Dordt College News

Looking back

May 10, 2009

An interview with John Rozeboom

John Rozeboom attended Dordt College from 1960 to 1962 when Dordt was still a junior college.  He went on to receive a B.A. from Calvin College, a M.Th. degree from Calvin Seminary, and another from Fuller Theological Seminary. He served as a Home Missionary in Riverside, California, for seven years, as the CRC Home Missions Western Regional leader for ten years, and as the director of CRC Home Missions for twenty-two years. He recently retired from his position at CRCHM. Emeritus Dordt English Professor David Schelhaas, a former classmate of John, talked with him about his Dordt experience and his life devoted to missions.

What are some particularly good memories you have of Dordt?

My good memories gather around inspiring Christian teachers, lasting friendships, the maturing, satisfying qualities of hard schoolwork and rigorous choir practice and performance, and quality goofing off with schoolmates, in no particular order.
Dordt, when you and I were students there, had fewer than 200 souls on campus. Small potatoes as colleges go. Upon graduating, we received a postcard-sized diploma, associate of arts. Nevertheless, I picked up a sense of being part of a Christ-honoring thing that was on the move and important.

I prize Dordt student friendships; many keep on today. Last summer, for the first time in decades, I ran into Wayne Graves—at Synod. Wayne was and is from north-central Iowa and at Dordt played a mean rock ‘n roll trombone, my instrument. I could cite scores of Dordt friends like Wayne and conversations that jump back decades, instantly.

I met Linda VanderVeen of Ripon, California, at Dordt in my second year, Linda’s first. She was an accomplished pianist, accompanist to the Dordt choir, and I liked to listen when she played. Sometimes I was an audience of one when Linda practiced. I came to love the pianist more than the music and, thank God, she loved me. We have had a blessed, happy married life for forty-two years.

A beloved goofing off memory is this: In the days when the whole campus was one sprawling building standing pretty much by itself out in the cornfields on the northeast corner of Sioux Center, we were able to plunge the whole outfit into darkness at night by shining a little light on one photoelectric cell in back that turned off every Dordt yard and building light. Imagine the possibilities! Creative, opportunity-seizing students who had hoisted and secured a piano up under the rafters of the Dordt assembly room/gym and placed a Renault car up on center stage at chapel one morning did not let this important knowledge go unapplied.

Do any of your good memories include profs?

As a two-year school, Dordt kept a sharp eye out for the requirements of the four-year colleges where we were headed, and in the case of pre-theological seminary students like me, John Zinkand’s thorough instruction in classical languages paid off: When our Dordt pre-sem group hit Calvin College as juniors we had slogged through Xenophon’s Anabasis and into Plato. We were ahead of the game. Moreover, through his person and the content of coursework, John opened the door to a different, distant culture that gave up its enticing secrets to our hard work and his teaching. The educational gift of John Zinkand well-launched me in ministry, which is at center being a trustworthy and tireless witness to the Gospel. Gospel witness entails having a clear sense of what people heard and found good in the Good News back when first spoken by prophets, by the Lord, by apostles, and Bible authors. Dordt profs got me going on that road.

Pete DeBoer, our English teacher of those days, remains a friend. He has read things I write and has given them back with detailed grammatical, stylistic improvements. Can you beat that? And Nick Van Til, our Dordt history and philosophy teacher, was a worldview guy who introduced me to Christian perspectives on both of those.

Dale Grotenhuis’s gift to me and many of us was the discipline of applying one’s self to learning, practicing, and performing choral music; of letting one’s soul be stirred by beautiful music; of being accountable to a choir of friends and the director and to God who looks for praise as a return on his gift of music to us.

I received two years of fine Christian liberal arts education in the Dordt community, useful to faith and work, and I have tried not to forget or waste them.

When did you know you were going to be a home missionary? Why that particular kind of ministry?

The event that first nailed home missions for me was the part-summer in 1961 that you and I and other Minnesota friends spent in Portland, Oregon, with Home Missionary Howard Spaan and Calvin Christian Reformed Church working as college student volunteers in SWIM (Summer Workshop in Missions).

