John Steward of Jesus
  The "Good News" (Gospel) > Archives > Autobiographical


(These writings were gleaned primarily from those required in classes, applications, and resumes.)

Late 1958, age 17

In my opinion the people who have contributed the most to the shaping of my attitude are my parents.  I have lived in my parents' home all my life and during this time they have by their instruction and example given me a Calvinistic outlook which, I hope, will never be taken away.  My parents have sacrificed to send their children to a Christian grade school and high school.  They have given me a love for the kingdom of God and taught me that Christians must not think of their own material gain, pleasures, and luxuries before the kingdom of God.  I have been taught that everything I do must in some way glorify God.  This will affect my attitude throughout all of life and everything I do.  If my parents had not taught me this I would have an entirely different outlook on life and act according to different standards.  Therefore I feel that my parents have contributed more than anyone else to my attitude in life.

Spring, 1961, age 19

Sioux Center is a small-town farming community in northwest Iowa whose population is quite uniformly Dutch and of the Reformed faith.  My childhood and adolescent years were spent in this small town of 2500 near which three of my immigrant great-grandfathers had homesteaded several decades earlier.  Even though I have now learned to appreciate many of the advantages and ways of living in a large city, I don't think I shall ever lose my appreciation for small-town and farming communities, as well as many of the views and ways of living of these common people, including a love for the great our-of-doors.

During the past twenty-five years my father has worked hard in his custom corn-shelling business to provide for his eight children, of whom I am the oldest.  The hard work and Christian training and love of my parents is something for which I shall never be able to repay them.  My father freely admits that giving all his children a good Christian elementary and secondary education is high on his list of values.  We have always belonged to the Bethel Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center and I cannot remember the time when we have stayed home from a church service.  We are a fun-loving family and the many good times we have together may have influenced my desire to enter the teaching profession and thus continue associating with young people.

I received my elementary education in the Sioux Center Christian School and my secondary education in Western Christian High School, Hull, Iowa, where Mr. John LeFebre and Mr. George Pals helped to develop my love for mathematics and the physical sciences, so that now I am majoring in mathematics and minoring in chemistry.  I attended Dordt College in Sioux Center for two years, where I learned to love music, largely because of Mr. Dale Grotenhuis.  I had sung in choirs for a few previous years but then became very interested in music so that now I am minoring in it.

Very early I learned the value of work and frugality.  I was required to do several chores at home and did several miscellaneous jobs in Sioux Center.  I worked part-time in a local grocery store for nearly six years, including three summers.  This past summer I worked for my father in his custom corn-shelling business while attending the summer session at Westmar College, Lemars, Iowa.  The funds which I was taught to put away in these early years have greatly relieved for me the financial burden of getting a college education.

But I also know that hard work must be tempered with recreation.  Hunting, fishing, swimming, water skiing, and snow skiing are especially appealing to me.

Teaching has been my goal for the past several years.  To me it offers unlimited opportunities for service and a continual challenge.  After my graduation I plan to go on to get at least an A.M. degree before beginning active teaching.

November, 1961, age 20

Even though I am interested in almost every academic field, I will try to describe my primary interests in mathematics, mathematics education, physical science, music, and religion.

My interest in these fields goes back to childhood experiences. I shared the interest in mathematics of my father, who, with his limited education, is remarkably proficient in solving mathematical problems. I enjoyed “playing school” and while very young already imagined myself as a teacher.  My father is a mechanic and machinist and my interest in the physical sciences began with the fun I had playing and experimenting in his shop with levers, wheels, and engines.  Although no one in our family is a professional musician, my parents enjoy singing end share a love for music, which I have also developed. I was taught the importance of religion through weekly church end Sunday School attendance and the instruction of my parents,

I began to develop a liking for the academic world during my elementary school years.  School work never seemed extremely difficult to me arid I enjoyed my studies very much, especially mathematics and science. Teaching still appealed to me and I enjoyed helping the slower pupils with their work when I had finished. I studied accordion and piano privately end further developed my interest in music. I was privileged to grow up in a church with a very strong program of religious education and received weekly instruction in Biblical history and the teachings of the church. Religious studies were held daily in the parochial school which I attended.

