Between Sundays

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Honor your father and your mother,
that your days may be long in the land
that the LORD your God is giving you.
(Exod 20:12)

Between Sundays

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.


Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:

Continue Reading

Wedding Gift

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiesmtra

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.

Ultimate Wishes

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.

Simpler Times

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.

Wedding Gift

Also see:  Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:

Continue Reading

The Other Stephen Hiemstra

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“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.[1]

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.”[2]

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[3] 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”—[4]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.

[1] I abstracted this reflection from a postscript that I wrote for my father’s own memoir. See: Hiemstra (2016).


[3] 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).

[4] The USDA has a feeding program for pregnant women called: women, infants, and children (WIC).

Continue Reading

The Goads

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“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.”
(Acts 26:14-15)

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.

Thanks be to God!


Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site:, publisher site:

Read my April newsletter at:

Continue Reading

Looking the Part

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“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[1]. 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?


Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site:, publisher site:

Read my April newsletter at:

[1] The sermon was given at CPC on August 23, 2009.

Continue Reading


Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra


By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the enduring memories of my experience as a camp counselor in my Boy Scout years occurred when I was asked to teach a troop of special needs scouts how to swim. 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, in the chaos of life frequently cloaked God’s presence day to day.

A woodcut called “The Ship of Fools” has hung over my desk since 1985. A couple years back I learned that this woodcut satirized a practice prevalent in the Age of Reason in Europe of driving special needs individuals out of the towns or placing them on boats (Foucault 1988, 3-37). For years, however, this woodcut symbolized my experience of the chaos of life. Yet, God blessed me in unmistakable ways which with the passage of time lifted this cloak over his presence.

One example of the lifting of this cloak occurred on a Sunday morning as my mind drifted during a long sermon by a Guatemalan friend. I prayed to God: why am I sitting here working in Hispanic ministry? I have no Hispanic heritage; my preaching in Spanish is weak and boring. Why am I here? God reminded me that I came to Christ through the testimony of a young man named Nicky Cruz[1] who I realized for the first time was Puerto Rican. It came as a surprise because at age 13 when I came to faith I had no idea what a Puerto Rican was—to me, Nicky Cruz was just another member of a street gang in New York. If I am a fool for the Lord, it is because he called me from the first day of faith.

This example illustrates that one of the ironies of life is that we are often strangers to ourselves. Our desires, motivations, and purposes lie behind a veil that cloaks our shadow side, limiting our personal growth and relationships, especially our relationship with God. Pulling back the veil accordingly offers the hope that we realize our potential, become comfortable with others, and welcome God more fully into our lives. One of my purposes in writing this memoir is to lift this veil.

Richard Niebuhr (1937, 1) observed that: “All attempts to interpret the past are indirect attempts to understand the present and the future.” I explore my past in this memoir not only to understand the past, but also to inform my call into pastoral ministry. During the darkest days of my career, several verses hung on my office wall:

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isa 43:1-3)

Much like God called the Nation of Israel out of slavery to human masters, God calls us out of slavery to our own desires and sin. In doing so he also blesses us so that we can bless others (Gen 12:3).

Consequently, this memoir focuses on the history of my personal journey of faith and call to ministry so that those that come after me will be encouraged in their own faith knowing that Christ walks along side of us each step of the way.

Soli Deo Gloria.


Foucault, Michel. 1988. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (Orig Pub 1965). Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Vintage Books.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1937. The Kingdom of God in America. New York: Harper Torchbooks. (Review: Part 1 ; Part 2 )

[1] My parents took me to see the pre-release showing of a film, The Cross and the Switchblade, which told the story of the dramatic conversion of a young gang leader, Nicky Cruz. The film starred Pat Boone and Erik Estrada ( We viewed the film in Constitution Hall in Washington DC.


