Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? He said to him, Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. He said to him, feed my lambs.
An Old Friend
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
In the fall of 2003 my mentor and friend at Michigan State University, professor Glenn L. Johnson, broke his hip removing a fallen tree from his back yard. Glenn knew me as well as anyone having served on my doctoral committee, attended the same church, and become a close friend during my student years. When I heard of his injury, he was in physical therapy and I called to check on my friend.
Among agricultural economists, Glenn was known for his work on the asset-fixity problem. This problem arises because, once investments in real capital are made, they cannot be reallocated without suffering a capital loss. Having invested, farmers often continue producing at a loss, which, in the aggregate, led to further price declines and worse losses. The asset-fixity problem provides a theoretical justification for farm policy intervention, which made Glenn ‘s work famous.
Behind the asset-fixity problem is the stark reality of farm policy—modern agriculture produces too much food. The world food problem that motivated me to enter agricultural economics proved to be more politics than reality. When farmers in the developed countries produce too much food, low food prices force farmers in developing countries into poverty. When I realized that the world food problem was a myth, I also realized that agricultural economics could not be my ultimate call as a Christian.
Professionals face the same asset-fixity problem when they invest years of work in a particular field, only to find their work ignored and their career stalled. For both the farmer and the professional, the problem of getting stuck is best solved by investing in new skills and activities during slow periods. As the saying goes, you need to know when to cut bait and when to go fishing.
During my conversation with Glenn, we talked about my work at OCC on agricultural banking, but I also regaled him with details of a sermon that I spent weeks preparing. On and on I went about this sermon, getting more excited by the minute.
Glenn listened patiently but pretty soon, like every good Illinois farm boy, he had reached his limit and blurted out: “Stephen, you really seem to enjoy preaching, why don’t you go to seminary?”
His seminary comment puzzled me, but I sensed that I had bored him long enough. I thanked him and excused myself.
Several months passed. I then heard through the grapevine that Glenn passed away the week after I spoke with him. The last words I heard from my mentor of 20 years was: “Stephen…why don’t you go to seminary? Stephen…why don’t you go to seminary?” For me, Glenn’s words sounded like Jesus’ last words to Peter (John 21:15).
When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, They have no wine. And Jesus said to her,
Woman, what does this have to do with me?
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
In 2006, my sister, Diane, developed a second round of breast cancer. She had started chemo-therapy unsuccessfully in the fall and planned a new round of chemo in the New Year. After Christmas I drove to Philadelphia to visit her and offer encouragement.
When I arrived, we walked around the house inspecting the renovations that she had contracted. She was especially proud of her new kitchen that included a system of warm water circulation in the floor tiling.
I bought her a DVD film starring Queen Latifah, Last Holiday,1 which we watched together. The film is the story of a woman, Georgia, diagnosed with a fatal neurological disorder who blows her life savings visiting a celebrity chef working in a large, luxury hotel, called the Grandhotel Pupp in the Czech Republic. During her visit, Georgia discovers hidden talents, finds love, and, in the end, learns that she had been misdiagnosed. I hoped the film would offer Diane hope and the strength to persevere in her new chemo treatments.
On Monday, February 12, 2007, my mother called me as I commuted to work in Washington D.C. with a colleague. She told me that Diane had taken a turn for the worse. What had begun days earlier as an adverse reaction to chemo had by Sunday night left Diane with blood clots, a heart attack, and a stoke. As she lost consciousness, she asked for her two brothers, for John and for me.
I returned to Centreville, dropped off my colleague, and picked up John. Together, we then traveled to Springfield, Pennsylvania, where Diane lay in the intensive care unit of the local hospital. Our parents waited for us, having traveled earlier in the week on a visit.
When John and I arrived at the hospital mid-morning, Diane lay unresponsive on life-support. The person I saw lying in the hospital bed no longer looked like my sister and the doctors opined that nothing more could be done. I consoled my brother-in-law, Hugo, while we waited for their pastor. Once he arrived, we read Psalm 23 and prayed. Then, we instructed the doctor to remove Diane from life support and sat with her as she took her last breaths.
The Funeral Services
Hugo and my father worked to schedule funeral services for Thursday at Diane’s home church, First Presbyterian Church, in Springfield, Pennsylvania and for Saturday at LPC in McLean, Virginia, where Diane would also be interned in the family burial plot. I thought to attend the LPC service, but my father insisted that I eulogize Diane at both services.