While attending high school I became reasonably certain that my vocation would be teaching.  My continued interest in the academic world and a desire to work with people, especially young people, promoted this decision.  In my high school classes I found myself constantly evaluating the teaching methods and effectiveness of each teacher and deciding what positive and negative lessons I could learn for my own teaching career.  My interest in mathematics was greatly enhanced through the interest and enthusiasm for mathematics of one of my teachers, Mr. John LeFebre.  My musical interest was further developed through membership in the school choir.  A year of physics promoted my interest in the physical sciences.  Further studies in Protestant doctrine and church history increased my interest in religion.

I continued my studies in mathematics at Dordt College, but it was here that my interest and appreciation for music were greatly developed, largely because of Mr. Dale Grotenhuis, instructor of music.  I was a member of the A Cappella Choir, studied voice privately, and took courses in music.  Here I also began taking professional courses in education and took further courses in religion and chemistry.  But while studying the teachings of the Protestant Church I also began to seriously question them and study the teachings of other philosophies and religions.  Only recently have I become convinced of my beliefs.

At Calvin College I am a member of the A Cappella Choir and have pursued further studies in music.  I have taken twelve weeks of student teaching and am now convinced that I will become a teacher.  Through the education courses I have taken I have become greatly interested in the problems and theories of education.  I have continued my studies in mathematics and have become greatly interested in higher mathematics, through the encouragement of Dr. Paul Zwier and Dr. Marion Snapper.

I feel that I am best qualified to serve my God, my country, and my fellow man as a college teacher and therefore plan to enter graduate school in September to work for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics.  I would like someday to teach in a liberal arts or teachers' college and possibly participate in research projects on the most effective methods for teaching mathematics.  Even though I am still interested in the physical sciences, I do not plan to formally pursue courses in them.  I still have a love for music and feel that it will provide an excellent deviation for me as a college teacher.  I hope to continue participating in music organizations and possibly even direct a church choir or choral group someday.  I place a high value on religion and plan to be an active church member.  Furthermore, I feel that it is my duty to tell others of the joy I have found in living the Christian life.

October, 1966, age 25

I am a son of rural midwestern United States.  Though my father was in business and not himself a farmer, my memories include experiences of chicken feeding, grain harvest, and milking time.  When the busy seasons passed, it was time for hunting, fishing, or the county fair.  In a small town of Dutch people with strong family ties, I experienced friendships with individuals from every age group.  The appreciation of human values which I developed there was sufficient compensation for its limited horizons.  As the oldest of nine children, I soon learned to be responsible.  Religion was also an important aspect of life in Sioux Center.  My interest in theology developed very early.  Occupations of service were highly regarded, which stimulated my interest in teaching or entering the ministry.

Science and mathematics intrigued me as a high school student, and still do today.  Because mathematics seemed as delightful and fascinating as a favorite hobby, I followed the encouragement of my teachers to prepare to be a mathematics teacher.  This I felt would be my contribution to our society and civilization.  The opportunity was open to continue this preparation in a reputable graduate school. 

During my final months in college, however, an agonizing reappraisal of my future convinced me that my field of study would have to be more than a fascinating hobby for me.  It seemed to me that our culture was swinging to an overemphasis of the sciences and technical skills and an underemphasis of the humanities and arts.  The promotion of religious and moral values seemed more urgent to me than my contribution to mathematics.  During the previous summer I had volunteered to help in the summer program of a church in Utah.  After another summer working with a church in New York state, I made plans to attend a theological seminary.

Because my college program would not admit me to Calvin Theological Seminary, supported by my church, I enrolled in Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  There the international character of the student body and the cosmopolitan culture of the Philadelphia area proved to be most enriching.  My small-town horizons were extended.  My interest in Old Testament studies was furthered by two of my professors there--Dr. Edward J. Young and Dr. Meredith G. Kline.

Last year I transferred to Calvin Seminary to meet the requirements for ordination to the ministry in my church.  Serving the church in which I grew up is still my goal.  I feel that advanced work in Old Testament studies will better equip me to serve it in the pastoral, preaching, or teaching ministry.

The study of languages, including Latin, German, Dutch, Greek, and Hebrew, has not been difficult for me.  Listening to and participating in choral musical groups is one of my favorite activities.  I have enjoyed traveling and serving during the past four summers as assistant to the pastors of churches in California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Quebec, Canada.  I find it exciting to think of the prospect of studying in the Netherlands next year.

