The following is a transcript of interim president Fred Verwoerd’s 2017 opening convocation address to the institution. As such, it is written in a conversational tone. The scripture accompanying the address is from II Samuel 7:1-13a.
Good morning and welcome to Redeemer! It is so good to see all the new and returning students on campus. We are pleased you have chosen to join us in this academic community called Redeemer University College. It is a privilege to have you here and a privilege to work with you. We are embarking on a new academic year and walking into the unknown: the unknown of what this year will be. For some, this is your first semester at university. For others, it’s old hat. But, regardless of the number of times you’ve begun a new semester, we welcome you to a new adventure.
As far as universities go, Redeemer is not very old. This year we mark our 35th anniversary, the completion of 35 years of providing university level education from a Reformed Christian perspective. Today, we begin our 36th year.
35 years ago, the world was very different from the world we know today. Those of you who are students raised in a digital world may find this surprising, but 35 years ago I doubt anyone brought a computer to school. They were too large and too expensive. The cutting edge of technology back then was an electric typewriter. That thing called the internet wasn’t around and phones had cords that were attached to the wall. Technologically, the world of 1982 was very different.
But the founders of Redeemer had a dream and a vision. They knew they needed to establish a school that in all areas of study acknowledged the lordship of Jesus Christ. And, even though 35 years ago society at large and public universities themselves were not hostile to the Christian faith in the way they are now, the founders of Redeemer knew that simply recognizing that there is a God is not the same as proclaiming him Lord. And they believed that we are called to proclaim him Lord. Lord over all. Lord over every academic discipline. Lord over us.
So they started a school with the dream of growing it into a university. An audacious dream and one they probably had no business having. The odds were stacked against them. But, they persevered, and in 1982 the school opened with 92 full-time students. Those 92 students came to a school that, while provincially chartered and authorized to run, did not offer recognized degrees. No BA, B.Sc. or B.Ed. And still, 92 students came because they knew that it was not the degree that mattered. What mattered was an education rooted in a Reformed worldview that prepared students for living. The founders of this school had a dream and a plan. By the grace of God, their dream was realized.
“The message of the world is that we should get skills training so that we can get a good job. The Bible tells us to build God’s kingdom.”
What plans do you have?
I grew up in a Dutch immigrant home. Although not involved in the founding of Redeemer, my parents were of that generation of immigrants who worked to establish this school. I grew up in that immigrant culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I can remember, after having learned to read — I must have been six or seven — I can remember that I would carefully read the church bulletin. In order get “our seat” in the church we had to arrive early, at least 30 minutes before the service started, so there was lots of time to read the bulletin. I can remember many of the church announcements being appended with the letters D.V. As in, “The annual church picnic will take place on August 28, D.V.”
So, I asked my parents what D.V. meant. In their accented English where the “th” sound sounds like “d” and Ws sound like Vs, they let me know that D.V. meant “de Lord villing”. It was only many years later that I learned that D.V. actually stands for the Latin term Deo Volente, which, when translated, means “God Willing”. The Dutch who immigrated to this country after World War II, imperfect though they were and wrong as they were in many things, understood the need to submit their plans to God and to be subservient to His will and to His plans. They knew that only if their plans were in alignment with God’s plan would their plans ultimately lead to flourishing. This idea comes from James 4: 13-15, where it reads “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” So, they appended D.V. to their plans. This school was founded in the spirit of Deo Volente.
What plans do you have?
In the Bible passage we read today, we read about King David’s plans. In the passage we read we heard about how David was devoted to God and wanted to build a temple for God to dwell. He didn’t like that he had a palace and that God lived in a tent. David’s desire was good. He wanted to do a good thing that appeared to be in line with what one would expect God would want. He wanted to honour God by building a temple. He consulted Nathan the prophet who thought it was a good idea. But then, God said no. God told David building a temple was not what he was to do. He told him that work would be done by someone else, by David’s son. And so David made himself subservient to God’s plans and didn’t go ahead with the temple.
