Distinguished Alumni: Harvey Kiekover
Published by Calvin Seminary
Being born and raised as a farm boy in West Michigan, farming was in my blood and a natural goal as a youngster. After graduation from high school, I achieved that goal as I farmed with my dad and ran a milk route as my personal business. I liked my work, but gradually and persistently a vague, unsettling stirring in my soul grew into a conviction that obedience to God required going back to school.
In 1958 I yielded; I enrolled in classes at Calvin College, hoping to become a Bible teacher, someone like my high school teacher Mr. Hero Bratt. That goal shifted in the middle of my sophomore year at Calvin College. Banner articles I read, sermons I heard, challenging conversations I had—all presented the need for pastors, forcing me to consider the “impossible” possibility that God might be calling me to become a pastor.
Again, I yielded to the call; I became a pre- seminary student, taking summer classes to complete the required courses in four years. In September of 1962 I was sitting in Calvin Theological Seminary classrooms, beyond my depth but enjoying theological studies and growing in confidence that I was in the right place doing the right thing. Two summer assignments in Salt Lake City gave me challenging and satisfying practical experience, the second year being especially good because I was there with my bride, Thelma Alberda.
When Rev. Henry Evenhouse spoke to our graduating class in 1965, he challenged us to consider serving as missionaries. His comment surprised and perplexed me: “Right now we are looking for four pastors to serve in Nigeria. We can get doctors and nurses, teachers and houseparents, builders and engineers, but we can’t get pastors.” Wow! Did we have to consider going to Nigeria? When I got home and shared that question with Thelma, she responded quickly and explosively, “What!? You never told me that.”
The more we prayed and thought, the more open to the idea we became. Among the calls we considered, it was the call to Nigeria by our home church, Drenthe CRC, that became God’s call for us. By November 15, 1965, a pregnant wife and a recently ordained minister were on their way overseas. For the next nineteen years, we served in various roles; most of the time we were involved in pastor training, first at Veenstra Junior Seminary and then at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria.
Early in the 1970s, Thelma was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. By 1984, the disabling disease forced our decision to return to the States. We felt deeply grateful for the time we had spent in Nigeria; we felt intimidated, afraid, troubled, worried, and very uncertain about our future as we returned to our “home” country. During that first year in the States, I taught a course at Reformed Bible College, took Clinical Pastoral Education at Pine Rest, and enrolled in a class at Calvin Seminary. Subsequently, Calvin CRC in Grand Rapids encouraged me to consider a call to become their Minister of Congregational Life. On June 9, 1985, which was our twenty-first wedding anniversary, I was installed and began serving as a minister in that position.
Sadly, as Thelma’s condition worsened, it became necessary in 1988 to get professional nursing care. Half of a room at Raybrook (Holland Home) became her “home.” In visiting her, I saw first-hand the value of and need for pastoral care in such a facility. In 1994, Holland Home called me to become its chaplain, a position I gratefully held for about 19 years—the first half full time, the second half part time.
Multiple sclerosis took my wife from me and my sons in 1996, but it didn’t take her from her Lord. I miss her, miss sharing with her the blessing of three daughters-in-law and six grandchildren with a seventh on the way. And I wish she could be here to express with me our deep gratitude for the Lord’s leading and for the role that Calvin Theological Seminary had in shaping our lives for service in the Lord’s Kingdom.
I want to share the following thoughts with the graduates, thoughts I have found helpful in my ministry and which continue to challenge me:
Make the prayer of Robert Robinson (1758) a lifetime prayer: Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing (and preach and live!) thy grace.
Open your heart to God’s love and let that love pour through you as you serve.
Hone the gifts God has given you and use them gratefully. Resist the temptation to envy others and their gifts.
Listen, listen, listen—to God and to those with whom and to whom you minister.
Be responsible for what you are responsible; avoid taking responsibility for what you are not responsible.
In summary, I say with St. Paul: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
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