Today (Jan. 14) the spring semester will begin at Dordt University. Students will return to their dorms and apartments, faculty will teach classes, and staff will continue to serve. Our currently quiet campus will become busy. I always look forward to when a new semester begins, but especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues on, I am thankful that Dordt has the opportunity to safely educate students in-person.

A new semester, like a new year, is a chance to begin again. It’s also a chance to reflect back.

When we kicked off the spring 2020 semester, who would have known that we would end that semester with online classes and a virtual commencement ceremony? We couldn’t have predicted that a pandemic would sweep the globe and that, at the start of the spring 2021 semester, we would still be trying to find ways to mitigate spread to provide a safe place for students and employees to study and work. Through all the uncertainty of 2020, though, we found ways to innovate and to trust that the Lord would lead us.

There are many examples of faculty, departments, and individuals who used the fall semester as an opportunity to try a different approach to their work. One such example is of Dordt’s Campus Ministries team, who worked hard to provide pastoral support to students who were in quarantine and isolation during the fall semester. Each Campus Ministries team member had a standing optional Zoom call each week where students in isolation or quarantine could hop on; this included a Zoom prayer time on Monday, a virtual hangout on Tuesday, a Zoom Bible study on Wednesday, and a virtual lunch on Thursday. In addition to hosting weekly Zoom calls, Campus Ministries staff individually called students who were in quarantine to pray with them. They even hired a work study student who wrote encouraging notes to those in quarantine and, at one point, baked chocolate chip cookies. Campus Ministries looked for ways to help students feel supported during a challenging time, and so they stepped out in faith to try something new.

This spring, we will continue to support students as they grow spiritually, academically, mentally and emotionally during their two or four years on our campus. As faculty and staff, we will innovate and think outside the box. And we will make plans — for rest days and for an in-person commencement ceremony. But most importantly, we will put our trust in the Lord because he is the one who ultimately knows what this spring semester will hold.

Students often tell me how much they appreciate how generous and kind the Sioux Center community is, and it’s easy to see why. Thank you for the ways you continue to support Dordt University and the students who call this community home during their college years and, in many cases, stay to build their lives and families here.

Erik Hoekstra is president of Dordt University in Sioux Center.