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Dordt's "really rolling now"

By Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

It was one of Dordt College’s first big breaks on the public relations front. The year was 1979 and one of the most popular columnists of Iowa’s one and only state-wide newspaper reported in his column that he had fallen in love with little Dordt College—at that point not even twenty-five years old—in the small town of Sioux Center, Iowa.

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

The columnist, Chuck Offenburger, had done a series on the four major universities of the state—University of Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, and Drake. But he wanted to include one of Iowa’s thirty-plus small colleges too—and so he chose to feature Dordt College in his series of “The Big Four and One More.” Never mind that one reason he chose to feature Dordt was because of its unusual name. After all, we couldn’t buy publicity like this—with hundreds of thousands of people all over the state now knowing that Dordt College had arrived on the scene.

Offenburger reminded me of this episode recently when he sent me an e-mail commenting on the wonderful publicity Dordt College is getting in this our Jubilee year. He had noted the full-page coverage granted by the Sioux City Journal and had seen our ads in the Des Moines Register for the magnificent Jubilee Spring Music Concert that was scheduled for the Hoyt-Sherman House in Des Moines. Reflecting on how young the college had been when he wrote that first piece twenty-six years ago and how Dordt’s impact now spreads across the region on a regular ongoing basis just a quarter century later, Chuck concluded his message to me, “You’re really rolling now.”

I guess I would concur. The only problem I have is that as a Calvinist, I always get a little worried when someone says we’re really rolling. After all, Calvinists traditionally have had an uneasy feeling that if we’re really rolling, we must be rolling downhill. Maybe it’s our strong emphasis on Old Testament history and our familiarity with the books of Kings and Chronicles. But somehow, Calvinist Christians historically seem to have presumed that once we get rolling, it’s all downhill from there.

There may be some truth in such concerns. But I think it also reminds us that Reformed Christians have a problem with celebrating, even with celebrating what God has done. We always seem to fear, and perhaps sometimes with good reason, that our success has been bought at the price of giving up our obedience.

The problem, however, is that such an obsessive focus on how undeserved our blessings are sometimes can obscure our appreciation for just how marvelous God’s blessings have become. Certainly it’s one thing to be humble and to know how unworthy we are to receive God’s good gifts. But it’s quite another thing to so denigrate the glory of God’s gracious bestowals that we are unable to celebratively honor the One from whom all blessings really do flow.

So I hope that in this Jubilee year we are truly humble, knowing that “Unless the Lord had built the house, we would have labored in vain to build it.” But may we never let our humility obscure the fact that God himself truly has built a wonderful college here in Sioux Center, Iowa. The beauty and strength of Dordt College, such as it is after just fifty years, is a testimony to the marvelous glory of the God who has done an amazing thing in this little corner of his world.

Our first president, B.J. Haan, used to tell the story about a great steam engine that nobody believed could ever get rolling. But once it did get rolling, the nay sayers began to carp that now it could never be stopped. May our 50th anniversary be a time when we gratefully acknowledge that God himself has indeed gotten Dordt College rolling—and not downhill but rather down the track that leads into the future that he himself has prepared. For when that’s the focus of our celebration, we won’t hesitate to joyfully declare, "We really are rolling now." Then God himself will get the glory—and we will have a marvelous time celebrating and praising him for it.