As I prepared my eulogy, I realized that the two, enduring friends of my youth, Diane and our cousin, Carol, had preceded me in death although I had preceded them in life. Carol died years earlier at the age of 31 of an undiagnosed heart condition leaving behind John and Jackie, ages three and four; Diane left behind a teen-aged son, William, who grieved fiercely. My grief ran silent and deep. The passing of Diane and Carol brought my mortality more clearly into view, sharpening my sense of urgency in attending to life’s work.
At the Springfield service, the only people that I knew were family members and my friend, Jon, from high school, who pastors a Lutheran church in Pennsylvania. As I grieved Diane, I drew comfort from the fellowship of about 350 saints who also mourned my sister. As I looked out from the pulpit in McLean, I could see the entire Hiemstra family, many friends in Christ, and about a dozen friends from my office.
Wedding at Cana
Diane’s funeral service served as a “Wedding at Cana” moment in my ministry. Just as Mary drafted Jesus into solving the wine problem at the wedding, my father drafted me to lead Diane’s eulogy. Later I noticed that the colleagues who saw me in the pulpit and heard my eulogy stopped using profanity in my presence.
Over the following year, I began to think differently about part-time seminary studies. In March of 2008 I drove to Charlotte, North Carolina with a friend to attend an open house at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS). Walking through the door, GCTS students greeted us. We felt truly welcomed seeing many second career students and learning that the entire curriculum could be taken during long weekend visits. Unlike at other seminaries, at GCTS we could continue working while we studied.
Also unlike other seminaries that I visited, African Americans made up about a third of the students. African American students were largely absent on other seminary campuses. Having worked in Washington D.C. for twenty-seven years, I had many African American colleagues, felt comfortable in their presence, and respected their deep spirituality. Seeing the African American students at GCTS gave me comfort that I had finally found the right seminary home.
When I returned to my home in Centreville, I applied to GCTS, was accepted and began classes the following August. I never experienced such joy as I felt on entering seminary.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
More than a snack, coffee time (kaffietijd in Dutch) structured our lives and became an institution where my fondest memories of family life unfolded and I got a glimpse of heaven.
On weekdays, at nine in morning, at three in the afternoon, and around eight in the evening, My grandmother, Gertrude Hiemstra, prepared coffee for the adults, cocoa for the kids, and goodies for everyone. The goodies included homemade lemon bars, chocolate chip cookies, or strawberry short cake topped with ice cream. Choice, we always got a choice.
Whether knitting, feeding the calves, or pulling weeds in the garden, everyone paused, came in the house, got cleaned up, and talked. No one was excluded no one; everyone was invited; and conversation was required.
On Sundays, coffee time got more involved. No one dared to skip Sunday school or leave town before lunch at grandma’s house. So we attended church at nine-fifteen, but took a break for snacks during Sunday school. After church, we normally changed from our Sunday best into more comfortable clothes before lunch. After changing one thing led to another and, being kids, by the time the adults called us for lunch, we might be hiding in the attic or chasing each other around the yard. Lunch escaped our attention, but the adults bribed us to come to lunch with reminders of coffee time.
These Sunday coffee times might be delayed until after the cuckoo clock chimed at four o’clock. A late coffee time almost always involved better snacks requiring fold up trays and breaking out the card tables, which might be used later for playing hearts or board games. On occasion, the piano might be played and ice cream churned by hand. When we complained about helping churn, the adults reminded us that “kids today are so spoiled by that store-bought ice cream.”
Sunday coffee time became more formal when we celebrated birthdays among my grandparents’ siblings. Because both grandma and grandpa had eight siblings and came from Dutch families who lived around Pella, Iowa,1 their siblings pooled birthday celebrations several times a year and would collectively make the twenty mile trip to Oskaloosa. When the “Pella crowd” visited, a leisurely three or four hour visit followed where no one hurried during the heavenly banquet and everyone naturally wore their Sunday best. Formalities took distinctive phases, which moved from greetings, to eating, to discussions and board games, and then to goodbyes.
The greeting phase involved meeting people as they came in. After the formal greetings, the women gathered in the kitchen to properly set out their signature dishes, such as my grandmother’s steaming hot, chicken and noodles. Meanwhile, the men sat in the living room talking about the latest news or the market prices for corn, soybeans, hogs, or cattle. The kids might run this way or that, but often we retreated to the basement to horse around without soiling our clothes.
