After working with Dordt for nearly four years, Aaron Baart, Dordt College Dean of Chapel, is encouraged as well and excited about the spiritual growth he’s seen and continues to see around campus.
“(The campus) is catching up to … the Holy Spirit,” Baart said. “I’m a spectator of what God is already doing.”
As Baart’s job changed from chapel speaker to Dean of Chapel in 2009, he said that he was already seeing God “stirring the waters” and transforming the students’ spiritual lives through an increasing involvement in Campus Ministries.
“When I came to Dordt, I felt like my primary job was to help create the platform and structures to catch up with the radical call of the gospel that the students were already feeling and sensing. (That was) a big part of what drew me to this position in the first place; I’m completely blessed and fortunate to be invited to be a part of that.”
Baart expressed a deep interest and anticipation for the seniors — they were freshmen when he first began speaking at chapel — preparing to graduate: “People come in (to Dordt) with a sensible, subdivision home with a white picket fence picture of what they’ll do when they’re done. In the time that they’re here, (students) imagine something bigger, more substantial, more kingdom-oriented.”
David Miedema, a senior, said he has experienced growth in his spiritual life while attending Dordt; his excitement was clear as he shared the fact that he sees people looking forward to going to chapel at 11 a.m. in the middle of the week.
“My faith has definitely matured and grown. I think we’re having individuals really step up as leaders (who) are leading this community (and) helping a college-wide push to campus ministry,” Miedema said.
Dordt’s chapel is not mandatory, yet, every Wednesday, it normally has more than 600 people — at times, 1,000. In 2008, however, chapel-goers were averaging 75-80 people, Baart said. He contributed this shift to the change in class times, the service structure, and the overall vision.
“(The faculty) decided not to make chapel mandatory. (They) decided to make it significant. The vision was to have chapel be a centering conversation,” Baart explained.
His response: “I can get behind that. Sounds like fun!”
Baart’s response goes much further than simply enthusiasm; the action he takes in his preaching and ministering around campus takes a different route than some may expect: listening.
“I try to ask a lot of (questions) and listen — figuring out where are our hurts, where are our needs. When you are asked to preach, you are asked to give a voice to a conversation that God’s already having with his people; you’re not saying something new, really, you’re just asked to give a voice to the questions and the discussion (people) are having with the Lord,” Baart said.
Emily Vande Griend, a Dordt College graduate and Student Services staff member, said she thinks the community of Dordt is great and essential.
“I think it’s really important that we all gather together … as staff and faculty along with students; it’s an awesome way to show our Christian community and be engaged,” Vande Griend said.
Vande Griend said she also noticed the shift in student involvement on campus: “From when I was a student to now working here … I can tell there’s been more passion and participation in worship.”
When asked if his personal faith had grown while at Dordt, Thaddeus Van Essendelft, a sophomore, immediately responded, “definitely.”
“I’ve been making my faith more my own; Dordt provides opportunities to help you grow,” Van Essendelft said.
Not only has Baart seen growth in campus involvement, but also healing within the student body. He shared a story from this semester of a group of students admitting to harmful addictions. Baart’s eyes shone as he explained the brokenness and healing these students experienced as they were able to “break those chains for the first time ever.”
“I’m not trying to create concepts or talk about new things; I’m talking about present reality,” Baart said.
Justin Knot, a Dordt graduate, said he has seen a “huge change” on campus. “I think the biggest thing is that the campus has become more relational,” Knot said.
He continued and said that campus ministries have become “more focused on inviting everyone to come” and creating “a platform where we are able to speak directly to God.”
Some faculty members have told Baart that “Dordt College has never been healthier than it is right now,” he said.
“What else do you do but say thank you? Those aren’t things you can create,” Baart said. “We’ve just been really fortunate. I think God’s asking us to do new things.”
Anna Stadem, Staff Writer