The Voice: Winter 2002
Visser and Vander Plaats bring their courses around the world
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 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
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
Dr. Gary Vander Plaats taught a course to World Vision employees in Thailand. He also took
time to experience some of the culture.