The eating phase always started with a blessing for the food. When my uncle, Pastor John, visited, we might be treated to a few introductions and announcements (or a scripture reading) followed by a pastoral prayer. Otherwise, my grandfather, Frank, simply gave thanks.
Having blessed the food, we grabbed a plate and the family crowd snaked in line around the kitchen helping ourselves to the sandwiches, casseroles, apple sauce, and potato salad. Grandma normally served a lime or strawberry punch—iced in a crystal bowl, ladled with a crystal dipper, and enjoyed in a crystal cup. Then, the adults assembled in the living room seated in front of a folding up tray with their plates and cups carefully balanced. Meanwhile, the kids sat around the kitchen table and ate together unsupervised. The women later served coffee with the dessert.
The end of dessert marked the beginning of pointed discussions. Great Uncle John, the local county commissioner, frequently chided me about the cushy government job that I might get after graduation. Of course, I had other ideas. At one point in my sophomore year, for example, I announced my intention to study comparative literature, instead of agricultural economics like my father. Silence followed.
After a couple of embarrassing seconds, Great Aunt Nelly inquired: “What is comparative literature?”
With a questioning tone like that, I figured out before my next visit what I really wanted to study.
Some discussions took a less serious path.
You have heard, of course, about that new government program that they cooked up in Washington? Really? Do tell. In the future, social security checks will be issued along with a prescription for birth control pills.
While everyone took part in discussions, board games marked an informal end. Those less interested in playing hearts, domino’s, or board games headed for the door, as regular as Grandfather’s daily bowl of All Bran cereal soaked with chocolate milk. Goodbyes then proceeded until everyone had said goodbye to everyone else. Weather permitting; the goodbyes included walking the most distant travelers out to their cars.
As Years Went By
As the years went by, coffee time slowly died out.
My parents struggled to imitate coffee time when my grandparents visited, but practice makes perfect and neglect leaves one neglectful. Interruptions during attempts at coffee time made conversation difficult; activities likewise cut into the leisure time. On the farm, a Christmas might last for two weeks; in the city, Christmas became a meal and afternoon discussion. We aspired to being relaxed and hospitable, but strived ever more diligently to keep our jobs, pay our bills, and advance our careers in the face of ever-easier, downward mobility. As my grandparents aged, travel distances seemed longer, schedules got more involved, and visits became rare.
Coffee time lived on during visits to Iowa. When my grandfather turned ninety, he lost his driver’s license after having a fender-bender. So when I visited, Frank often requested that I drive him from Oskaloosa to Pella to visit his younger sister, Nelly, the family historian and a live wire. Nelly usually voiced what others only thought. A quick call and Nelly would invite the surviving Pella crowd over to her place for coffee. Thirty minutes later on our arrival, out came the folding trays, the home-made snacks, and the coffee.
Born in 1898, Frank journeyed through three centuries during his 102 years. With his passing, Oskaloosa dropped off my itinerary. Since then, travel has become infrequent and the memory of coffee time became elusive.
Coffee time lives on in the Hiemstra family picnic the first Saturday of August each year in Pella’s West Market Park. Picnic tables shaded under the shelter are cool and I cherish seeing distant relatives. The coffee and the snacks remain the same, but the folding trays, the leisure time, and my grandparents no longer accompany us, but I look forward to the day they will.
More than a snack, coffee time (or Kaffietijd as the old folks used to say) built a palace in time2 that lives on in the memory of my youth.
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching
(1 Tim 5:17)
Return to Leadership
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
My term as elder began in January 2003 when Centreville Presbyterian Church (CPC) ordained me and I was elected as clerk of session, a leadership position. As clerk, I worked closely with the pastor to set agendas for the session and congregational meetings, and kept the official notes on all meetings.
Pastor Rob encouraged the elders to deepen their faith and to become more involved in the life of the church. He encouraged us involved dedicating the first half-hour of our meetings to study and prayer. The first book that we used in this effort was Oswald Sanders’ book, Spiritual Leadership, which served to make the point that elders were more than merely the board of directors of the church. Session soon became my first small group.
Pastor Rob also encouraged us was to become more involved in the life of the church through preaching and teaching. In the spring, our associate pastor resigned and Pastor Rob asked that elders to offer personal testimonies on Sunday morning to give him some time off.
