Monday, 17 June 2013

Sweetman Opens Middle Ages to Tanzanian Students, Finds God

My wife and I had the chance to spend some time in Tanzania visiting our daughter who has been living and working in the southwestern city of Mbeya since the beginning of September last. For one of our three weeks in Tanzania we lived and worked at the Olive Branch for Children, the NGO that our daughter works for. It is a small organization that does a lot with very little. On a budget of about $120,000 annually it runs two houses for AIDS orphans, runs 20 Montessori kindergartens that serve 500 students, runs fifteen public health offices in a chronically underserved part of Tanzania near Mbeya, runs a micro-loans program for entrepreneurs, a small bank, and a couple of rice farms so as to defray the cost of the food used to feed its orphans, employees etc. All but one of its paid staff are Tanzanian and all receive Tanzanian salaries. Its fundraising occurs in Canada and is done by volunteers. The money, well over 90% of it, goes directly into program support. Quite a little organization, and chronically struggling with financial issues because it pays too little attention to fundraising. It constantly acts because it’s the right thing to do; not because it is the prudent thing to do. In that way it reminded me a lot of ICS.

Rosanne and I were given the chance to work with intermediate primary students at the school the Olive Branch runs for its child wards. I worked with a number of students on Medieval Europe. We used the Bayeaux Tapestry and its many images as a way to illustrate social and political formation in the Middle Ages. They used the comic-book like artistic forms of the Tapestry to illustrate stories of their own making. We spent a lot of time using found materials to build a large model motte and bailey castle complete with field system surrounding it. We listened to and discussed Chretien de Troyes’ Perceval, that bumbling boy-knight who inaugurated in literature the famous search for the Holy Grail. And we studied some basic Latin grammar and vocabulary. To my surprise they went for it with enthusiasm. Rosanne did a unit on story writing helping another group of intermediate primary students tell their life’s story, illustrate it and turn the result into books, an exercise culminating in an “Authors’ Evening” when they read their stories to the orphanage community as a whole. As we heard the stories of the children we were working with and tried to put those stories together with the bright and engaged youngsters we had in front of us, we found ourselves at a loss. These 9-11 year olds had suffered a great deal already in their young lives. They had been abandoned by their fragile and at risk families, for the middle generation of adults was missing, victims of AIDS. Here was the human refuse of the AIDS crisis in this part of Africa; that was clear from the stories we were entrusted with. And yet . . . such bright and shining eyes, such interest and care for each other, such a willingness to take up the opportunities offered to them, such a capacity for love and imagination and joy!

Our living conditions were typically Tanzanian. The water was bad, the bathroom facilities not what a North American has come to imagine as normal. All food was cooked on charcoal and the fare while healthy was repetitive and plain. The living quarters spare and open to the elements and the critters, lots of those. But these brave cast-offs did not think of themselves as institutionalized and impoverished but as part of a family going places, as brothers and sisters in a family in which all must work together and contribute if things are to continue to go well. We felt the privilege we had been given to serve these children; we were transfixed time and again by their smiles and their hugs. Grace, that is what we received in a dozen and more small moments. Of course, you don’t have to read the parables of Jesus too attentively to realize that our experience should come as no surprise. There is something biblical about the pattern. Among the outcasts, the lepers, the widows and orphans, the poor of all stripes—that is where God so often has chosen to dwell. What were the Hebrews if not a slave people, Galileans of Nazareth if not the rubes and hicks of the Syrio-Palestinian world? And yet there and among them is where God chose to dwell among us. What would be surprising about seeing his face in the bright eyes and smiles of Tanzanian orphans? Or in the unexpected excellence of Christian reflection produced at a small donation dependent school that should have passed from this world decades ago if prudence were the only principle at play? But that is the wonder of God’s world. There is more at play than prudence, and we can all be grateful for that. I am thanking God for Grace in “unlikely” places: at the Olive Branch for Children in Tanzania, and at the ICS in Toronto. Won’t you join me in the month to come?

Bob Sweetman

ICS Alumni Network

The ICS has always been a forward-looking institution. And while I celebrate ICS's forward-thinking, I also celebrate its journey. After all, the ICS has produced a great wealth of scholars, philosophers, and leaders over many decades. And what better way to celebrate the journey than to connect with those who have walked along the way?

