Director's Desk • Petra: The Other Amazing Story
By Michael Van Denend '78

The astounding Petra: Lost City of Stone exhibit has local, national and international guests amazed that a Christian liberal arts college in Grand Rapids, Michigan, can present such an impressive display. Only three U.S. venues were selected to present Petra: the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Cincinnati Art Museum and Calvin College.

Calvin pulled off this grand exhibition for three reasons. First, the well-known expertise of three Calvin archaeologists — professor of history Bert de Vries, alumnus Neal Bierling and the late college and seminary professor Bastiaan Van Elderen — gave Petra organizers a deep trust that Calvin would handle the exhibit well. Second, the vision and enthusiasm of President Byker, himself well-versed in Middle East issues and history, fueled the promotion, financial support and implementation of this immense undertaking. And third — the less-known story of Petra at Calvin — is the incredible hard work and creativity of Calvin’s own physical plant staff, professional artisans who poured heart and strength into turning the Prince Conference Center into a world-class museum.

Since the Prince Center is relatively new, some alumni and other guests may not grasp the magnitude of the makeover from conference facility to antiquities museum. But as those of us who work on campus enter the world of the Nabataens and their incredible artistic accomplishments, we are also astounded at the creativity and beauty of this “museum within the conference facility.” We know what the Prince Center looked like pre-Petra and now can barely tell where we are in that building as the labyrinth of corridors and displays wind us through the Petra experience.

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Book your time at Petra: Lost City of Stone by calling 1-800-PETRA05 or via

Don’t forget to ask about the special Family Weekend at Petra, July 22-24: There will be programming for all ages at this special Petra weekend. Adults will learn about Petra, wood carving, coffees and photography while your kids/grandkids participate in The Dig, pottery painting, soccer, basketball and even an operatic rendition of Green Eggs & Ham!

The construction, colors, lighting, temperature and security of the exhibition space all had to be accomplished with the minutest attention to detail in a short period of time. And it was — with extra flair.

The exhibit is accompanied by a “Sultan’s Tent” in the Prince parking lot to accommodate special gatherings and meals connected with Petra. Even that tent, with its columns, murals and heating-and-cooling system, is a marvel. In addition, the gift shop that is at the end of the exhibit includes a wonderful set of pillars — referencing Petra’s El-Khazneh (The Treasury) — and these pillars also were the work of Calvin carpenters and painters.

This incredible achievement of Calvin physical plant staff members underscores the importance of these dedicated employees to the college. Calvin is known for the beauty of its campus, the immaculate upkeep and design of its facilities and the awesome amount of work that gets done with its comparatively small crew. The presence of these people is a blessing that helps Calvin present itself well and allows for the educational enterprise to go smoothly — and keeps tuition lower. I make it a point to visit colleges and universities as I travel from coast to coast, and I have found no other campus that is cared for so meticulously.

I encourage all Calvin alumni and friends to see the excellent and entertaining exhibit Petra: Lost City of Stone. And as you go through the displays and marvel at the gifted Nabataens, notice the talent of our own Calvin artisans. They make Calvin shine.