As a possible contribution to a doctoral program, I would like to study the theology of the Old Testament in the theological school of the Free University of Amsterdam for one year.  There are not many graduate schools in the United States which emphasize the study of Old Testament theology.  Many of those in which the Old Testament department is strong emphasize the study of archaeology in relationship to the Old Testament, general Near Eastern or Mediterranean studies, comparative histories, linguistics, or the higher criticism of the Old Testament.  I am interested however in the theology of the Old Testament.  This has received more emphasis in the European schools,  Therefore I would like to study at the Free University under such men as Dr. Nico Ridderbos.

Furthermore, I have a personal interest in the Netherlands.  All my relatives,many of my friends, and a large segment of the people in the church in which I hope to minister, are of Dutch descent and therefore speak often of the Netherlands.  But I suspect that much of their knowledge of the Netherlands is based on the customs and thought of the people who lived there when their ancestors left fifty or seventy-five years ago.  Therefore I feel that I could contribute to better international understanding by learning of the culture and people in the Netherlands today, and also by giving the people in the Netherlands the friendship of a present-day American.

March, 1971, age 29

My life up to this point can be discussed conveniently under three headings--eighteen years as a student at home, seven years away from home while in college and seminary, and four years as a teacher and married man in my own home.

I lived the largest part of my life until now in or near the small town of Sioux Center on the Iowa prairie.  I experienced very early a strong sense of both family and community history.  As an oldest child I remember three of my great grandfathers and one great grandmother, who was living when I entered college.  Until recently all my grandparents were living; two still are.  From them and others in the community I learned much about our heritage as Dutch people, particularly those of the Reformed faith.  The people I knew as a youngster had a love for the land and farming, which went back to their homesteading fathers, a frugality strengthened in the depression, and were coming to realize the increased prosperity which the war brought.

Living on a farm near my grandparents and two aunts for my first five years with no playmates near except for the frequent times when cousins came to visit, gave me more interaction with adults than with my peers.  Perhaps this helped me to become rather independent and spoiled in some ways.  Being the youngest in the class throughout school and having no brother nearer than eight years to my own age may have furthered this pattern.  On the other hand, I did have good times with the neighborhood boys after we moved into town.

As the oldest of nine children, I learned responsibility early in sharing family care.  This was furthered as I grew in the atmosphere of a strong work ethic by mowing lawns, painting, raising rabbits, working for many years in a local store, and operating my father's machinery.

As the youngest in the class, and not well coordinated, I had little success in athletics.  My success was obviously academic, which led me to like school.  I also developed an interest in music through family and church experiences, took lessons for many years, and still enjoy it.  Partly because of a high school teacher, my academic interest focused on math, which later became my specialty.  With my parents, grandparents, and a pastor, he was one of the important people in my life.  The religious influence in my life was strong, through my church and private school training.  The strong emphasis on service to others was one of the important factors which led me to teaching as an occupation, and even to a strong consideration of the ministry for some years.

When I think of the people in Sioux Center, I would like to live there.  When I remember the limitations and restrictions of their life style, I reconsider.

After leaving Sioux Center I spent seven years in college and seminary at Grand Rapids and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  I made the adjustments necessary for the give-and-take of cooperative life in an apartment of students.  I learned to appreciate the advantages of urban living.  I became more psychologically independent and certainly more mature.  Though my college training was in education, I considered entering the ministry and completed seminary before beginning teaching. 

While in seminary in Philadelphia I had one of the most enjoyable and broadening experiences of my life--living and studying with a group of students almost all of whom were from backgrounds different from my own--from almost every kind of Protestant background, as well as Catholic and non-Christian.  I came to know those from China, Korea, Japan, Australia, India, Africa, Wales, Scotland, Canada, and other places.  It was invaluable.

While completing seminary in Grand Rapids, I enjoyed the company of the lovely young lady who is now my wife, Mary.

After completion of seminary, marriage, acceptance of a teaching position, and, later, the purchase of our own house, I have in this time of my life come to feel a part of the adult community with all its joys, problem, and responsibilities.  I am learning and enjoying what it is for husband and wife to complement each other.  I feel a part of what is happening in our neighborhood, church, and city.  After completing a master's degree through summer and evening courses, I have recently enjoyed a somewhat lighter schedule, which gave me time to develop some skill in snow skiing.

