to fight back loneliness. There is sharing to assuage need. There is creativity to awaken sleeping imaginations. But I might not see these things if I were not looking through the lens of love at the place that has captured my heart, and stuck with me well past the honeymoon phase.
“A community which is just an explosion of heroism is not a true community,” writes Jean Vanier. “True community implies a way of life, a way of living and seeing reality; it implies above all fidelity in the daily round. And this is made up of simple things—getting meals, using and washing dishes and using them again, going to meetings—as well as gift, joy and celebration; and it is made up of forgiving seventy times seventy-seven.”
So I might say: be good friends with many neighbourhoods; marry one. Listen to your beloved’s dreams and nightmares, encourage its gifts and heal its hurts, know and appreciate the contours of its shape and story, forgive each other’s sins. And you may just find that, in the end, your neighbourhood cultivates faithfulness in you.
Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma is the editor of catapult magazine, a bi-weekly online publication affiliated with the organization *culture is not optional (*cino).
The World Needs Me Pursuing Better Public Education for Everyone
By Nicole Baker Fulgham
“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
We lost one of our generation’s most profound and transformational leaders earlier this month. Nelson Mandela, the giant of the anti-apartheid and social justice movements, transcended this planet. As we collectively grieve the loss of one so dynamic, we’ve had the opportunity to reflect on his life, his legacy—and his words.
Mandela believed that education is a force for change. He knew that educating young people at the highest levels will help shape perspectives and open opportunities—even for the poorest citizens. This is undoubtedly true, but only when our educational systems provide equality for everyone.
America, like most industrialized nations, has some outstanding public schools. But the vast majority of our excellent schools are in middle and upper middle class neighbourhoods. In contrast, many public schools in poor communities produce students who are not adequately prepared for college or high-level career opportunities, nor who are equipped with the critical thinking skills necessary to become world changers. As Christians, we are taught that all children, regardless of one’s family income or ethnicity, have God-given potential. We must improve public education to ensure that all children can realize the possibilities that God has planned for their lives.
Only then will education truly be the most powerful, equalizing weapon to change the world.
Nicole Baker Fulgham is the founder and president of The Expectations Project, a national non-profit organization that mobilizes people of faith to help eliminate educational inequity in public schools.
The World Needs Me Pursuing Justice on the Ground
By Petra Bosma
Four billion people in the world live outside the protection of the law. Those most adversely affected by this reality are the poor and vulnerable. They live in a world where police are not a source of protection, laws aren’t enforced, and court systems are utterly broken. But what does that look like? In that kind of reality, girls are sold into the sex trade with little hope for rescue, children are sexually assaulted and their abusers are never held accountable, or widows are thrown from their land and forced into poverty.
That’s why the world needs me pursuing justice on the ground. I feel a burning, righteous indignation when faced with the injustices I mentioned. But my feelings don’t enact change. My actions do. 27 million slaves might need me to feel compassion for them. But more than that, they need real, tangible help. They need a team of lawyers who will build a legal case that holds their “owners” accountable for their crimes. They need someone advocating on their behalf to a local government official, demanding certificates that confirm their freedom from debt bondage. They need classes that teach them how to thrive in freedom.
My personal contribution to the work? I write about these injustices and the responses of my colleagues—highly-trained social workers, lawyers, and administrators—because so many people don’t know about the critical work they do. I meet with Canadian politicians, advocating on behalf of the poor and vulnerable worlds away. And I urge Canadians—because we are globally minded citizens—to figure out how they, too, can pursue justice on the ground.
Petra Bosma is the Public Affairs Manager for International Justice Mission Canada.
The World Needs Me Building Better Healthcare
By Aron Zuidhof
Upper Kingsclear, NB
A nail in his forehead! And despite this most unusual situation, the sixty-year-old gentleman was smiling and good humoured. He even amused us by festively dangling a Christmas ornament from the nail.
As I entered his room, I focused—as Western medicine has trained me—on his vital signs, neurological status, and pain. But the nail wasn’t the only thing that caught my attention. I noticed the way he lovingly related to his wife, and how tenderly he spoke about how he had been building a shelter for his daughter’s free-range chickens when the nail gun had slipped.
The nail was obviously the physical complaint that brought him into the hospital. And this—present a physical symptom, get a physical treatment—is what people associate with our healthcare systems.
But nail man’s health is more than the nail problem, more than blood pressure and heart rate. The nail provided me an opportunity to explore, support, and encourage him in more holistic healthful living: loving and being loved, purposeful living and spiritual connection, rest and work, individuality and community, economic and environmental connectedness, education and literacy, forgiveness and humility.
Our health is rich, diverse, and interconnected. Physical symptoms do not form our full measure. Perhaps the world needs you to design a healthcare system that supports this fuller understanding?
(P.S. The nail did not penetrate beyond his frontal sinus and after carefully using pliers, we safely removed it and sent it home with him as a Christmas souvenir.)
Aron Zuidhof practices Family and Emergency Medicine in Fredericton, New Brunswick.