Our institutional theme for this year is “Your Kingdom Come”. We are called to work to build God’s kingdom, not our own. Our work is to build His kingdom. Our plans and desires need to align with God’s plans and desires. The message of the world is that we should get skills training so that we can get a good job. The Bible tells us to build God’s kingdom.
What plans do you have?
I can remember starting my post-secondary education. I had plans. I had plans and dreams about what my life would be like. Particularly in regard to my career and work, I had plans. I can tell you that no part of my plan had me standing here in front of you today in the role of interim president of Redeemer University College. Being at Redeemer in any capacity was not on my radar. And even when I arrived here almost 6 years ago I had no idea of the role I would hold today. This was not part of my plan and would not have been something I would have chosen had you suggested it.
I don’t want to give the impression that my life didn’t turn out well. It did. I am married to a wonderful woman and am more in love today after 32 years than I was on the day we married. I have four fantastic children of whom I am proud, and have two grandchildren who are a delight. Things are great. But much of my life didn’t turn out as I had planned. While I was committed to Christ, my plan coming out of high school was for God to make me rich. Growing up in an immigrant family meant, for us, living in relative poverty. I didn’t like not being able to have stuff, so my goal was to make lots of money, preferably as a banker. I felt being rich would be the best way for God to use me. And if I was rich I would then be able to support great kingdom causes (after taking care of my own wants, truth be told). My plan was to get rich, live on easy street with no worries, and be able to give money to kingdom causes. That was my plan.
My plans didn’t line up with God’s plans for me. Deo Volente didn’t apply to my plans. Instead, God humbled me. He said no to the money dreams I had and instead of giving me money gave me the bill to send four children through a combined 60 years of tuition-paying Christian education.
What plans do you have?
“We are not primarily economic beings, were not just workers or taxpayers. God made us to be so much more.”
I’m sure you have dreams, goals and plans. Particularly, as we begin a new academic semester with a fresh slate, we have plans. And often, our plans revolve around achievement. And then, when we don’t hit the mark we set, what happens? We get depressed; we think we’re not good enough; we question what we’re doing; we want to quit.
I don’t have grand solutions to the challenges each of you will face, but I do suggest that you use your time at Redeemer to be shaped. Don’t, through the setting of your plans, become rigid. Be flexible, be adaptable and persevere.
I know that the world is telling you to get skills training so that you can get a good job and make money. I started out with that lie. But we are not primarily economic beings, were not just workers or taxpayers. God made us to be so much more. At Redeemer you have the opportunity to learn what that “more” means. Our curriculum is intended to shape you. So be open to being shaped. Allow your professors to speak into your life.
The tag lines of our Core curriculum program capture perfectly how this can work. We want to help you to do four things: to discover your world, to transform your mind, to deepen your faith and to find your calling.
Be open to having God say no to the plans you started with. Be open to hearing what God’s plan is for you. Be ready to embrace failure, because we often learn far more through failure than through success.
Being open to hearing God’s plan does require something of you. You need to listen for the voice of God. David, living in Old Testament times, heard the voice of God through Nathan the prophet. We have the Bible, God’s Word, where he speaks to us. We can also listen to what the people who are in our life can tell us. Your professors will be profoundly influential. Know this is part of the reason why this university was founded. A university education will shape you, either to conform with God’s will or to rebel against it. God also speaks through your friends, which is why it’s critical that you choose godly friends, friends who can speak truth into your life. And God speaks through the proclamation of his word from the pulpit at church. You need to join a local church and become active in it.
My life didn’t turn out as I had planned. I went to a Christian College and was shaped by that education. The plans I went in with were not the plans I came out with. But, I was equipped. Equipped to serve God in many of the small ways that really matter. And, I came to understand that my plan to become rich actually was fulfilled. I just had to adjust my perspective focussing on the abundance I have rather than on the few things I don’t have.
So, what plans do you have?
I pray that your plans will be in harmony with God’s plans and that together we can work so that His kingdom will come. Deo Volente.