Also see:

Christian Memoir: Looking Back 

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Continue Reading

Congressional Detail

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching . . .
My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.”
(Prov 1:8-10)

Congressional Detail

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the spring of 1984 I took a one-month detail with the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)[1] which was interested in my dissertation research on technological and structural changes in beef packing and retailing (Hiemstra 1985a). OTA’s offices were located in rented space in Adam’s Morgan, a popular but sketchy neighborhood in Southeast Washington where walking even during the day required a touch of courage. But it did not matter—I loved the recognition that this assignment entailed for my dissertation[2] and I hoped that a permanent position would quickly follow my detail.

In discussions with my new supervisor, we decided that I would spend the first two weeks of my assignment catching up on interviews around Washington with industry and union leaders that I missed during my field work on the dissertation. The second two weeks of my assignment would then focus on writing a short report to be published by OTA (Hiemstra 1984). Because of the short turnaround time of this work, a key contact for me was the staff of the Joint Labor-Management Committee (JLMC) in Washington who knew all the players in the meat industry.

A particularly acute shortcoming of my field work came in trying to understand the dynamics of union contracts outside of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), who represented most of the workers in the beef pack and retailing industries. New, highly efficient boxed beef processing plants constructed on the high plains in those days were opening with contracts with other unions, like the Teamsters or the National Maritime Union. These new contracts offered fewer restrictions on management discretion and lower wages, which caused a lot of heartburn for the UFCW, and helped make boxed beef highly competitive with traditional carcass beef.[3] Older plants specialized in carcass beef were shuttering their doors all over the Eastern corn-belt, which is why Congress and the OTA were interested in my research.

In visiting with the JLMC, I learned that the Teamsters Union[4] employed an economist; I was given his contact information; and he agreed to meet with me.

The Teamsters, who normally represent truckers, were important players in the boxed beef story.[5] In conversations with the UFCW, the Teamsters continued to play an important role in representing workers in boxed beef plants both directly through organizing construction workers before the plants opened and indirectly by providing sample contracts for other non-UFCW unions to organize plants not represented by the Teamsters. What I hoped to accomplish by visiting with the Teamster’s economist was to hear the Teamster’s version of these stories.

In the interview, I spoke for about 15 minutes before I perceived that the economist was stonewalling me. I tested the stonewalling for another 15 minutes before I started to gather my things to leave. At this point, the economist waved me back over to my seat and proceeded to offer me a job with about a third increase in salary. The offer got my attention because it would have meant that Maryam and I could afford finally to buy a house of our own, but he cautioned me that I would not be able to ask for a further increase in pay—the Teamsters did not offer step-increases like the government. After treating me to a steak dinner in the executive dinning room, I asked if I might think it over and get back to him. He said okay, but he again cautioned me that I would need to get back to him promptly because the Teamsters would soon be going into contract negotiations and he needed the help.

Wow. How could I turn down a big pay increase at a time when I really needed the money? My conscience bothered me about working for the Teamsters, but my usual mentors simply congratulated me on the raise. The exception was Grandpa Frank who asked: “Why do you want to work for them bosses?” Frank was right; I knew in my heart that I could not accept this job, but how could I turn down “an offer you cannot refuse?” I resolved to ask for even more money, figuring that greed would induce them to withdraw the offer.

The economist took my salary request seriously, because he had cautioned me not to ask for a raise once I accepted the position. However, my proposal shocked the Teamster president, who turned me down much to my relief.[5]


Chandler, Jr. Alfred D. 1977. The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; Belknap Press.


[2] A reporter for the Wall Street Journal interviewed me about my dissertation research but to my knowledge never published the interview.

[3] The food demands after the Civil War led to cattle being slaughtered in places like Chicago and shipped as a side of beef by refrigerated rail (and later trucks) to East Coast markets where retail butchers completed the processing (Chandler 1977, 300). Boxed beef further broke down these sides of beef into sub-prime units which were vacuum packed in plants closer to cattle lots. The additional processing lowered the cost of transportation, improved shelf-life, and allowed unusuable byproducts (like bone and fat) to be processed and sold more profitability.


[5] Boxed beef was reportedly introduced into Michigan years before after a trucker’s strike cut off shipments of locally slaughtered, carcass beef while boxed beef was trucked in from out-of-state packing plants on the Great Plains, which constituted a breech of the National Labor Relations Act (1935). I say reportedly in this case because business history is often hard to document and stories like this one are normally passed around by word-of-mouth, which is, of course, totally deniable should someone uncharacteristically decide to enforce the law.

