The Voice: Winter 2003

The Voice

Making choices for the future

I never seem to have any trouble finding the parts I want at a fried chicken buffet. That’s because my favorites are, frankly, the backs, the necks, and the wings.

Now I’m well aware that most people would scoff at my choice. After all, those are the pieces that most folks buy for making chicken stock—or at best for football-watching appetizers. Surely, no one in their right mind would actually eat them as an entrée unless you had to, right?

Well, I guess that’s the point. When I was a kid we did have to. On those occasions when the seven of us were fortunate enough to have meat with our evening meal, often it would be a package of the backs and necks that my mother had coated with flour and given a thorough baking in the oven because, quite honestly, all she could afford was a pan of castoff parts that the grocer had packaged for use as leftover filler in a pot of soup. I learned to like them then—and I love them still.

Now, it wasn’t that our family was so poor. My dad had a good steady job. The paychecks came regularly every month. But as a city family, we didn’t have much opportunity to raise our own food to improve our menus. Instead, our daily bread had to compete with all sorts of other priorities on our extremely limited family budget.

So, in our home at least, once our basic nutritional needs were met there certainly were other places that our money would be spent before adding luxuries like chicken breasts and thighs to our table. And in our home, the most important of those other needs was providing Christian schooling for all five of us kids.

As best I can figure, about a quarter to a third of my father’s income went to pay our tuition and other educational fees. Within the modest income of post-war America, after a tithe to the church, a monthly payment on the mortgage, and a few other necessities of life, not much was left. We never went on vacation. And clearly, we would have to limit what and how much we ate.

Yet as far as I can recall, this never really bothered us that much. After all, we too were learning what was important and what was most essential for our well-being in the future. To my father and mother, if it came to choosing between having their children well fed or well educated, it really wasn’t much of a choice. We could all survive and grow up on limited rations. But our future life and service in God’s kingdom depended on Christ-centered education at every step.

Not long before he passed away this summer at the age of 95, my dad asked me how much tuition costs today at Dordt College. He couldn’t believe the number I quoted. “How can anybody pay that?” he asked.

I think I mentioned loans. The average Dordt College student graduates with just over $16,000 in loans. And while that sounded like a huge sum to someone who had retired thirty years ago, I tried to point out to my father that graduates from state schools such as Iowa State University carry an average of $23,000 in loans when they leave school. And even 22-year-olds who didn’t go to college often carry similar debt loads for things like cars, boats, and snowmobiles.

But most of all, I told him that people do it the same way they did fifty years ago when he was raising us. People still make choices as to what is most important for themselves and their children as they grow. And for those who believe that an education in the light of God’s Word is the foundation for their future service in God’s kingdom, they invest their resources in obtaining an educational experience that will accomplish that. For those who are convinced that a Christian learning environment is the best context in which to be educated and trained for a lifetime of continued growth and service, they make the economic decisions necessary to gain that experience. In short, people still make decisions about where to spend their money today (and with loans, where they will spend it in the future) that reflect the value Christ-centered education holds in their lives.

For myself, it’s a privilege to see how people still reflect the same values in their decisions today that my parents reflected half a century ago. To see the donors who provided almost $5 million last year to build the facilities and support the programs that will benefit those who study at Dordt College. To see the faculty and staff who spend their days on campus, not because of how much they are paid but because of how much they can serve. And to see students and parents who make really tough economic choices to ensure that the education of the next generation in their family takes place in the context of biblical insight and godly community.

That those values continue to live at Dordt College is a great tribute to people who, like my father and mother, have passed on to glory but who gave their substance in that service while they lived. And although still today I gladly pick the wings, necks, and backs off the chicken platter when it’s passed, I’m also glad that most of our students don’t have to do so anymore.