A Stranger in a Strange Land? What About Being an Ambassador
by Dirk Pruis '82
I recently received a call from someone I had never met, who asked me two very simple, yet quite profound and interrelated questions: 1) What is it like being a graduate of Calvin, yet living so far from your home and roots? 2) How has living oversees affected your faith?
I had to consider these questions a while as the answers are in some ways very simple and in other ways quite complex. The reason I was asked these questions is that my current home is in Tokyo, so while there may be Calvin grads a few miles further from Grand Rapids than myself and my family, they would certainly be in the minority.
My "read between the lines" version of the questions rephrased is this: What is it like to hold a reformed world and life view and live out in the world?
Clearly, I hope that this is a question that all of us are able to answer no matter what each of our "worlds" consists of or whatever and wherever life has brought us. But my answer in the context of living overseas is that living "in the world" is both extremely individually challenging and yet liberating at the same time.
It is challenging in that I've had to be much more reliant on my individual beliefs and the upbringing and schooling that led me to understand why I believe what I believe, and on the faith and support of my wife and family, and on the fellowship and support of the small churches we've attended while living overseas. In addition, I'm faced daily with a world so unfamiliar to me which needs a great deal of transforming. Yet, it's liberating in the sense that I'm out of my cultural and religious element and therefore, I have more freedom to be creative and react to situations.
Let me provide you a real life example that also includes a little insight into Japanese culture. A short time ago, the mother of one of my colleagues at work died unexpectedly. This gave me an opportunity (and the obligation in the Japanese way of thinking based upon my "standing" at work) to attend my first Japanese wake which is a largely Buddhist event with some Shinto influence.
For me, this was an extraordinary experience and an opportunity for a view into the largely closed Japanese religious experience, or lack thereof. There were three elements to the wake out of custom and tradition. First, there is quite a mercenary angle to it in that everyone is expected to pay a funeral gift (there are literally accountants in the area where you sign in and present the "gift" who are working hard to tally the funds) for which you are also expected to receive a gift in return from the grieving family (in this case the guests received electronic phone cards). The second element was very sad in that the guests paid their respects to the family by entering the entryway of the mourning room where the body was (in the background surrounded by a small shrine and flowers), burning some incense in a small Buddhist idol and bowing to the head of the family. The third element follows immediately where you go to a small room directly above the mourning room and have sushi and beer. This is a time of cleansing of the soul and for the guests to discuss their good memories of times they had with the deceased.
This whole experience gave me the opportunity to question my colleagues as to the history and meaning of everything that went on that night and how this all fit into the Japanese beliefs about God, the afterlife, etc. It became quite clear in these discussions that the Japanese are generally void of any significant beliefs and that much of what drives how they live is pure custom which has been drilled into them over thousands of years.
It also gave me an opportunity to explain to many of my colleagues my own beliefs. It was truly an broadening experience.
My experiences in Tokyo have led me to some new thoughts about the Calvin Alumni Association.
The Calvin Alumni Association serves a unique role in partnership with Calvin College. As alumni, we all have a wonderful opportunity to represent and support our institution in God's kingdom here on earth. The Association's strategic plan is built around 5 A's: Admissions, Annual Fund, Academics, Activism and Ambassadors.
And while all of us can be involved in supporting Calvin in any or all of these areas, let me speak about the last one--ambassadors. I challenge all of you to think back on your days at Calvin. For all of us, it was likely a time in our lives when we were full of life, and going through many changes. For many of us, it was our first venture from the comforts, familiarity and responsibilities of home. Perhaps when you think of Calvin, you think first of the lifelong friends you made or perhaps even the mate you met first at Calvin. Or perhaps most importantly, you first met your Lord and Savior while at Calvin, or you merely got reacquainted with him. Or for the first time in your life, though raised in the Christian tradition, you began to question and understand what it is that you believe and why you believe it.
For all those memories, I challenge you to find a way to become an ambassador for Calvin and give something back to this wonderful institution that in so many different and profound ways has helped to shape your life and by definition the lives of all those around you with whom you work and live.
Let's help make certain this institution continues to be healthy and strong and continues to shape the lives of young people yet to come. There are so many ways to get involved in the work of the Alumni Association where you live. Get involved in planning events or raising scholarship funds in your local chapter, write letters or contact prospective students in your area (let them know what inspired you and why they shouldn't miss the same opportunity), or perhaps help the admissions office staff a local college fair, provide financial support and pray for the faculty, students and administration.
In addition, with today's technology, there's no reason not to stay current with what is going on at Calvin. I certainly feel as connected to Calvin now while living in Tokyo through the ability to check out events and news through Calvin's website, or to exchange ideas via e-mail with administration or faculty as I did while living only a few miles from Campus.
Above all, go out and live the world and life view that binds us together and be transformers of your own world, whether it's large or small. Instead of being a "stranger" be an "ambassador".