Over the past year, a handful of alumni have been meeting regularly to talk about the development of an ICS alumni network. Each meeting, both formal and casual, has been a hive of creative thinking and storytelling, as together we begin to craft a vision for what we could be with the involvement of more alumni willing to share their stories.

I believe an alumni network could bring the family a little closer in those times of difficulty and change. The ICS changed my life during my time there. It gave direction to a young Christian thinker who had difficulty reconciling faith with his own rationale. What a blessing, I confess, that I didn't end up anywhere else. Among philosophical schools, the ICS is an anomaly in that it is both philosophically rigorous and faith-based. There really is nothing like it. It is a jewel in our tradition. I believe that it is worth fighting for.

We're looking for your interest. We want to hear your ideas about what an alumni network can do for ICS. Share with us what the ICS meant, and what it continues to mean to you. We want you to connect with us and share with us what you have to give. If the idea of an alumni network interests you, please share that feeling with Jeffrey Hocking (MA ‘09, PhD cand.), our alumni point-person on staff at ICS. Send him your email, even if just to encourage. We are planning our first alumni network meeting sometime this coming fall. We will be announcing further information this summer related to the meeting date and agenda. We still have a lot of organizing to do. I hope to hear from you!

Jonathan Weverink (MPhilF ‘00)

(You can reach Jeffrey Hocking, Student Services & Financial Aid Officer at

Monday, 3 June 2013

Presidential Musings from Dawn

I was in a Skype meeting last Wednesday with Jim Padilla-DeBorst from the Center for Interdisciplinary Theological Studies (CETI). He was in Costa Rica while I was in Etobicoke. At one point he Skyped in Joel Van Dyke from the Center for Transforming Mission (CTM) in Guatemala. We made some progress working at the conceptual level on a new Master of Worldview Studies (MWS) program in Urban Ministries. ICS plans to work in collaboration with CETI and CTM to pilot this program. I’m very excited about the possibilities.

The first cohort for this MWS program would do their course work in English while working as volunteers in Latin American countries such as Costa Rica or Guatemala. When, precisely, will this program start? Well, yes, there were still plenty of details remaining after this latest Skype meeting.

Enter serendipity, a.k.a., providence.

I told Jim that I would not be able to pass along the contents of our conversation to the Dean until this week because I was driving to Grand Rapids the next day for the IAPCHE conference ( Jim then told me he was flying there the next day too. So, hah, we could meet in person. Great!

So, I met Jim at the IAPCHE conference (which was a productive conference for many reasons) and we advanced the project to the point that we have a start date for this not-yet-fully-approved-with-all-i’s-dotted pilot project – January 2014. That’s right – if you know of someone who would love to spend 2014 in Latin America while getting a Master’s degree from an Urban Ministries program in the process, well, let them know about this opportunity, and they can get started in discussions with Christian Reformed World Missions to get in on this program. Remember that the ICS part of this program is still tentative until those t's are crossed, but we are hoping the program does not have to go forward without ICS in the mix. What an engaging way to spend 2014! What a way to work on making a difference in the world!

Jim Padilla-DeBorst and I then officially launched this exciting collaboration in the usual way – his arm was longer than mine, so he held the camera and took the picture.

Thank You Phone-A-Thon Participants!

We are wrapping up our annual Phone-a-thon. A BIG THANK YOU to our ICS Board members, FICS Board members, Faculty members and student volunteers who were making the calls and to all our supporters for taking the time to speak with them.

Many of you have shared your ICS stories with our callers—stories that encourage us as we look to a positive future. Our students also enjoyed sharing their ICS stories—stories that have given you a first-hand glimpse of how your gift is helping ICS through its programs to bring renewal and hope to our world.

If for some reason we missed connecting with you by phone, you still have time to send in your gift. Your gift is vital to our work. You can donate online at, call us at 416-979-2331 ext 223 (Vidya Williams) or ext 221 (Kathy Lynch) to make a credit card donation or mail your cheque to Institute for Christian Studies, 100-229 College St., Toronto ON M5T 1R4.

THANK YOU for your partnership!

