One Candle

“One candle can light a thousand and is in no way diminished–but actually resurrects in a thousand ways.”  Ann Voskamp,  The Broken Way, Zondervan Press,  2016

FB_IMG_1494196991925 - CopyOne candle.  That’s what would have been on the cake at Willem Kees Huig Aarnoutse’s birthday party on January 10.  His parents, Adrian and Carolyn¹ and his siblings  Annemieke,  Saskia, Anja  and Adriaan  would have been joined by others who loved this relaxed, happy boy.  It would have been noisy and joyful; somewhere along the way a one year old boy would have grabbed into that cake and a short time later would have flashed his beautiful smile through a messy mask of cake and colourful icing.  It would have been…  It should have been…  A family, celebrating around that one candle.


Willem and his family never got that chance.  In a perplexing, unimaginable tragedy, Willem’s candle flickered out at 6 months, when he was suddenly taken by SIDS on July 30, 2017.  Losing this perfect, strong son, brother and grandson, losing the smiles and the hugs and the sloppy sibling kisses, losing the dreams of having a brother to play soccer and baseball and hockey with was grief that only the family can put words to. Grief and darkness.


But not total darkness; Willem’s candle, before he was taken away lit many other candles.  And, from within their grief, Adrian and Carolyn and their children are determined to keep the flame of love they have for Willem spreading.  This began in the very depths of this tragedy when they chose to re-kindle the hopes of two other families by allowing Willem’s heart and liver to be used in transplants.  And re-kindle hope it did!  Both transplants were successful.  One of those families wrote a letter:

“There are no words to say how thankful our little family is, that our child has received a miracle; our child  was given the gift of life because you made a choice to save our child . . .”

A candle lit . . .  

The letter also had a poem in it.  A few lines:

…so hope will live eternally,

Born of  saddest irony

Life will not be the same,

Not for me and not for you….

…May the life that lives in me

Shine the light so all can see..

Candles of hope. Light for all to see!

20180110_111859 (1)And then came January 10, the day there should have been that birthday party with that one candle.  Instead, the candle that was Willem’s life continued to light more candles. That morning, the whole family went to the maternity ward of the Royal Alexandra Hospital.  They brought pastry cookies for the staff and delivered 20 bags they had lovingly filled with premium products for new moms.  One of the items was a swaddling blanket with words from Psalm 139  that were part of Willem’s funeral service, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Perhaps the most unexpected, uncomfortable and yet most special moments came when the family was able to share a bag with a couple whose baby had been born less than an hour earlier.  Another candle.

Meanwhile, with the help of Siebe and Joni Koopman at Dutch Delicious, 100 bags of raisin buns, that the family had purchased, were being given out to customers who came into the bakery.²  In each bag was a note:

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 7.52.39 PM

Remember Willem.  Love others.  Light a candle!

The birthday remembering and candle lighting did not stop there.  That afternoon, the entire family went to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the Stollery Children’s Hospital where they had, in July, spent the last three days of Willem’s life here on earth.  There, they delivered more treats and a lot of toys that Carolyn had spent months getting as donations.   In addition to the toys they also left behind packages of  high quality toiletries for families who suddenly found themselves in a time of deep crisis that the Aarnoutses knew all too well.


Finding our role in God’s story does not insulate us from pain. In fact, being Christ-followers will lead us to the foot of a cross, a place of pain and suffering.  Adrian, Carolyn, and their children know pain and suffering.  In different ways, we all do.  But the author of our stories is a God who, at that very cross, also knows the pain of losing a son.  Grief is real, but our God cries with us, walks with us and promises to restore hope.

Candles burning. Hope mixed with tears.  Darkness  being chased away by the life of a happy little boy who left his family far too soon, but who continues to light a thousand candles.

candle burning brightly¹Adrian Aarnoutse attended Edmonton Christian Schools K-12.  He graduated fron Edmonton Christian High School in 2001.  Carolyn Aarnoutse (Schoonderwoerd) attended Edmonton Christian schools K-6 before her family moved to Red Deer. During the writing of this story they expressed how grateful they are for the support that they have received from the community of Edmonton Christian Schools. 
² a highlight of the day for the family was receiving a number of messages from people, telling them about their acts of remembering
Thanks to Matt Schoonderwoerd (Opa) whose writing on Jan 10 informed a lot of this blog.  You can see that writing   HERE
You can read the words Carolyn and Adrian spoke at Willem’s funeral HERE
by Brian Doornenbal

From Dunker to Doctor (Part 2)

Support on the Path:  Family and Friends

It could be said for all of us.  Unless someone has walked a mile in our shoes ( or tool belt or business suit or chef’s apron, . . .) they can’t fully understand our daily work.  