At first, I avoided the question, but after thinking about it, I told him:
I am uncomfortable giving a personal testimonial, but if you want, I will preach for you. I am used to teaching college students so it should be no problem to preach.
He agreed and shared a book, Communicating for a Change, with me by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones to help me get started. Over the next year, I preached four times on the call to faith and ministry, the problem of pain, the Book of Esther, and the covenants of law and grace.
The following year, I taught my first adult Sunday school class, a video series crafted around R.C. Sproul’s book: Reason to Believe. We had more than twenty adults who attended the class and, because of the success of the class, I was encouraged to teach Bible studies, starting with the Book of Romans in 2005. After that I taught Luke, Genesis, Hebrews, Philippians, and Matthew.
After a point in teaching, I got frustrated by the poor attendance on Sunday mornings. I thought: “Where are the elders? Where are the deacons?” When I looked around the room, I realized that only one or two in a class of a dozen were even church members. My class consisted primarily of family members, colleagues from work, and active, non-members who wandered in. These were people who, like myself, struggled to understand their faith and chided at the usual pat answers.
Sanders, J. Oswald. 1994. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer. Chicago: Moody Press.
Sproul, R.C. 1982. Reason to Believe: A Response to Common Objectives to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Stanley, Andy and Lane Jones. 2006. Communicating for a Change. Colorado Springs: Multinomah Books.
At the end of my summer in Puerto Rico, it became increasingly obvious that I had completed my work. I still lacked a thesis subject, but I had reams of statistical data which could be better analyzed at Cornell University than at the Agricultural Experiment Station in Rio Piedras where I worked during the summer. So I contemplated leaving the island earlier than planned which opened up an unexpected opportunity.
My parents had a twenty-fifth anniversary on September 13th, 1977 but because my siblings were still in school, they planned to celebrate in late August in Oskaloosa, Iowa at Central Reformed Church where they had been married. Leaving Puerto Rico early offered the opportunity for me to attend their anniversary celebration after I had earlier sent my regrets.
Because I knew that my uncle Hubert, who was actually my grandfather’s cousin, had to drive south from Clarion, Iowa through Des Moines, I wrote him and asked him to pick me up at the Des Moines airport to make my attendance at the anniversary a complete surprise. It would also mean that we could spend an hour and a half catching up on each other’s activities. Hubert was active in Iowa politics and always wanted to hear my take on events.
When we arrived in Oskaloosa, Hubert parked on the street south of the church and we walked down the steps into fellowship hall. Just by chance, my father walked up those same steps without recognizing me, because I was supposed to be in Puerto Rico. However, close behind him came my mother who immediately burst into tears when she saw me.
So often in ministry, we hear about people suffering anniversaries, which mark the death of a loved one or some other tragedy. Equally important are the joyous anniversaries where we remember to honor our relationships and celebrate the blessings of this life, even if it involves a bit of travel.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
After I confessed my faith in Christ and joined the church in 1967, I participated more actively in church youth programs, sang in the youth choir, and pledged money to the church, as was expected of young Christian men. My first attempts at evangelism and living out my faith could be described as spotty at best.
I knew a fellow by the name of Jimmy, who might today be referred to as having special needs. Jimmy only had a few friends and, when he heard that I was learning to play piano, he expressed interest in learning to play and I volunteered to teach him one day after school. Thinking that Christians should be really nice to people, helping him learn piano seemed like the right thing to do.
When Jimmy came over after school, my mother welcomed him in but she awkwardly asked: “Is Jimmy one of your friends?” Jimmy and I went straight to the piano where I taught him a few notes and how to play a C major scale. We spent about half an hour before he left and went home. Thinking about my mother’s question, I never invited him back.
By contrast, my mother really liked David, who lived two doors down from us. David was tall and thin and quiet and always at home. His father was a popular local pastor, who was a ham radio operator, and his mother, who was as sweet as the snacks that she offered up. David and I traded baseball cards, marbles, and stamps, but he never seemed interested in playing games with the other kids in the neighborhood and expressed little interest in chess. So, I was “nice” to David, but we were not close.
It was never exactly clear what it meant to live out Christine values at home, other than “honor your father and mother” (Exod 20:12). Because I grew the oldest among my siblings and was already more comfortable with adults, this commandment came easy, but I associated this commandment with obeying my parents, not with their later care. Sometimes in the evening I sat with my father in his study as he worked and read or did my homework. Other times I helped him with yard work, like cutting the grass, or washing the car. I also helped the neighbors with gardening or shoveling their snow, which I continued to do even in high school. When I left for college, my father traded in the old push mower for a gasoline model.
