Debbie completed a Certificate in Christian Studies in 1975 and John completed an M.A. in Christian Studies in 1980 —focusing on Soren Kierkegaard. John and Debbie have been married for 30 years and have 3 married Children and 3 grandchildren.
In the years since graduation, what kinds of ministry has God led you both to be involved in?
We are thankful for multiple opportunities for music ministry and the integration of the arts into worship in several local churches, at TWU and in Kenya, as well as taking turns as an elder and a Sunday School teacher. As we have traced the fingerprint of God’s influence in our life, we have found that God’s calling is not just the discernment of a detailed “12 point plan,” but rather, (following Os Guiness) that a “call” implies a “caller,” e.g. the relational reality that we are first called to “Someone, rather than something or somewhere.” Another important lesson we have learned is that a Christian calling also implies that – at a foundational level at least – there is not a radical disjunction between being a “paid church worker” and working in a “secular” job. Whether we possess a label as a “pastor” or a “teacher” is not the crucial issue; rather the key question is our response of love to God, of love to others and of denial of self. We have been significantly impacted by Paul’s related sentiment in 2 Cor. 4:11: “We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.”
I have noticed your name, John, in several local papers in recent years in regards to something called “U-connect”. Can you explain what that is?
One of the positive developments in the BC public school system and Langley School district is the priority given to developing schools of choice; there is a recognition that a diverse student population requires diverse learning opportunities. A number of years ago we were given the opportunity to implement a program (now called U-Connect) which is designed to support home-learners. If a home-based learner agrees to meet provincial learning standards and to be supervised by a teacher, we give them a number of great resources including vast curriculum resources, virtual computer-based learning options, kits, accreditation and testing. We also have a building in South Langley where most families come for one or two days a week for a variety of core subjects and innovative electives. The atmosphere is informal and family-based with core specialties in fine arts and technology. Because of the inherent flexibility of our model of home-school partnership, there is ample scope for students to aggressively pursue their educational interests. Many of our students have traveled the world by entering international competitions in internet software development and robotics technology. For example, last year a team of budding engineers won NASA’s design in excellence award at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston as they competed against other teams in the neutral buoyancy lab, replicating the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope with a sophisticated underwater robot they designed.
While I have been involved with U-Connect, Debbie has been teaching many piano students. This provides an opportunity for her to help young people to not only develop valuable character qualities such as diligence and a desire for excellence, but also to resist the trends of the commercialization of “pop-culture music” by inculcating a love for the classics. She has found that children do love the “Beethovens” and the “Bachs” if they are properly challenged. Music also provides an opportunity to connect with the church – regardless of their former exposure.
What led you to develop this vision? What do you think it is accomplishing in the lives of young people?
For many students, our model allows them to thrive educationally; for example, those who find that learning comes easily can move more quickly through the grades. Conversely, those who have learning difficulties have the advantage of much more “one-on-one” interaction at home and small class sizes at our school.
As you reflect back over your ministry experience, can you discern general or specific ways in which your education through Northwest has assisted you in pursuing God’s call?
John – Seminary is a valuable investment to enrich the quality of our spiritual lives. In the midst of the hectic demands of a typical career, it is difficult to find time to think about and connect with God and to contemplate the crucial questions of life. Like most domains of knowledge in the last few years, the volume of research in biblical studies has exploded. I benefited by having the sharp literary “eyes” of trained theologians to help distill the truly important data and to provide the interpretive tools necessary for life-long Biblical learning. Secondly, seminary was a time when we could discern our giftedness as we interacted with mentors who helped us discern the “shape of our souls.” Thirdly, our relationships with our peers extended from exciting classroom stimulation to lifelong friendships. The crux of the matter is this: without this experience, the Bible would have remained for us a two-dimensional book; seminary added that illuminating third dimension. It is tragically easy for my mind to cruise year after year in a conceptual “auto-pilot” mode. Seminary gave me an opportunity to step out of the “mental ruts” and see the bigger picture of God’s purposes and person.
Debbie – From the vantage point of “looking back” I am thankful for the influence of my year at Northwest in shaping my Christian faith. The call to love God with all my mind was shaped by courses such as New Testament Survey which taught me that the Bible is more than a few well-known verses. I was drawn into what has become a lifelong thirst to know how God is dealing with the whole of human history as well as in my personal life. The call to love our neighbours as ourselves, in my role as a wife, mother, and music teacher, was shaped by other courses such as Foundations for Christian Living with its emphasis on the agape principle. And living in residence created a great balance between studying and loving people.
We are now well into the first decade of the 21st century. What has changed in the way Christians look at their surrounding culture and seek to engage it, since you graduated?
I think Christians are more interested in the social dimensions to discipleship than they were three decades ago. Also, Christians are putting a great deal of thought towards harnessing the internet communications revolution. Any technological revolution is always a “double edged sword.” In our era technology greatly multiplies the number of communicative choices, yet church leaders are finding that expanding choices seem to be correlated with lower levels of church commitment. Also, while the internet gives access to a virtual “universe” of knowledge in our back pockets, the internet style of communication – with its millions of disassociated “searches” and “clicks” – tends to fragment knowledge, disseminating it in short, sketchy, entertaining bite-sized bits. Many pastors are finding that the “bite-sized” mentality creates a less than receptive audience for serious expositional sermons!
Many people think that Seminary education only relates to people who are thinking of becoming pastors or missionaries. Obviously, this is not how God has led you, yet He has given you a very significant ministry. Do you think seminary education has relevance for Christians whose calling lies outside these traditional areas of vocational service? Why?
Some would argue that “real-world” experience is a more important rubric of success than the theological understanding implied in a seminary degree. My question for this attitude is this: Why do we need to choose between the “understanding” of seminary and the “experience” of the real world? Regardless of whether you are a pastor or a missionary or a computer programmer, you are called to become a certain type of person – an image-bearer of Jesus. Part of being an image bearer involves a deepening understanding of Who you are imaging. Seminary provides a unique setting and opportunity for this to occur.