[6] About a year later this president was indicted by a federal grand jury in an effort to clean up the union, but he was never convicted (

Continue Reading

Dress for Success

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate,
but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
(Matt 23:25)

In college I liked to wear plaid, flannel shirts, blue jeans, and army surplus jackets, which were either passed down from my father or presents that I got for Christmas. Towards the end of my time at Iowa State and during my early years at Cornell (1976-78), I let my hair grow down to my shoulders and maintained a long, fuzzy beard. Just one thing bothered me—I started to feel slighted by the faculty, especially at Cornell. They did not seem to take me seriously.

In preparing for my year in Germany, I decided as much as possible to dress like a German. Back then, Germans wore a lot of leather so I bought a brown leather flight jacket. Germans trimmed their beards so I trimmed my beard. Most of the time my German assimilation plan worked until I opened my mouth—I spoke German too formal and too broken to pass for a German.

At one point, I attended a “Bowle Fete” (punch bowl party) thrown by a young man from Bavaria, whose father owned a vineyard and who showed off speaking Schwabish, a local German dialect. The party started off rather well and his father’s wine made a great punch, but after a few drinks he began to imitate my not-so-perfect hoch-Deutsch, for which no defense was possible—the ridicule was long and hard. My German was all too formal and this was a decidedly informal occasion.

Another time, I traveled with a Belgian colleague to Brügge, Belgium to attend a College of Europe conference on the European agricultural policy. Brügge is a small, historical town, like Williamsburg, Virginia, whose moat could only be transversed by crossing a bridge—Brügge is the German word for bridge—and the perfect place to hold a showcase conference for a bunch of polyglots from across the continent. Everything proceeded well, however, until participants discovered that their colleague from Göttingen, West Germany was not German, but American. My German was just too broken and my English just too good to run with an European crowd—I got the cold shoulder.

When I returned from Germany to start my doctoral program at Michigan State University, I decided to upgrade my wardrobe to fit the image of a German doctoral student. I bought a Tweed jacket and wore it to class with a shirt and tie every day.

Interestingly, people began to assume that I was smarter and richer and older than I really was. At first, this new focus for attention did not bother me a bit after my previous experience not being taken seriously. At one point, for example, I attended a field trip with a marketing class from the business school and the president of the company walked right past my professor to talk with me, assuming that I was the professor. But later, I discovered to my dismay that some of students that I considered friends were hanging out with me primarily because they thought I was wealthy; when they learned otherwise, they dropped me like a cold, wet newspaper.

It bothered me that appearance played such an important role in my social and professional life.[1] While outward appearances were easily manipulated with wardrobe selections, I increasingly yearned to develop the self-confidence to not only play the part of an upwardly mobile, young professional but to become someone comfortable in a variety of social settings. I particularly enjoyed the company of international students, many of whom were attractive, socially sophisticated, and fun to be with.


Molley, John T. 1988. New Dress for Success. New York: Warner Books.

[1] The title for this reflection, Dress for Success, is the title of a popular book (Molley 1988).

Continue Reading

The Journey to Seminary

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“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?”
(John 2:3-4)

Roughly a month after my departure from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in January 2004, I attended an inquirer’s weekend held at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) in Princeton, New Jersey, which I immediately fell in love with. The seminary put me up in their guest house and the program included faculty talks, meetings with admissions counselors, and visits to classes. Because I became aware of my own calling in part through preaching, I attended a preaching class. Before the weekend was over, my hair was on fire for the Lord and to attend PTS. Still, red flags were unavoidable which arose primarily in my interactions with the students.

During lunch on Friday in the cafeteria, for example, it became abundantly clear that not all the students were comfortable hanging out with someone twice their age—out of an inquiry group of sixty, only a handful of prospective students were second career. The vast majority of students could not have been more than 25 years of age and many of the faculty that we visited with were younger than I. Given a choice between attending a play called the Vagina Monologues[1] and a film, The Passion of the Christ,[2] all but one inquirer (other than myself) opted to attend the former, highlighting not only an age difference in interests but also a less-obvious theological distinction that became more obvious as the weekend wore on.