Until I was about 8 years old, my sister, Diane, was my closest friend. Growing up, we moved around a bit because my father was in still in graduate school. Diane and I played hide and seek. Diane and I learned to eat ice cream from cones. Diane and I celebrated birthdays—I will never forget Diane’s expression on viewing a pink rabbit cake that my mother baked when she was about two. When we got older, we sometimes watched television or played board games together at home and attended youth events and choir together at church. Although we were never chatty, Diane was my first friend.
Diane preferred doing girl things, like playing with dolls, while I did boy things, like collecting coins, stamps, and bugs, and building forts in the woods. Diane played more typically with Karen, while John, being still a tot when I was young, played mostly with Karen. This pattern continued uninterrupted over many years.
When Maryam and I were married in November 1984, I worked during the day at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and in the evenings on my dissertation. Having limited time and a limited budget, I did not have a television and did not want one, having been a television addict as a kid. Although I enjoyed watching the evening news, I preferred to maintain the ascetic lifestyle that I had had in school. Maryam could not understand my concern about television and her brother gave us a television as a wedding gift.
While many Americans see Iranians through the eyes of Islamic asceticism, the role of Islam in Iranian culture changed dramatically with the ouster of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi , on January 16, 1979 during the Iranian Revolution. Earlier in the 1960s, the Shah promoted land reform and began a series of economic and social reforms. By the time of the Revolution, Iran had developed what some have described as a “Hollywood culture,” which reflected the strong influence on American entertainers on Iranian culture. For Iranians who grew up during in pre-revolutionary Iranian and later came to the United States to study, this “Hollywood culture” remains a strong influence and a symbol of resistance to the Islamic fundamentalism, both inside and outside the country, especially for young women.
Maryam loves to watch television and once said: “when I die, I want to be buried with the television remote in my hand.” When she would say this, I would remind her: “Don’t worry. The Hiemstra burial plot sits right next to Lewinsville Presbyterian Church so you can go to church every day!” The attitude about television, which I tried to keep out of the house when we were first married, grew to become the symbol of the cultural divide in our family.
Much later, television interfered with the kid’s bedtime routines. Maryam loved to stay up late watching television and insisted that the kids watch with her. As an early riser, I insisted that the kids needed to go to bed before the adults and that it helped to have the television turned off to keep a disciplined routine. Although I normally managed the bedtime routine when the kids remained young, this routine provided impossible to maintain when the kids reached middle school and mom did not maintain a united front with dad.
But early in our marriage television played a simpler role. When her mother lived with us, we watched Iranian cable television shows in Farsi. When Iranian entertainers came on, we knew them all by name. We would both snap our fingers Iranian style with two hands to keep up with the music. Later when her mother left, Maryam gravitated to shows like Entertainment Tonight, which focus on celebrity lifestyles, Married with Children, and, later, CSI-style shows. Sometimes I sit and watch with her on Sunday evenings, but in the early days of our marriage I remained too busy evenings to watch much television.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1:5)
My father, which I sometimes introduce as the other Stephen Hiemstra, was born on April 17, 1931 during the Great Depression. He grew up on a small, feed-livestock farm in southern Iowa and attended college, in part, under the GI Bill.
His education followed a series of apparently serendipitous decisions, which, in fact, allowed the family to prosper during the normally traumatic move from rural to urban employment. Dad was one of the first in his extended family to attend college and our end of the family prospered more than most. God’s hand is clearly on him.
Although Dad was one of the first in the Hiemstra family to attend college, he was not the last. Dad firmly believes in education. He made sure that each of his children made it through college and two of us, John and I, have completed doctoral studies. Between Dad, his brother John, my brother John, and I, there are four of us in the extended family with doctoral degrees. We are truly blessed.
Dad worked for the federal government during a formative period, beginning in late Eisenhower Administration through the early Reagan Administration, when belief in the positive contribution that government could make was at an historical peak. President John F. Kennedy set the tone for this golden age of government service in his inaugural address when he chided Americans to: “ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”
Dad took up this challenge with vigor and passion. Not only did he strenuously pursue his work writing voluminous numbers of studies and professional papers, Dad was active in professional societies and often took a leadership role and won awards for his work.
