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.”

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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 dustin.zuidhof@P2C.com or lesley.zuidhof@p2c.com

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  

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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
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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.”

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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 http://www.benjaminhertwig.com/ to see and find out more about Ben’s work.