2013 Senate and Board Meetings

The Senate, ICS’s academic governing board, met on May 9 to review the work of our Faculty, Junior Members, and Research Centre during the past academic year. This year, as in previous years, ICS conducted its annual Senate and Board meetings on consecutive days with the Board meeting on May 10. The Board meeting was largely devoted to the budget for the coming year and received reports from the Chair of the Board and the President. The budget for the coming year was adopted and the reports were received. We thank our Senators and Board Members for their work.

Click here to view the President's Report to the Board.

“Setting Things Right”: Seerveld Publishes on the Visual Arts

Cal Seerveld has published an article "Setting Things Right" in the current issue of the journal SEEN, official organ of the Christians in the Visual Arts community (CIVA). The article deals with the coming June convention theme of "Just Art," to be held at Wheaton College, Illinois, USA. Seerveld exposits artwork of Canadian carver John Tiktak, Austrian painter Hundertwasser, and Dutch sculptor Britt Wikstroom. The article includes full colour illustrations.

Prayer Letter: June 2013

Monday, June 3: Senior Member Ron Kuipers’ father Gerhardus (Gerry) Kuipers passed away suddenly last month. Ron is thankful for all those who have offered their heartfelt condolences. Knowing that so many people carried him and his family in their thoughts and prayers has been very comforting. Please keep Ron and his family in your prayers.

Tuesday, June 4: The annual Senate and Board meetings were held last month. We are grateful for all the work these people do for ICS, and for the talents and experience they bring us.

Wednesday, June 5: We offer prayers of celebration for the successful completion of the academic programs of seven Junior Members, each of whom were recognized and honoured last month at ICS's Convocation ceremony.

Thursday, June 6: The Alumni Association is working on a meeting for all alumni in the fall. We pray for inspiration and vision as they build towards our meeting. We ask God that many alumni hear about it, and show support.

Friday, June 7: Today we pray for God's help for those who are struggling with illnesses. We ask God for strength, patience and for good results from treatment.

Monday, June 10: As we wind up our annual Phone-a-thon, we offer prayers of thanks for the diligent work of the volunteers, and the wonderful support of the ICS community. We are truly blessed!

Tuesday, June 11: The grades for spring semester courses are due this week. We give thanks for completed work and offer prayers for energy for our Senior Members as they enter what is often a busy time of grading.

Wednesday, June 12: We offer prayers of praise for the talent of Cal Seerveld who has published an article in the journal SEEN.

Thursday, June 13: Senior Members often spend much of the summer developing course curriculum and giving attention to research projects. We are extremely grateful for the work of our Senior Members and ask for God's blessing on them.

Friday, June 14: We celebrate Father's Day on Sunday! We ask for God's blessing on all fathers, that they may spend a wonderful day with their loved ones.

Monday, June 17: We pray for stamina and wisdom for Senior Member Doug Blomberg as he continues in his role as Academic Dean.

Tuesday, June 18: The summer months are often a time when Junior Members give sustained attention to their Masters and Ph.D. thesis projects. We pray for our Junior Members and ask for God's blessing on their research and writing.

Wednesday, June 19: We ask God's help and guidance for all those who are doing advancement work for ICS. Please pray that support for the vision and mission of ICS continues to grow.

Thursday, June 20: We offer prayers of gratitude for the wonderful work done by Senior Member Ron Kuipers as Director of our Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Social Ethics.

Friday, June 21: The Faith and Justice Project Steering Committee is meeting today. We pray that God's guidance and wisdom be in all the discussions and planning.

Monday, June 24: We offer prayers of gratitude and appreciation for the faithfulness of you, our wonderful donor community, who have continued to give ICS gifts of prayers, money, concern and appreciation. It is truly a blessing to have the continued interest and support of so many people.

Tuesday, June 25: Korea has been a divided nation for over 60 years. Today we pray for peace in Korea.

Wednesday, June 26: We continue to pray for blessings and energy for ICS Presidents, Tom and Dawn Wolthuis, as they manage their many responsibilities.

Thursday, June 27: We celebrate the addition of eleven new Junior Members to the ICS community this fall. We will remember them in our prayers as they make the necessary preparations and transitions this summer in order to begin their program studies in September.

Friday, June 28: Summer has arrived and many people are planning trips. Many members of the ICS community will be traveling in the summer months to spend time with family and friends. We pray for safe and pleasant journeys.