Because I followed Dad into a career in agricultural economics, many of the professionals mentioned in his memoir are my own personal friends and colleagues. Early in my career, this posed something of an embarrassment as I worked to distinguish myself from my father. This was a vain effort. Everywhere I went at home and abroad, I ran into friends of my father.
During my year abroad studying in Germany, for example, I felt that I had finally escaped the shadow of my father—I was so wrong. One evening, for example, I attended a doctoral celebration party and in the middle of it the department chair walked up to me and invited me to dinner—he apparently was doctoral candidate with Dad at the University of Berkeley in California. At another point, I helped a couple of random American tourists order dinner in a restaurant only to learn that the husband was an agricultural economist from Oregon State University and a friend of my father. Another time when a colleague asked if I had authored a journal article in 1963, I joked: “didn’t you know that I was a child prodigy agricultural economist?” The article was, of course, one of my father’s publications.
Now that the need to distinguish my career from my Dad’s has subsided it is easier to appreciate the broad scope of his contribution to agricultural economics, particularly in the areas of food consumption, demand, and distribution studies.
In 1983 Dad retired from federal service and joined the faculty of what is now the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Purdue University as associate professor on August 17, 1983. He taught classes such as marketing and strategic management, but also undertook research and consulting for numerous institutes and firms in the hotel and restaurant industries. He traveled, for example, on lengthy study trips to Liberia and Hong Kong during these years.
Dad was best known at Purdue University for starting the first doctoral program (anywhere) in the field of hospitality and tourism management in 1989. His first three students are now faculty members and the program that he started now has 30 doctoral students and is a leading program in the field.
The role of Dad’s Christian faith in his life experience has always been important, even if his memoir makes only occasional references. The church has traditionally taught personal disciple, commitment in marriage, and generosity in giving which are all evident in my father’s life. Dad was a good role model to the rest of us who benefited from his faith and devotion to Christ. He also served a number of churches as elder and in other roles.
More than his church work, however, Dad—introduced once as the “father of the WIC program”—took seriously the concept that God is the creator of all creation and all knowledge is God’s knowledge. His work as an economist was a calling, not just a career. As the Prophet Jeremiah wrote of his own calling:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1:5)
Dad’s call came early, even before he was aware of it himself. A prophetic call is not necessarily just to preach and teach—we only know of Jeremiah because of his writing. For Jesus’ own brother, James, wrote:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (Jas 1:27)
He was most proud of his contribution to USDA’s food and nutrition programs, which provided food to needy families (primarily single moms with kids) throughout the United States and territories, such as Puerto Rico and Guam, where the need was especially urgent.
Hiemstra, Stephen J. 2016. My Travel Through Life. Centreville: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.
 I abstracted this reflection from a postscript that I wrote for my father’s own memoir. See: Hiemstra (2016).
 During his federal service the principal groups were the American Agricultural Economics Association, the American Economic Association, and the Society of Government Economists. During his time at Purdue University, Dad was heavily involved in the International Council of Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Educators (CHRIE).
 The USDA has a feeding program for pregnant women called: women, infants, and children (WIC).
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads. And I said, Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
Friends in Christ sometimes ask how my marriage to a Muslim has informed my faith and call to ministry. When they know my wife, Maryam, they do not question why I fell in love with her. In fact, Maryam frequently reminds me that I won the lottery when I married her. But the faith and ministry question challenged me for many years and required greater self-knowledge and theological insight than I could muster at first.
For many years, I believed that I attended seminary in spite of my wife, but I came to understand that I attended seminary because of my wife.
When Maryam and I married in 1984, I asked her to attend church as a condition for our marriage, which she did faithfully until our kids grew up and attended college, confident that the Holy Spirit would work in her life to bring her to faith. When this did not happen, I became convicted of my own negligence in witness and began to explore my own faith more deeply hoping to become a better witness, not only to Maryam but also our children. As I witnessed to them, my faith blossomed and I found my call to ministry to others, even as Maryam remained a Muslim. Stubborn as I failed to recognize God’s call on my life, Maryam served as God’s goad—a prod to action—in my life to bring me to himself.
The Prophet Hosea also married an improbable wife and used her sin to highlight the idolatry of the Nation of Israel (Hos 1:2-3). While not mentioned in the text, I can picture Gomer as a stunningly beauty woman that God used to goad Hosea into realizing his prophet call and to draw attention to the nation’s idolatry.
