Outstanding Service Award • James Lamse

James Lamse
Dr. James Lamse coordinated a work-exchange program between Calvin and the German Federal Employment Office for more than 20 years.

Jim Lamse is afraid he creates a “hectic stir” everywhere he goes. “I sense that people want to run from me because of what I might ask them to do next,” he says, with a chuckle.

But with students claiming life changing outcomes from the experiences Lamse helps organize, he believes the hectic stir is worth it.

For more than 20 years Lamse has headed up a work-exchange program between Calvin and the German Federal Employment Office which provides in-depth intercultural work and living experiences for American and German college-age students.

“When I began my studies at Calvin, I would never have envisioned my life to have taken the path that it has,” wrote Natasha Bajema ’97, in nominating Lamse. “I am convinced that my experiences on the work exchange program are directly tied to my current success.”

Such outcomes are what make the countless volunteer hours Lamse puts into the program worth it, he said.

As a German professor at Calvin for 31 years, Lamse first began helping Calvin students find summer work in Germany through an offer by the German Federal Employment Service.

“It is Germany’s cultural policy to gain goodwill by bringing foreigners to Germany and having them see what it’s like on site,” he said, “rather than having them run around with these incessant Nazi video clips in their head. Germans are often portrayed as the awful mad scientists, and the German government is working to displace those myths.”

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After Calvin students had been taking advantage of this offer for a few years, Germany’s Federal Employment Center asked to make the program reciprocal.

So since 1982, Lamse has personally arranged the paperwork, housing, transportation and work experience for 400 students — 184 Calvin students to Germany and 216 Germans in the U.S.

Lamse picks up or arranges for pick-up of each foreign student at the airport. He helps them get a Social Security number, arranges for the purchase of a car, assists with insurance and registration, takes them to their host family and helps them get settled into their place of employment.

“I do it all on an individual case basis,” he said. “I have developed all kinds of strange contacts. I pound the pavement every summer to get jobs; I do a lot of begging and a lot of praying.”

Because of Lamse’s efforts here, his contacts in Germany are willing to make similar arrangements for the Calvin students, although Lamse is often called into service there as well.

“As a selfless servant, Professor Lamse has contributed immensely to German-American relations and has welcomed the strangers among us with open Christian arms,” wrote colleague Barbara Carvill. “For the German officials in Frankfurt and the participants from both sides of the Atlantic, he has been and still is a tireless, energetic and dedicated witness to Christ’s love.”

Lamse is quick to point out that all of his efforts require the support of others, however.

“So many people have jumped in and supplied lodging, jobs and logistical support,” he said. “I am so very aware of the support of others — employers, co-workers, host families, students, friends that help out here or there — that it makes it hard for me to accept this award. It’s as though I drop orphans on people’s doorsteps, and they take it from there. I accept the award as a way to thank and recognize all of the others who have been involved in this program.”

Lamse retired from teaching at Calvin three years ago, but continues his service with the work-exchange program. “They haven’t found anyone to take it over,” he said, “and it’s such a good program, I just can’t let it die. Students develop a lot of character by living and working in another culture. I know they walk away thinking, ‘If I can do this, I can do anything.’”