The Voice: Winter 2002

The Voice

Visser and Vander Plaats bring their courses around the world

Dr. John Visser's (top left) students came from countries in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. Why would two business professors already swamped with teaching responsibilities and grading in one of Dordt's largest academic departments take on additional teaching responsibilities? Because they take their work of training people to be good Christian business people seriously.

Professors John Visser and Gary Vander Plaats each spent a week helping World Vision employees around the world learn more about financial management and accounting in the past several months. Their intensive week-long courses were part of an MBA program designed specifically for World Vision, an international development organization, through Eastern College's MBA program. Visser and Vander Plaats were tapped as adjuncts because of their experience teaching similarly-styled executive education courses in the past several years.

World Vision is the largest non-profit organization in the world with hundreds of staff members in many countries and a budget of over a half a billion dollars a year. The courses taught by Vander Plaats and Visser were part of a sequence of courses that are offered in various locations to keep down costs for earning an MBA and to allow workers to spend less time traveling.

“It was a great experience to teach a group of committed Christians focusing on issues faced by non-profit organizations,” said Visser. “And it was good for us, forcing us to think outside the box about principles that have been timed-tested in business, but really need to be modified for non-profits.”

“Non-profits often don't do so well with numbers,” says Visser. They are used to simply working from a budget_doing what they can with the money they have. Business works from different mentality: you need to increase your expenditures at times to increase the value of the products and services you are providing.

Students in the program were World Vision managers and accountants from many different countries. Vander Plaats taught in Bangkok to mostly Asian nationals. Visser taught in South Africa to people working in a variety of countries. Nearly all of the participants worked in their native countries.

Vander Plaats and Visser went through topics in financial accounting, management accounting, and non-profit accounting as well as operations management and corporate finance. They used case studies that would help give managers the tools to answer questions such as: What are we trying to do in a particular program and are we doing it well? How do we measure what we are accomplishing? How do we figure out the relation between costs and benefits?    The classes met from 8:30 to 5:30 each day with participants gathering for devotions before beginning their day. Students often stayed through lunch and after class to con-tinue discussions and ask questions in an attempt to learn as much as they could.

“These were people in their twenties and thirties identified as bright, ethical Christian people who should be trained as future leaders,” says Visser.

“I was impressed with the level of Christian commitment demonstrated by people in a variety of situations,” says Vander Plaats. Such an atmosphere made it possible to accomplish a great deal. He adds, “International experience is always a positive thing.”

Visser agrees. He says being in South Africa when the United States started bombing Afghanistan helped him see in a new way how American decisions affect people in other countries. Many of his students were deeply concerned for their families and some debated whether to go home. It was clear from their comments that resentment against the United States mistakenly spills over into resentment against Christians, especially English-speaking Christians in the Third World countries.

Both professors say they will take aspects of their experience into their classrooms at Dordt, whether that is through a lecture in GEN 300: Calling Task, and Culture, an economic development class, or the senior business seminar. And for Visser, the conversations and interaction he had with his students fit in perfectly with research he is doing on wealth creation and the importance of non-profit organizations in its creation. They also deepened his understanding of why there are so many problems in certain countries.

Visser believes that the impact of his and Vander Plaats' as well as others' teaching will be felt broadly. Nearly fifty people from twenty-five countries now know something about Dordt College and what it stands for, he says. And he's been reminded again that we are part of a diverse family of God and that we have much in common with people of other racial, ethnic, and language groups simply because we profess and worship the same Lord and Saviour. That, in addition to everything else, makes the extra teaching load worth the effort.

Dr. John Visser's twenty-eight students came from countries in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East.

Dr. Gary Vander Plaats taught a course to World Vision employees in Thailand. He also took time to experience some of the culture.