Mark scrubs (1)Without walking a mile in Mark’s scrubs, it is difficult for us to imagine the challenges on the pathway to becoming a surgical specialist.  One hundred hour (plus) weeks. Life and death situations.  Overwhelming pressure from both the long hospital hours AND the studying.  Child cancer patients. Unsuccessful surgeries. Delivering bad news to families.  It has been a challenging path.   

 “I haven’t really had second guesses about medicine, but I definitely have had second guesses about surgery.  It is one of the longest residencies, one of the hardest residencies, and the sheer hours in the hospital and on call are difficult,” reflects Mark.   “There are lows when you are overcome by studying, and by what you see and by [the toll it takes] on family life.”

Mark has no illusions about how important that family life has been and continues to be on this path.  Mark, Connie and their two children are in this together!   

“It’s support that makes it possible.  It’s not me being good at things.  I have an incredibly supportive wife who is doing 100% more than her fair share.  She’s a single mother raising two children ….or three,” he adds with a self-deprecating grin.  “Also,” he continues, “my parents are in town, and they are always willing to babysit or help.

Mark's family

The support Mark experiences from Connie and from other family is of course about much more than just helping him get through his training as a surgeon.  The hospitial work shapes him as a surgeon, but he speaks of being shaped by his family in this way,  

“I might be a better Resident if I was single, but I would not be a better person.”

Mark also acknowledges that the friendships he made with people who attended Edmonton Christian Schools have  helped him become who he is today.  He remains very close to a group of guys he went to school with.  They do what friends do. Sports. Social gatherings.  Building each other’s garages. . . .   Oh, and yes… still plenty of goofing off.

Mark buddies

These friendships have not only been important for Mark, but since many  of these friends, are married and have young children Connie has found herself with a supportive group of friends who have much in common and do much together.  Family camping trips.  Barbeques.  Shared child-care and playdates.  Girls nights out.  

“When we came back to Edmonton from Dordt, I was curious how it [reconnecting with friends] would go.”  

As it turns out it has gone well and will continue to play an important role in both in Mark’s vocational journey and in the story of his family.

It’s important in all of this to circle back to the fact that this is part of a bigger story.  God’s story has a place for all.  The path isn’t always easy but the same God who provides the lilies of the field with what they need to be beautiful in this world provides each person as they “toil and spin” with all they need. God places people around them who help them become who God wants them to be.  And just like with the lilies, that is a beautiful thing!

(Part One of this story can be found here:  From Dunker to Doctor)
by Brian Doornenbal

From Dunker to Doctor

IMG_4268Alumnus Mark Dykstra’s Story

More than thirteen years after his last slam-dunk on the basketball courts at Edmonton Christian School, Mark Dykstra is still a student.  As a Chief Surgical Resident at the U of A with an upcoming Surgical Fellowship in colorectal surgery  at the Unversity of Calgary, Mark’s schooling will continue until June 2020.   When an ECHS alumnus spends 15 years in post secondary studies, just the basic timeline of events becomes too large for a single 500 word blog.  This is a story we will do in two parts. Part one looks at the narrowing path that has been this surgeons’s journey.

Part One:  The Narrowing Path

IMG_4269After doing grades K-9 at Edmonton Christian West School, Mark Dykstra, a normal-in-every-way- student who did well in school, loved athletics (especially basketball) and did his fair share of goofing off with friends, continued on to Edmonton Christian High School.  It was there he found the “wide entrance” to the career path he is now on.

“In high school I really liked biology. Mr. Van Eerden was amazing,  and Mrs. Krol.  They were the two main teachers that taught my Science classes.”    

