The Voice: Spring 2002
Lloyd and Vicki Vander Kwaak try to be channels of God's peace
By Sonya Jongsma Knauss
Make me a channel of your peace, from the prayer of St. Francis,
is an apt theme for two people who have structured their lives around
being channels of peace and justice in a broken world.
Lloyd and Vicki Vander Kwaak (78,78), this years Dordt College Distinguished Alumni, have
lived very intentionally with this theme at the heart of their work and
From everything we knew and could learn, they represent, as a couple, the
very best of what Dordt stands for, says Judy Hagey, director of alumni
The Vander Kwaaks are so committed to the words of the prayer that
they sang the musical version of it at their wedding, with each of
their children on their 18th birthdays, and recently at the wedding of their
They also used the prayer of St. Francis in their chapel speech during
Homecoming week to talk to students about what it means to live obediently
in Gods world.
You dont always know the bigger picture, but. . . you have to
be faithful and obedient and listen to your inner promptings about what God
wants you to do, Vicki says. In their chapel talk, they shared the
story of Michael, a teenage boy they have known since he was a
baby and his mother was homeless and on drugs. He is now almost
a part of their family.
Michael is one of many who have been touched by the actions of
the Vander Kwaaksthey have been a channel of peace for this boy, who
might have otherwise grown up on the streets and had a very different
Blessed in their work
Shortly after graduating from Dordt, Lloyd and Vicki moved to Racine, Wisconsin, to
take jobs as nurses aides. They both enrolled in graduate work at University
of Wisconsin-Parkside and started their family.
Job opportunities for Lloyd took them back to Sioux Center to work at
Hope Haven, and then to Des Moines to work at a home for
children. Vicki has worked in many capacities, paid and unpaid, as a mother
and active volunteer in the communities they lived in.
The way they see it, The opportunities weve had were simply God laying
out an opportunity for us to use our gifts and abilities, says Lloyd.
And both are happy with where God has led. Both Lloyd and I
feel like were very blessed right now, Vicki says, because what we happen
to be doing for paid employment is what we love to do and
completely maximizes who we are and all of what our passions are. It
seems were doing exactly what were meant to do.
As president of the Convalescent Home for Children Network, Lloyd has helped the
organization grow from serving 100 children to serving more than 1200. In ten
years, the staff has grown from 175 to over 600.
When I first came along, one of the things I did was ask,
Where do you want this organization to go, and how should it get
there? We spent the first year mapping out a strategic planning process, and
now we do that every three years.
Lloyd said the job was a wonderful opportunity because it was a small
organization with a narrow focusproviding specific health services for children with special needs.
Our mission is to partner with families to help kids with special health
care needs live a great life.
After many years of volunteer and part-time paid work, Vicki accepted a full-time
position with Mercy Hospice a year and a half ago as a medical
social worker and bereavement coordinator. She says its a job that taps all
of her clinical skills.
Its often a time of healing, with a lot of apologies and a
lot of tears
you have to be quick, to know just how and when
to intervene, she says. You have all these people there, and just a
couple days, so you need to know just right where to push or
not to push.
She enjoys her workplace partly because of the wonderful staffall Christians who work
well together. Because the organization is faith-based, those who use it know where
theyre coming from, and staff members are able to share their faith.
Their faith has always shaped what they do, Lloyd says.
We recognize that we live in a broken world, but our major responsibility
as believers is to bring reconciliation to the world, to make it better
and do that in the name of Christ, he says. The challenge is
to understand what you can do to make a difference.
Social work as calling
Both social workers, the Vander Kwaaks have a unified view of life and
share their passions and priorities. It is evident that they have nothing but
love and respect for each other. And its clear that they enable each
other to use their God-given gifts to the fullest extent, a wonderful example
of Gods directive for marriage.
They say they havent suffered from social work burnout because theyre able to
support each other through the tough work issueswhether its working with a family
that has experienced a tragic accident and now has a child needing intensive
therapy and care, or whether its working with a family that is losing
a loved one.
But Lloyd says another reason they dont feel burnout is because of other
things they do.
Were made to be involved in many different things, he says. If you
live a balanced life, with good boundaries, that assists with issues of burnout.
You need to recognize that you have a family, community, church, and more
you should be doing than just working and focusing on one thing.
Lloyd calls himself a social worker by default, as he had to find
another major after getting a D in his intended major, chemistry. But he
also says his upbringing influenced him.
Vicki says her interest in social work also had a lot to do
with her upbringingmy parents really had hearts of mercy, she explains. I grew
up seeing diaconal work being fleshed out, and social work is a lot
about matching people with resources and working within large systems. It just made
Committed to their family and community
Shortly after starting graduate school at UW-Parkside, Lloyd and Vicki started their family,
which now consists of Kristin, Nicholas, Reuben, and Kimberly. For the last two
years Salome Toryem from Nigeria has also lived with them.
After about two children I realized that public administration wasnt what I wanted
to do for sure, and that I wanted to stay home more, Vicki
said, so Lloyd finished his studies while she devoted her time to their
children and various
Looking back on the path her life has taken, Vicki describes being at
home with her young kids as the favorite thing thats happened to me
since I went to Dordt.
I always wanted to be a mom, she says. Maybe it was because
I grew up in a home that was always full of foster babies.
I absolutely loved it. . . just helping them to learn and discover
the world, to learn and grow.
While some families may see minimizing outside activities as important to family growth,
Vander Kwaaks tried to involve their children in their work, scaling back when
We did a lot of reaching out as a family, Vicki says, describing
the relationships they formed with others as part of Good Samaritan Urban Ministries
in Des Moines. Vicki volunteered there one day a week, meeting with six
single moms in the transitional housing program. But their involvement went beyond counseling
sessionsoften, the Vander Kwaaks would invite people over to their house.
This is how they met Michael, the boy they talked about in their
chapel speech, who, Vicki says, kind of grew up as our kids little
brotherhe was homeless half the time, and here every third weekend.
She said seeing that, and some of the other work the family was
involved in, allowed their children to have a good grasp of relational work
with othershow to foster long-term, healthy relationships.
It made an impact on our kids in terms of sensitivity, Lloyd says.
Parenting for peace and justicethats one of our favorite statements. You can try
to do many things at the same time, but you have to have
a clear focus, he says.
The Vander Kwaaks have encouraged their children to attend Dordt or a college
with a similar orientation. Lloyd, who taught one course a semester at Dordt
when he served for eight years at Hope Haven, says his experience with
students reminded him that college is really a time and place where students
begin to learn how to think.
As parents they have tried to help their childrenat their developmental levelsee the
power of faith and worldview to shape actions, Lloyd says. But unless they
are able to live that out in an environment when theyre learning how
to think, they may have difficulty translating that into their calling as adults.
We believe Dordt will make a difference in that journey.
Both say they developed a sense of calling at Dordt that continues to
drive them to this day.
In our very last class, the social work professor told us, go change
the world, Vicki remembers. Youve got to figure out what that means, but
weve been trying to be faithful in figuring out what that means wherever
we arein our jobs, our family, and neighborhood. Were always mindful of that.