I have mixed feelings about Michigan weather, but enjoy the varied landscape with its farms, trees, hills, rivers and lakes.  Grand Rapids is large enough to give one most of the benefits of urban life, yet not so large that it overwhelms.  We are near the open country, and slightly distant from the New York to Chicago commerce corridor.  I may stay here.

I would like to further share the love and contentment I find at home.  I would like to be a part of the future as well as the present.  I am conceited enough that I want to expose someone from a future generation to what little I have learned about life.  I want the stimulation which comes from exposure to a younger mind to prevent my thoughts from petrifying.  I want to adopt.

August 18, 1980, age 40

August 18, 1980

I would like to reflect with you for a few minutes on our ties to .the past and our ties to the future. This seems appropriate for several reasons. We are celebrating the 40th. anniversary of Mom and Dad's wedding. It is through our families that we are linked with our ancestors in the past and with our children in the future. Last year I walked on the land which our fathers left in the 1800’s-- in Groningen, Gelderland, North and South Holland. After living several places in our country and seeing significant changes in process, I have recently returned here to my home town, where changes are also in process, and where I address these remarks to you--my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, my son and daughter, my people.

When our fathers came to this land their memories included the plea of the man with the sword, who had said to their fathers,

Follow me, I will protect you and care for you. I will keep all your gold in my storehouse. I will store all our arms in my castle. We will all be safer that way. I will let you plow some of our land so that you may grow food for all of us. I will give you some of the food you grow, and in my benevolent wisdom distribute the rest. I will lead your sons into battle against the enemy so that all of us may live in peace.

When our fathers came to this land, they were not seeking a man with a sword who would promise to protect them, to assign to them the role and place to which they were best suited, to feed them if their crops failed, and to provide for their widows and orphans.

Our fathers asked instead for the freedom to put their hands to the plow, the freedom to reap the crops which their God provided through their labors, the freedom to exchange those crops for other goods of value, the freedom to share the risks and rewards of their work with their families and their people, and the freedom to pass their land on to their children, so that their children too could live as the prophets, priests, and kings which their God called them to be.

Our fathers did not come as social individualists. They looked for their people, who listened to the man with the Word, the Word which called them to a life of faith, and obedience to their God, their God who called them to care for the widows and orphans, while saying to the man who could, but would not, work, “You shall not eat.” Our fathers knew that their widows and orphans were better left in the hands of their people than in the hands of the man with the sword.

In our age the call of the man with the sword has again been heard for some time. His ancient plea in each age seems somehow remarkable new:

Follow me; I will protect you and care for you. I will put all our arms in my armory. We will all be safer that way. I will put all our gold in my storehouse. I will give you colorful slips of paper and declare them to have more value than the barbarous metal. I will ration out the use of our land so that it may be used in ways better than you can arrange for yourselves. Give me my share of the crops you harvest each year, so that I in my benevolent wisdom may distribute them to those who are needy. Give me my share of the land before you pass it on to your sons, so that I may give it to those who deserve it more than they do. I will lead your sons into battle against the enemy, so that all of us may live together in peace.

My brothers and sisters, my father and mother, my son and  daughter, my people---Will we answer the call of the man with the sword, or will we, with the help of their God, listen to the voices of our fathers?

June, 1985, age 44

We want to set up a program of home-schooling so that we can exercise, with minimal interference from human rulers, our God-given responsibility and privilege of training and nurturing our children in the ways of the Lord.

We have read books and articles which present the academic, social, and psychological benefits of home study.  Some of these are convincing to us.  However, none of them are more significant than what we believe is the original responsibility which is ours for being the primary teachers of our children.

We believe parents should not look for substitutes or agents to replace them unless there are good reasons to do so.  Because we do not have such good reasons, the immediate responsibility remains with us. 

We believe, in summary, that the burden of proof rests with those who believe that parents should hire or permit substitutes to do the work of teaching their children.

September, 1988, age 47

My faith pilgrimage has some parallels to that of Moses:   
(I) Godly parents and educational privilege;
(II) A lack of trust which led to a crisis of insecurity;
(III) Years of withdrawal and reflection
(IV) Call to a ministry.

I.    My early years were spent in Sioux Center, Iowa, where my faith was nurtured by believing parents and grandparents. Good preaching in the local church, and caring teachers in the local Christian school were also helpful. Regular reading of Scripture and a serious effort to live an obedient life were patterns which I developed. Some questions of conscience gave me much anxiety. Pastor Venema was especially helpful during my high school years, when I made a public statement of my faith in Christ as Savior and Lord.