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 3.42.05 PMAfter high school graduation in 2004, Mark enrolled at Dordt College (Sioux Center, Iowa) as a Biology major with an idea that his place in God’s story might be defined either by doing research or by practicing medicine.

“ I pretty quickly decided that I wasn’t as interested in the research side so I went into pre-medicine.”  


The pathway seemed to stop narrowing for a brief time when upon completing studies at Dordt in 2008, Mark, who married  Wisconsin native Connie in July of that year, did not get accepted into any of the American or Canadian med schools he applied to.  He would need to apply again a year later.  This time, while Mark worked a construction job in Edmonton, applications were sent only to Canadian med schools.  He was accepted into the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine.  He began there in 2009, aiming to become a General Practitioner.  There was however more narrowing of the path when Mark graduated from med school in 2013.   Mark’s experiences at the U of A  and in the electives he completed in Calgary, Halifax and London (ON), helped him to choose a five year General Surgery Residency at the U of A beginning that fall.

“One of the things that drew me to the  surgery side was there are a lot of acute issues with very fixable problems. For my personality I see a problem and I want to fix the problem.  Surgery was a better  fit.”  

Mark scrubs (1)

Since then, Dr. Mark Dykstra has been in on nearly 2000 surgeries and he is currently the Chief Resident leading  a team of ten surgeons at an Edmonton Hospital.  In July 2018, the path will narrow again as Mark will begin a two year Surgical Fellowship in colorectal surgery at the University of Calgary.  In 2020, at age thirty three, he will complete his studies and find employment as a surgeon specializing in, as he says,  “all those exciting things to talk about at the dinner table.”

It’s been a long, continually narrowing  path for a high school kid who, at 18, headed off to Dordt College on a basketball scholarship to begin a biology major.  A path first entered at ECHS with teachers that helped him love science (and basketball!).  It was that love of science that God eventually used to bring Mark to the role of being a surgeon, where he says one of the best things is, being able to give them [patients in crisis] options and hope, and then actually being able to help them.”

“I think I’m where I’m supposed to be in life. It’s pretty easy to see in medicine that you are helping people.  But it is so easy to forget that.  You really question some things.  It is hard to keep the perspective that you are not working for the end of the shift, you are not working for the senior resident. You are working for God.  It’s when I can stop and think about that that I am very confident I am where I should be.  Without trying to sound cocky, there comes a point where you recognize that you are good at something and you know that’s where you are supposed to be.”

 We deeply hope that Edmonton Christian Schools can continue to be that “wide entrance” that leads each of our students on the narrowing path to their vocational role(s) in God’s beautiful story.

(watch for Part two–Support on the Path:  Family and Long-time Friends)

Drawing Straight With Crooked lines

2425658-Andrew-M-Greeley-Quote-God-draws-straight-with-crooked-linesA former colleague and Principal of ECNS closed all her e-mails with an Andrew Greeley quote : “God draws straight with crooked lines.”  It was a reminder that God can use flawed people, like me,  to do God’s purpose.  As good as that lesson is, there is a second lesson I am seeing more and more:  the pathway to finding our role in God’s story is often a very crooked one, filled with zigs and zags.

IMG_2906That is what 2008 Edmonton Christian High graduate Dustin Zuidhof is finding out as he zigzags through life.  Dustin is remembered by teachers of the Northeast  and Senior High schools as a soft-spoken, shy,  lanky student who was academically strong, especially in the sciences.  Yet today, he works for Power to Change (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) on the University of Alberta Campus, reaching out to unsaved people.  A serpentine path indeed!

After graduation, Dustin enrolled in Biology at the U of A.  He had been challenged by his teachers at Edmonton Christian School to think about science in a different way and he had appreciated how faith and studies in a Christian community had shaped him.  He was confident in his faith and so he says, “I enrolled at U of A because I felt like seeing the world outside of the Christian bubble.”  With 20-20 hindsight he recognizes that it was a mistake to cut ties with the community he thought was a bubble.   “It maybe was not the best idea. I felt really lonely my first year.”

That loneliness was used by God to help Dustin accept an invitation in his second year to a Power to Change (P2C) Bible study. He participated in that group which focussed on the great commission (Matt 28:19-20).  “I didn’t really like that focus, because I didn’t really love the people the commission was speaking about.  But P2C challenged my ‘tribalism’ of seeing Jesus as only relevant to myself  and to those with faith.  I prayed for a desire to love unbelievers.  I really felt God answer that prayer.”