In college and especially seminary, more of the folks I wanted to emulate were in Home Missions. Granted, in the sixties these folks stood out as front-line, social activists, even fringe to the mainstream of the church, and that appealed to me. None were dull. Some were wild and unrestrained in speaking out against passive and active racism in the church. All were actively attuned to God’s intent for hurting, wandering, faith-neglecting people, and for church and society.

Later, when I finished Fuller and we needed a place to go, Wes Smedes, a persuasive guy, called from Home Missions and said, “Why not move to Riverside (California)? It’s a great and needy city. We have a young leaderless ministry group that needs a lot of help. It’s time to put all your schooling to work.” So we did.

Was it a difficult decision to move from local ministry into Home Missions agency leadership?

No. I strongly admired my Home Missions colleagues and the leaders I worked with before and now. With prayers and encouragement of pastors and Home Missions persons who knew us, it seemed the natural thing to do. My particular strengths are vision, strategy, learning, encouragement, and getting things moving.

In the ten years after Riverside, working as Home Missions western regional leader, I assisted western U.S. CRC classes and congregations to plant new churches, more than thirty from 1976 to 1986, and encourage outreach in established churches. You see, to get a movement of mission interest going in an area of need where there are CRC people, a lot depends on casting a vision of kingdom life and growth that churches and God’s people grasp as urgent and compelling. And then we organize leadership and financial support, always with local churches, not for them, to enact vision. So I did those things, with a lot of help, in the western U.S., and in 1986 the Home Missions board was looking for someone to drive the bus of CRC Home Missions, and that turned out to be me.

Linda and our children paid the heaviest price of the shared demands of the work in our new church years, especially when I was western regional home missionary and on the road about half the time. My approach to the job(s) wasn’t the wisest, and I would not ask as much from Linda and our children again. I have regrets.

Home Missions agency leadership over the last twenty-two years is much the same in essentials as the regional leadership role I’ve just described. Except in bi-national leadership the mission is projected on a bigger, Canada-U.S screen, and responsibility for a nine million-dollar budget is thrown in for good measure. So, sure it was a switch to go into regional and bi-national leadership but, by grace, I was passionately interested, well-prepared by education and experience, and Linda and our children supported me fully.

What are some of the high points of your years at Home Missions?

I could list a dozen. Here are just two:

We changed the focus of the agency from ministry for the CRC congregations—doing the church’s mission in its place—to ministry with congregations and members. The CRC became a missional denomination, congregations devoted to acting in the mission of God in their way in their places. That’s rather more than a denomination having or sponsoring a mission agency.

The CRC congregations, especially newer churches, are growing in effectiveness in evangelizing.  29,700 people were added by God’s grace in the last ten years, and 56,000 in the last twenty. New churches lead our growth: about twelve newer mature churches show 800 to 1200 worshippers each Sunday. From about 2,000 people added through evangelizing in 1990, now about 3,500 people are reported added each year.

John, since you and I left Dordt in 1962, Dordt has become much more intentionally Reformed in a Kuyperian sense. Is a Reformed perspective, particularly following the ideas of theologian-statesman Abraham Kuyper, important to Home Missions?

My take is that Dordt’s core value for Reformed thought, perspective and action has been helpful and faithful for its own mission and for the church. But, though Kuyperian thought and practice is really compelling stuff, I think there ought to be a waiting period with a disciple “learner’s permit” requiring some hours of applied kingdom work, sacrifice, written reports, heartfelt confession, and a test of suffering before undergraduates get to take that car on the road.

Where Home Missions is concerned, the lordship of Christ is central in mission theology and practice as the final, large-picture outworking of the love, mission and telos of the triune God. Missionary discipleship requires biblical piety to root and motivate it and kingdom (Kuyperian) activism in order for anyone, let alone God who desires to be praised in our works, to get any benefit from it. What I know, having seen it in my life and work, is that the Holy Gospel, the Word, is indeed sharp and effective. I know personally hundreds of people changed by the Gospel and am acquainted with hundreds more who have found new life.

On the Web

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