I was told many times that I would make a good preacher. Yet I intended to become a teacher, because of a 1ack of confidence, and an unwillingness to abandon myself to the leading of the Lord. An interest in special Christian ministry persisted, however. I volunteered for the Summer Workshop in Missions programs in Salt Lake City, and Monsey, New York. When I graduated from college, it seemed clear that I should prepare for the ministry.

Because I had not taken a pre-seminary course, Calvin Seminary required that I return to college. My pastor, a graduate of Westminster Seminary, suggested that I go there, which I did. There I started a four-year course. I enjoyed wonderful fellowship with Christians from many denominations from many countries. From the humble, dedicated teachers I learned the value of a thorough and disciplined study of the Scriptures. During the summers I worked in churches in Scotstown, Quebec, Middletown, Pa., Baltimore, Md., Trenton, N.J., and Monsey, N.Y.

Intending to enter the Christian Reformed ministry, I transferred to Calvin Seminary, to meet the ecclesiastical requirements. There I completed my seminary work. I spent a summer assisting in the C.R. Church in Sacramento, Ca.

The C.R. Church requires all office-bearers to sign a “Form of Subscription”, which declares that one heartily believes all the articles in the three creeds of the church. I came to realize that I could not in good conscience sign the form. I did not make final application for the ministry. The form has twice since then prevented me from accepting nomination. I did once sign “With reservations” and served for three years as elder, but never felt right about it.

Loyalty prevented me from considering other denominations. I taught school for five years. My wife and I helped as members to plant a new C.R. Church, The Church of the Servant, in Grand Rapids.

II.    While teaching, my thoughts began to focus on declining enrollment, lack of seniority, and on monetary rewards in other fields. I thought I could find greater security in business. I went into real estate, where I was apparently "successful”. Scenery and weather brought us to San Diego, where the crisis came.

The immediate cause of the crisis was rising interest rates, which crippled the real estate business. But other factors converged. When the transitory nature of business success became evident, I realized that there had been an emptiness in the achievement of monetary rewards. I had not experienced the growth in the fruits of the Spirit as I had earlier. The temptations of the old nature were getting stronger. I was not being a good spiritual model for my children. The security I had sought for my family had come to be an empty shell. It brought a state of humility and repentance.

III.    After the crisis we moved back to Iowa. I did extensive reading, going from finance to economics to politics to spiritual matters. After some efforts to effect change through political and legal structures, I realized that only the kingdom of Christ offers real hope to people. My studies also decreased my interest in much of modern business. I worked as a farm laborer for five years. Further study led me to the conclusion that Christ calls us to overcome evil with good, never with violence. We joined a Mennonite Church at Freeman, S.D.

IV.    Feeling the call to use my gifts in Christian ministry, I made myself available through the Newton office. The call of the Glendale Mennonite Church was accepted. Here my gifts for ministry have been affirmed. Glendale is a diminishing rural congregation of older people, who have recently come to a harmonious discernment that the congregation should discontinue sometime soon.

September, 1991, age 50

(Part of a letter to the Secretary of the General Conference Mennonite Church)

Recently my beliefs and actions have moved toward consistent non-participation in state governments. My citizenship and allegiance are limited exclusively to the kingdom of God the Creator and his Son, Jesus Christ.

Because my non-participation in state income tax and license programs has made me unacceptable to this congregation, my term as pastor here will not be extended beyond December, 1991.

As I consider future possibilities, I realize that my commitment also restricts the circumstances in which I can support the relationship which a congregation has to state government. Therefore, to help me discern where I may he led to minister in the future, I have a request for you.

Please tell me whether there is any place within the fellowship of the General Conference Mennonite Church for a congregation of Christian believers called into existence as a living organism by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, under his rule and authority, not called into existence as a religious corporation by the creative power of a state legislature, not subject to laws regarding state corporations, and not participating in, nor contributing to the treasuries of, any state-chartered corporations, nor agencies legally subject to state-chartered corporations.

(April, 2007 P.S.  The Secretary, in a cordial response, said he did not know of such a congregation.  Since 1992,  I have been blessed to  enjoy the work of painting houses, a work I first learned from my maternal grandfather.)