The next part of the crooked line was going into nursing which Dustin saw as a “vocational ministry in which he could love people in a very Christ-like servant way.”  The actual work with patients was very fulfilling, but Dustin struggled with his experience of a mean-spirited, gossip culture in the profession itself.  “It was changing me in ways I did not like,” he shares.  “The decision to walk away from nursing was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.”


By now Dustin was married to Lesley, who worked for P2C.  He spent a year in a job at Home Depot and when Lesley’s colleague on the U of A Campus moved on, Dustin decided to volunteer with P2C for a year.  That volunteering has now turned into employment.

Zigs and zags in the life-line that brought Dustin to where he is today.  “I was a shy soft-spoken science nerd (I think I still am), but now I talk and listen to students every day about deeper things in life, about what they believe their purpose is, who God is, what they value. I think the zigzag of life really equipped me for this.”  Only a gracious loving God could draw so straight with crooked lines!

by Brian Doornenbal
Dustin and Lesley each have to raise 100% of their salaries for their ministry on the U of A Campus.  They do this through supportive churches and individuals.  If you would like to support their work, contact Dustin  and Lesley at or

A number of other alumni stories have been published on this blog:    Miracles, Mud and MLAs,    Slow War–Ben Hertwig Shares His Story,     To Iraq and Back,      “I Didn’t See That Coming!,   Pastor Who?    They Walk Among Us!,       Throwing Pasta  

Miracles, Mud and MLAs

A Throwback-Thursday Glimpse at the Life of Alumnus Janelle Herbert

“Every day is a miracle!”

 The smile on Janelle’s face grows as she shares how, as a farmer, it is hard NOT to recognize that we are in God’s creation. “You put a seed in the ground and it grows.  It’s amazing and you can’t take any credit for it.”

ECHS Yearbook, 1999. Janelle’s K-9 schooling was at ECNS

Tiny seeds growing into wholesome food, is not the only miracle to be found here at Riverbend Gardens*,  the home of Aaron and Janelle Herbert and their three children, Evelyn, Layne and Carly. Ten years ago if you had  told Janelle , a member of the 1999 class of graduates from Edmonton Christian High, that she would be a business woman, a farmer, and a land steward fighting for the very survival of this special piece of land in NE Edmonton, she, in her own words, “would have run!”

“You never know where you’re going to be in ten years,”  she acknowledges.  This is part of the miracle and that is not lost on Janelle.  She recalls how her parents never put pressure on her or her siblings to take over the farm.  Upon her graduation, Janelle worked for a couple of years before going to Grant McEwan College where she became an Occupational Therapy Assistant.  She was able to immediately find employment working with developmentally disabled children.

At one point, not long after she was married to Aaron, Janelles’ parents inquired about whether or not they had any interest in operating the farm.  Aaron, a city boy who was working at a metal shop, immediately said, “Yes!”  Could this young couple, neither of whom had farming on their career list, miraculously make this work?  They could in God’s story!  “He [Aaron] loves work.  He’s like a workaholic.   I like running a business, so we are a good team.  He loves working on the farm and I kind of run the business . . .steer the business,” shares Janelle.  “It all falls into place.  It’s no accident.”

Aaron helps host a recent field trip by grade 1 students from ECNE.  Helping city people understand farming is part of what Janelle and Aaron do.

IMG_0395One of the things Janelle continues to learn is that God’s miracles in our lives do not mean our pathway will be smooth.  Concerns about growing seasons and markets and weather conditions are always there.  Taking the farm from growing wholesale crops to doing Community Shared Agriculture has not been easy, but that’s a story that will have to be for another time.    Add in the threat of losing this special piece of land to a proposed roadway/bridge development connecting to the industrial heart of Fort Saskatchewan** and it is clear that God’s miracles often require our participation!

Copy of Richard Rohr quote“With farming has come a whole host of challenges:  dealing with government and  being a landowner and public engagement and all that. It was something I didn’t anticipate being such a huge part of what I do.  So that has been challenging. You wear so many hats.  One minute you could be teaching a teenager how to pull weeds and the next you could be sitting in your MLAs office.