Idolatry also figures prominently in the call of the Apostle Paul, whom the risen Christ accused of kicking against the goads, as cited above. In describing himself before he came to faith in Christ, Paul reported:
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,blameless. (Phil 3:4-6)
Paul’s idolatry took the form of being zealous for the law. When we zealously prosecute the law—beit Mosasic, Islamic, secular, or even physical law—rather than almighty God who created the law, we commit idolatry. Or when we work zealously and worship God sparingly, as I did, we commit idolatry and come under judgment.
Consequently, I believe that God placed Maryam in my life to goad me into a deeper faith and to realize my call to ministry.
“Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.” (Ps 26:1)
Seminary studies involve a number of transitions beyond the obvious academic challenges that can be especially difficult because they require changes from not only the student but also the community of faith that they represent. When I registered for seminary, for example, I worked as clerk of session at Centreville Presbyterian Church (CPC) and, as clerk, needed to work closely with the pastor on church business. Because the pastor often serves as a mentor to inquirers and candidates of ministry and they are both normally also under care of session, my different roles were suddenly in conflict. This conflict proved stressful and within a few months I resigned from the clerk’s role and from session.
The transition from clerk of session to seminary student provides insight into the larger transition in my identity as an economist to a pastoral identity. While economist are highly independent professionals who mostly work in isolation to perform their job functions, pastors primarily rely on collaboration with other staff and volunteers to perform to succeed in their professional role. While economists have often highly specialized and technically skilled professionals, the typical pastor is a jack of many trades, but not necessarily of master of them. Progress in adopting a pastoral identity therefore required that I not only make this transition in my own skin but also that I bring those around me along for the ride.
In the summer of 2009, Centreville Presbyterian Church (CPC) invited five former members who had been called into ordained pastoral ministry back to the church to preach a sermon series on God’s call; being a seminary student, I was also asked to preach. In view of my struggle with pastoral identity, I decided that it was time to kill off my “Dr. Hiemstra persona” at CPC during my sermon. Consequently, I enlisted the assistance of a couple of friends in performing a little skit during the introduction to the sermon. It went something like this:
Heckler 1: Is this going to be one of those boring sermons that you just read? SWH: This? [Holding up script] Heckler 1: Put it right in here [Holding up a trash can]. SWH: [Ripping up script and depositing in can]. Heckler 1: [Walking off a few steps…] SWH: [Smiling and pulling out a back up script] Heckler 1: Oh no you don’t….[Returning with the trash can] SWH: [Ripping up second script] [Standing there holding jacket lapels and staring…] Heckler 2: Do you think you can be a pastor by just dressing the part? SWH: [Pointing to self] Heckler 2: You don’t need a suit coat—what you need is a call from God. Here take this. [Tossing a CPC tee shirt] SWH: [Taking off jacket and putting on the tee shirt]
Someone warned me that ministry is a team sport at CPC!
After a prayer, I then led off the sermon with a story from my youth:
As I was thinking about this mornings’ message, I kept coming back to an experience in high school as an aquatics instructor at Goshen Scout camps where I taught swimming, rowing, and canoeing. One of the enduring memories of this experience occurred when I was asked to teach a troop of special needs scouts how to swim. Talk about scary moments. The picture of a lake full of drowning scouts still comes to mind.
By the end of the week, however, two of these scouts were swimming. Both had the swim routine down before I met them, but both also faced certain obstacles to finishing the course. The first had perfect form in swimming the American crawl, but only in shallow water where his fingers touched the bottom. He became violently upset when I prodded him to venture into deeper water. The second swam just fine, but thought it was more fun to be rescued by the lifeguard. He would swim a lap or two in his swim test. Then, a great big smile would come on his face and he would pretend to drown. I can still see the horror on the faces of those watching me get mad at a drowning scout—that is, until they saw him stop drowning and finish his swim test.
Isn’t that so like us when hear God’s call? Swim in deeper spiritual waters? Who me, Lord? Stop focusing on myself and step out for Christ? Who me, Lord? I think the hounds of heaven have been after me all my life. Yet, like the disciples in Mark’s Gospel, I just didn’t get it.
The sermon text for the day, which I delivered without notes, was the story of Stephen in Acts 7. After I was done, my mother insisted on being given the tee-shirt. The sermon itself succeeded in softening my pastoral image and made such an impression that people remind me of it to this day.
Have you ever had to tweak your identity significantly? How?