The Rear-View Window
Sometimes you don’t know where God is leading you until you’ve arrived.
Three months ago I was sitting in my studio apartment in Princeton, N.J., realizing I had absolutely no clue what was next. I was on sabbatical, my wife and kids thousands of kilometres away in Squamish, B.C., hearing with growing dismay of my university’s escalating financial crisis. Would I still have an academic home when I returned? Would there be anything left?
I’d been a founding faculty member of Quest University, an innovative and creative liberal arts college that has been helping to reshape the landscape of Canadian higher education. But I had grown restless, without really reflecting why. I had always said that I wanted to return to a Christian community, but sometimes you need a jolt to be jarred into a new place. Does a financial crisis count as a jolt? Maybe add to that a global pandemic, which at the time was raging just down the road in New York City.
Suddenly I was reflecting on that promise I’d made long ago, and it was no longer just a story I told myself. I started looking. Among several possible new academic homes, Trinity Western stood out; everyone in my family had been part of this community over the years except for me, and I had seen them become deeper and more effective in their faith. I contacted Arnold Sikkema; he told me there was a job available, but it had already been offered to someone. Was this the path God had set out for me, or not? Well, doors don’t knock themselves, so I knocked.
A week later I was in conversation with the search committee. It just felt right. There was a sense of Friendship (with a capital F), of shared values, of faithful commitment, that I hadn’t realized I had long thirsted for. I saw a passion for both research and teaching, with an explicit goal of godly Christian leadership. Another week, and I was in Newark airport, usually one of the craziest, busiest airports in the world. That day, it was a scene from the movie Contagion. A nearly empty plane took me across the border to my home and native land, I thought for a couple of days’ visit.
I’ll never forget the day of the interview. I presented my ideas and passion for innovative, student-centred teaching and learning, and Trinity presented a realization of the same vision. It was a strange feeling, like walking along a path for hours before you realize that several people have been beside you. The passion of the scientists for exploring the wonders of God’s creation especially caught my attention. They wear their enthusiasm on their sleeves; it’s an infection for which the students won’t have, or want, any immunity. They sense beauty in the world and need to understand more—not just to put their knowledge to practical use, but as a devotional experience. This is a community that means what it says in its faith statement. That kind of commitment: who could resist it?
And then, right there in the interview, the doors started to close behind me. During the ride to the airport, the Uber driver had told me that Princeton University students were being sent home. At Trinity, people were rushing in and out of the interview rooms with concerned looks on their faces. Late that day, they announced that Trinity had decided to send their students home as well. Between meetings, I got a text that my employer’s health insurance wouldn’t let me return to Princeton. The world was closing down, and there was nowhere to go.
Except that there was. God had stranded me at a university that already was starting to feel like home. And, in a seeming coincidence, my wife and children were just a 90-minute drive away. Rather than going back to the Vancouver airport, I turned right instead of left and found myself in the arms of my family, quarantined for two weeks in a place that I never wanted to leave.
I never returned to Princeton. I’m still worshipping with my church there, through Zoom, which has been walking with me in this journey. But I’m on campus here at Trinity, in an empty Neufeld building, not entirely sure what just happened when I look back to three months ago. I find myself with a new and exciting challenge at age 55, with an opportunity to grow and to help others grow, in a supportive and loving Christian community.
The road ahead is scary. I don’t always feel inside that I’ll be good enough for this. For the first time maybe ever, none of us know what this very different year ahead is going to bring. But I do know that there is no other group of people that I want to be with right now, holding hands and moving ahead, with faith that God put us here for a reason and with a plan. Three months ago, the road forward looked like a minefield. Looking in the rear-view mirror, the direction signs that were there all along are as plain as day. A year from now… with God’s grace, we’ll get there.
Professor of Mathematical Sciences, Dean, Faculty of Natural and Applied Sciences