“It is important to have God lead where you are going and then you will be where you are supposed to be, even if it’s hard.”


So for now, Janelle and Aaron are making a difference in their small part of God’s story.   Where will they be 10 years from now?  Will food still be growing on this land?  Or . . .will tanker trucks and cars be rumbling across a new bridge, banishing the serenity of plant filled fields?  No-one knows.  But we do know this:  God will continue to work in the lives of Edmonton Christian School alumni like Janelle.  As a school, we plant the seeds.  The miracles?  Those are from a loving God!

by Brian Doornenbal
*If you would like to find out more about Aaron and Janelle’s farm:  CLICK HERE
**more details about the expropriation threat and ways you could get involved  CLICK HERE
Gr 4 at West recently held a games carnival to raise money to help conserve this land through Edmonton Area Land Trust.


Slow War–Ben Hertwig Shares His Story

We say it all the time at Edmonton Christian:  “God has a role for each person in THE story.”  All WE need to do is find it.  Simple… Right?  Think again!

IMG_9539 (1)Ben Hertwig attended both Edmonton Christian West School and Edmonton Christian High School where he graduated in 2004.  He is remembered as a positive, cheerful, athletic student.  He grew up liking sports publicly, and books privately.  Since finishing high school, he has spent time as a university student, a  soldier, a tree planter, a bike courier, a university professor, an inner city housing worker, a potter, a painter and an author.

Ben’s time as a soldier included a six month tour of duty in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan.  “My time there definitely changed the way I look at the world,” he reflects.  After a pause, he continues, “The world was significantly more complex than 18…19…20 year old Ben kind of anticipated.”

Ben H

With Afghanistan as the catalyst for a new complexity to life, Benjamin struggled to live into new chapters of his story.  Much of the narrative he had left behind did not really make sense when he returned.  Post traumatic stress made for a sepia setting and blurred plotlines.  “When I got back, I no longer wanted to be in the military but I stayed for another six months or so before quitting.”  Even Ben’s faith no longer made sense. “I think after Afghanistan, I started at ground zero again.  Things I had taken for granted, I no longer necessarily believed.  In the end though, I felt a very strong need to return to my faith, though it was and is different. I am part of a church community in Vancouver that I really value.”Benjamin Hertwig

Ben has been very active in the new, post-Afghanistan, chapters of the story.  Since 2006 he has achieved an undergraduate degree in English and Philosophy from Concordia University of Edmonton, a Masters in English from McGill University and is currently in a PhD program at UBC in Vancouver where he resides.  Lofty studies, but no ivory tower.   “I have no interest in academic pursuits that are removed from the concerns of real people,”  he said.   As if he needed to back that statement up, he shared that he was in Edmonton to write a magazine piece about the effects of the downtown arena/ Ice District development on the street people and on the agencies that assist them in the inner city.

Slow War (1)For this award winning* author, writing isn’t only about the concerns of others.  It is also about his own healing.  He has written a book called “Slow War” (McGill-Queens University press) which will be launched late Summer/Fall 2017.  It is a book of poetry written in the last two or three years in which he wrestles with his experiences.  When asked why he didn’t write it immediately upon return from Afghanistan, he says, “I don’t think I even had the emotional maturity at the time . . .I just tried to push it away for awhile, which definitely didn’t work.”

Life is not all wrestling for Ben.  As he navigates these new chapters of his story,  he often finds himself in places of beauty and joy when creating pottery and  painting landscapes.

Spring in the Sierra Nevadas

Late Fall, Mount Rundle

abandoned farmhouse off of a vanderhoof logging road

The story is ongoing for Ben, but he saysI do think that I am finding my role in what God is challenging us to do.”  By God’s grace may we all be able to say that.

by Brian Doornenbal
*in addition to publishing in multiple magazines and newspapers including the NY Times, Benjamin has won the 2015 Writer’s guild of Alberta/Glass Buffalo Poetry Prize and the 2015 Prairie Fire nonfiction contest.  He was nominated for an Alberta Magazine Award for poetry.
Visit to see and find out more about Ben’s work.