In Friday chapel, for example, a senior preached about his experience with evangelism on the New York subway—his evangelism consisted of wearing a PTS tie shirt so that everyone could see. He then proceeded to ridicule apologetics—which I had identified on my PTS application as my primary interest. I later learned that PTS offered no classes in apologetics and that the seminary’s commitment to theological diversity consisted primarily of hiring faculty who self-identified as liberal or evangelical. It was unlikely to find faculty with experience or interest in missions or evangelism.

PTS offered a wonderful sendoff dinner Friday evening where each inquirer was asked to talk about themselves and their experience. The typical student responded that they enjoyed their young group experience in high school and wanted to continue that experience by working for the church. When my turn came, I opined that I felt called to ministry but did not know if I could enter seminary because I still needed to work to support my family and PTS did not offer part-time studies. I later completed my application to PTS, but withdrew it after finding work at the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) and seeing Maryam’s relief to see me working again.

Over the next several years, I despaired of being able to being able to attend seminary full-time as I visited other schools, studied Greek and Hebrew, and continued to lead adult Bible studies at Centreville Presbyterian Church (CPC).

When my sister, Diane, developed a second round of breast cancer in 2006, I made a special effort to visit her in Philadelphia after Christmas. She had started chemo-therapy unsuccessfully in the fall and planned a new round of chemo after the holidays. To cheer her up, I bought her a DVD film, Last Holiday,[3] which starred Queen Latifah. The film featured a plot where a woman was diagnosed with a fatal disease, blew her life savings on a final holiday to visit a European hotel employing her favorite celebrity chef, and, then, learned that she had been misdiagnosed. Unfortunately, Diane was not misdiagnosed and she died unexpectedly on Monday, February 12th due to complications accompanying her treatment.

Diane’s expected death left the family gasping.

When Mom called called me at 6:30 a.m. that morning, a friend, Ming, and I were commuting east down route 66 just before the Beltway. I called my brother, John, and returned to Centreville to drop off Ming and pick him up. John and I then traveled to a hospital near Springfield where she was being treated and my parents were waiting. They traveled there earlier that weekend to visit, Diane, at the end of her week under care for a reaction to the chemo. On Sunday night, however, blood clots developed, she had a heart attack, a stoke, and, then, lost consciousness—among her last words were to ask for her brothers.

When John and I arrived at the hospital mid-morning, she was in the intensive care unit on life-support; nothing more could be done. The person I saw lying there no longer looked like my sister; she had departed. I consoled Hugo while we waited for their pastor to arrive. At that point, scripture was read; prayers were offered; and Diane was removed from life support.

Funeral services were planned that week for Thursday in Philadelphia and Saturday in McLean where Diane would be interned in the family plot at Lewinsville Presbyterian Church. I planned to attend the Saturday service locally, but my dad put the arm on me to eulogize Diane at both services so I changed my plans. Other than family, the only one that I knew attending the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield service was my best friend from high school, Rev. Jonathan Jenkins; yet, I drew comfort from the company of the many strangers as I mourned my sister that evening. At the service in McLean, many of my colleagues from OFHEO attended and began looking at me differently after that point forward.

Over the following year, I began to think differently about the idea of part-time seminary studies and in March of 2008 I drove to Charlotte, North Carolina with a friend, Jeff Snell, to attend an open house at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS). From the moment we walked in the door, it was obvious to me that GCTS was a different kind of seminary. Many of the inquirers were older and obviously considering a second career in ministry; many more of the inquirers were African Americans; and the entire curriculum was available to part-time students taking classes over long weekend visits. I applied; I was accepted; and I began classes the following August.




