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College is a gateway to the world

By Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

For many years Dordt College was known as the “Fishbowl College.” People who knew very little about the college and its mission knew of us for one thing—a stunning photograph of a fishbowl perched on a pedestal along the ocean shore, captioned with the words—“Dordt College: Step Into a Larger World.”

It was an eye-catching photo. We used it in our advertising. We mailed posters of that photo to prospective students by the tens of thousands, not simply because it was eye-catching, but because it said something about what we really want Dordt College to be—a way to step into a larger world.

We took our share of good-natured ribbing about the poster. Many people think that if you want to find a larger world, you should go to New York City, not Sioux Center, Iowa. Others presume that if you want an educational experience that opens up a larger world, you should head for a 50,000-student research university, not a 1250-student residential college.

Even the best advertising images wear out eventually. We’ve retired the fishbowl, at least for now, but the commitment remains, and even needs to grow. If you really do want an educational gateway to the world, there may well be no better place to head than Dordt College.

I’m not an artist so I haven’t come up with an eye-catching graphic to express this image. But its message is central to the strategic plan that is guiding Dordt College today. Our residential campus in Sioux Center, Iowa, will continue to flourish and develop—but not as a final destination. Our campus must increasingly serve not as an end in itself but as a gateway to a global world of service.

I was reminded of that when I visited Managua, Nicaragua, this winter. There I had the opportunity to consult with the staff of the Nehemiah Center, a multi-agency center that is dedicated to rebuilding that country on the basis of and out of the power of a biblical worldview. Dordt College has been a partner in that work already. Not only have AMOR volunteer teams been going there for ten years, but currently five of our alumni are teaching at the Nicaragua Christian Academy, which is designed to help potential leaders develop a biblical worldview for the renewing service that needs to be done in that country and beyond. Twelve Dordt College students and two staff volunteers participated in a winter service project there this winter, and two of our students remained behind to be involved in internships—one in business and one in education. One of our alums is involved in a farmer-to-farmer partnership program, and other alumni and emeritus staff from Sioux Center travel to Nicaragua regularly. In fact, Dordt College land has grown crops in past years to support this program, and Nicaraguans involved in these projects have visited our campus. In addition, Dr. John Van Dyk has been teaching Christian teachers through workshops and graduate courses in Managua, and our agriculture department has offered courses in Nicaragua itself. Dordt College already has become an educational gateway to that part of Latin America.

A European gateway is being developed out of our existing European Studies program in the Netherlands, and we are in conversation with Reformed Korean universities to establish an Asian gateway. For many years already, Dordt College has partnered with other Christian colleges to provide urban gateways in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. And just this year we added Rehoboth, New Mexico, as a Native American gateway experience. Geographically and culturally, our campus in Sioux Center is an entry point into God’s wider world.

In a world being described as increasingly “flat” because of our global interdependence, we need to become ever more conscious and intentional about building these strong connections to a larger world. Don’t get me wrong. Sioux Center is a great place, and our campus is a marvelous place to study, explore, and learn the secrets of wisdom for understanding God’s world and to prepare for service in it. It’s been that for fifty years and, by God’s grace, will be an even stronger center for learning and service in the next fifty years. But increasingly any campus needs to become a vibrant educational community that gathers together students from across the continent and from around the world.

Our campus must continue to become even more connected to the “larger world” that our old posters proclaimed. Increasing racial and ethnic diversity within our community and the many opportunities mentioned above are helping us do that. After all, our goal must always be an educational community whose impact spreads out across the continent and around the world—all for the glory of the One who really is the Lord of every square inch in that world.