Calvin College has become a more diverse place.
There are students from 40 countries and professors from 15 nations. Languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Swahili and Arabic can now be learned in a Calvin classroom. The most anticipated student-organized event of the school year is Rangeela, the international student arts revue. The college’s commitment to diversity is detailed in the From Every Nation statement (FEN), calling Calvin to be “always vigilant in recognizing racism, always conscientious in promoting reconciliation, and always active in the work of restoring a healthy multicultural community” (p. 8).
Many years prior to FEN, however, students of color came to Calvin College, blazing a trail before the college understood the significance of their enrollment.
These were courageous young men and women, called by God to attend what was then an overwhelmingly Dutch-ethnic college. My wife, Loni, and I had the privilege of visiting two of these amazing people.
Overlooking a small flowering canyon, Silas and Helen Cheuk have carved out a beautiful plot of earth upon retirement in Carlsbad, Calif.
Silas recently completed a successful career as a family physician; Helen as a kindergarten teacher. They came to Calvin in 1958, from Hong Kong via New York City, where the Rev. Paul Szto had established a ministry for Chinese immigrants. They heard about Calvin and made the trek to Grand Rapids.
“Our life has been blessed by God,” said Silas. And it is obvious that Silas and Helen have been a blessing to others.
They were married two years after enrolling at Calvin. “We lived on Thomas Street for $60 a month,” Helen recalled.
Silas took pre-engineering coursework, mainly because he didn’t think he’d have the financial ability to make it through medical school. He finished those courses in 1961 and then went on to the University of Michigan, hitchhiking from Grand Rapids to Ann Arbor and back every weekend for classes—until Calvin engineering professor Jim Bosscher found out he was doing so.
“Professor Bosscher picked me up every weekend,” said Silas. “That helped a lot. Calvin gave me a great foundational education.”
Silas remembers the engineering classes with Bosscher and how pre-med students were taught “discipline in studying” from Professor Henry Bengelink.
Helen went on to teach kindergarten, first at Lee Public School in Grand Rapids and then for 36 years in the Lincoln Park School District in suburban Detroit. Silas, assured by friends and family he would be supported in his medical ambitions, went back to Calvin for pre-med classes, graduated from Wayne State Medical School and spent his career as a family physician in Dearborn, Mich.
Silas began working in a start-up free medical clinic in Detroit Chinatown for 20 years, eventually receiving the Spirit of Detroit and International Heritage Hall of Fame honors from the local community.
In addition to medicine, two abiding passions have been a part of Silas’s life: singing and sharing the Gospel.
He has been conducting and singing tenor solos for many years, still takes voice lessons and recently was selected as the soloist in the Chinese Christian Chorale’s presentation of Handel’s Messiah (a bad cold prevented him from performing, though).
Silas and Helen are also involved in the I Love China organization, which sends teachers to mainline China to teach English conversation to high school English teachers—and also provides an opportunity to witness to their new friends about Jesus.
“Our dedication to Chinese schools is the key that opens the Gospel door,” said Silas. “We go there because of God’s love. Our friends there know why we come.”
The Cheuks raised money for a school dining room in a community near Helen’s hometown. “It is important to give back to one’s community,” said Helen. “Relationships are the most important thing in China, and the smaller villages and their schools usually don’t get this attention and support.”
Silas and Helen Cheuk came to Calvin before any saw a diverse student body as an important reflection of God’s kingdom. Their lives have been a powerful testimony to the ideals that FEN articulates.
After Helen gave us a tour of the beautiful menagerie of fruit trees around their home, Silas asked if we wanted to hear a song. Loni sat at their piano and played the introduction to Santa Lucia. Silas began to sing—beautifully.
Calvin has a long way to go to realize the vision of FEN. But there are many alumni voices out there that can point the way. May more of them be heard.
Michael J. Van Denend
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