Continue Reading

Marine Corp Marathon


Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith.”
(2 Tim 4:7)

Marine Corp Marathon

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the summer of 1987, Maryam and I spent about two weeks visiting relatives over the Fourth of July. Having successfully transitioned into Finance and Tax Branch, I found myself in the midst of a long research project in the office and busy with a pastoral nominating committee in my church. While not exactly bored, I needed inspiration to motor through the doldrums of a summer in the Washington heat.


I went to my supervisor in late July and proposed to alter my schedule so that I could have a two-hour break over the lunch hour to train for the Marine Corps Marathon, which is normally run the first week in November. He approved of the idea and even helped me get a key to the building to start work promptly at 6 a.m.

Stretching My Workout

Training for my first marathon was a heady move for me because I had never previously run over ten miles. Ten miles was a benchmark for me because I ran a 10 kilometer race while at Michigan State University and would often run ten miles in those days “just to clear my head”. But a marathon was 26 miles and I was already 34 years old—everyone that I talked to called marathon running a “young man’s sport”. I never met anyone else who had actually run one, but I had a bit more than three months to train and set my goal simply to finish. I figured that I could run ten-minute miles pretty much forever or “til the cows come home”, as we used to say down on the farm.

Lunchtime Fun

Training over the lunch hour turned out to be more fun than I had imagined. The Economic Research Service had a locker room in the New York Avenue office. From there, I could run down New York Avenue past the Treasury Department and the White House to the mall. Oftentimes, I would watch the president’s helicopter take off from the White House lawn and one day I just about ran over the FBI director as he ducked out of an office on 15th Street next to the

Oftentimes, I would watch the president’s helicopter take off from the White House lawn. On one occasion I just about ran over the FBI director as he ducked out of an office on 15th Street next to the Old Ebbitt Grill. Cutting across the mall, I was able to run across the 14th Street bridge into Virginia, run along the Potomac River, and back across Memorial Bridge—the route favored by military runners who were often supported by comrades dispensing water. As I got stronger, I could then proceed past the Lincoln Memorial, up the mall, and around Capital Hill before returning to the office, a run of about 8 miles. One could not imagine a more pleasant run.


As the race approached in October, I began taking longer runs on the weekends, especially Saturdays. In finishing a 20-mile run, I started having a lot of pain which I simply could not ignore. I had to finish up my run walking in pain like I had never previously experienced.

It was still bothering me on Tuesday when I tried running again over the noon hour. As I was suiting up in the locker room, I asked some of my friends if they had ever had this problem. In turn, they asked: “Did you drink any liquid? Your problem sounds like dehydration.” Opps. I had never trained drinking anything. “My coach in Junior High School told us that drinking water would lead to cramps.” Apparently, my coach was badly informed—there were no runners’ magazines or Internet back then. From that day, I began stopping to drink water as I trained.

Race Day

On race day, I drove to the Marine Corps Memorial which serves both as the starting and finishing point. As I lined up, I joined the more than seven thousand runners. They were packed so tight that it took several minutes after the gun went off to even begin the slow trot north up the route 110 to the Key Bridge, which crosses over the Potomac into Georgetown. In Georgetown, spectators lined the streets and it was clear that not everyone trained adequately or paced themselves properly. There I saw a former Secretary of Agriculture bent over and heaving along M Street.

Capital Hill

The run up to Capitol Hill was a breeze with runners chatting and waving at the television crews along the route. By the time we reached the Hain’s Point the runners began to “hit the wall”, where endurance becomes more challenging. At that point, I remember asking a handicapped runner in a tricycle vehicle for a ride (only half joking).

Back to Virginia

I reached a critical point on the 14th Street Bridge, when I wiped my forehead only to find salt crystals. I began freaking out, at which point a fellow runner talked me back into sanity. The final stretch on route 110 was labored enough that a fast walker could have bested me. Still, I made it to the finish line, had my photograph taken, and collected my metal. I too 4 hours and 15 minutes, meeting my goal of running ten-minute miles.

Follow up

The following year I began training earlier. I was on track to run eight-minute miles, but I over-trained, got sick, and never ran another marathon. My knees gave out in 1989 making such distance running too painful. In the years that followed, I began swimming laps instead.


Also see:

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:

Continue Reading