A monograph by Dr. Donald Luidens of the Hope College faculty depicts a region in transition as it chronicles the experience of two young missionaries beginning their career in Iraq during the closing months of World War II.
“Seeds of Hope, Seeds of Hate: A Love Story (Begins)” is a global story, but also a personal one. The missionaries, the Rev. Edwin and Ruth (Stegenga) Luidens, were his parents. The 106-page volume, forerunner of a larger book on which he is still working, was published earlier this summer by the Van Raalte Press of the college’s A.C. Van Raalte Institute.
The book’s title reflects the contrasting dynamics of the era. “They went over at a time when the British Empire was collapsing, the war was raging in Europe and refugees were flooding the region,” said Luidens, a professor emeritus of sociology who retired in 2014 after teaching at Hope since 1977. “It was a time of unease and angst, and yet a time of optimism and hope.”
“Missionaries themselves brought a sense of that optimism and hope, and were welcomed and appreciated for helping the people through schools and hospitals and in other ways, but at the same time they carried with them the baggage of being part of the Western world that had created huge frustration and anger,” he said.
The project is based on letters and articles written by his parents. Although the full book, which Luidens anticipates will take another two-three years to complete, will cover the first decade of their time in the mission field, the monograph focuses on the years 1943-46, during which time his parents courted; were married; traveled to Basrah, Iraq; and began their evangelistic service abroad. Luidens lived much of the subsequent period himself—he was born in Bahrain in 1947 and subsequently shared life with his parents in Iraq, India and Lebanon.
The monograph, which features more than 40 illustrations, is derived from an address that Luidens delivered in September 2015 through the Van Raalte Institute Lecture Series as an update concerning his work on the project.
Highlights of Edwin’s and Ruth’s experiences shared in the book include: surviving a harrowing trans-Atlantic voyage in the midst of WW II; finding their way through the maze of rumors and refugees which characterized war-time Lisbon; and traveling across the Mediterranean to Cairo, Haifa, and finally Baghdad and Basrah, Iraq. Their early days in Iraq led them into very different spheres: Ruth found herself spending a great deal of time in harems, learning about the domestic lives of upper-class women. At the same time, she ministered to very poor folk, marveling at their resilience in the midst of poverty. Edwin, meanwhile, was mastering the labyrinth of Iraqi, British colonial and Allied military bureaucracies. The rich descriptions in their letters home reflect their growing affection for the Iraqi people, an affection which lasted a lifetime.
Edwin and Ruth met as students at Hope, from which they graduated in 1940 and 1942 respectively, and their parents were also Hope alumni. Luidens followed them to the college, graduating with a history major in 1969.
Luidens, whose research interests include the sociology of religion, began working on the project shortly before retirement, having inherited the materials several years previously following the deaths of his parents (Edwin died in 1989, and Ruth in 1977). His parents, in turn, had received them from Edwin’s father, the Rev. Anthony Luidens, who carefully saved the letters that his son and daughter-in-law sent home. Since retiring, Luidens has continued his research and writing as a visiting research fellow and senior research fellow with the Van Raalte Institute.
Luidens is the award-winning author of five other books and of numerous scholarly articles. He co-authored the book “Vanishing Boundaries: The Religion of Mainline Protestant Baby Boomers,” which received the 1994 “Distinguished Book Award” from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and co-edited “Rethinking Secularization: Reformed Encounters with Modernity,” “Reformed Vitality: Continuity and Change in the Face of Modernity,” and “Reformed Encounters with Modernity: Perspectives from Three Continents.” With Hope sociology colleague Dr. Roger Nemeth and colleagues from Calvin College, he authored the book “Divided by a Common Heritage: The Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America at the Beginning of the New Millennium.” An article he co-wrote with Nemeth for “The Church Herald” received an “Award of Excellence” in the 1998 Awards Contest of the Associated Church Press. Through the years he received or co-received a variety of external grants in support of his research.
He is also an acclaimed teacher. In 1987, he received the “Outstanding College Sociology Teacher of the Year Award” from the Michigan Sociological Association. The graduating class awarded him the “Hope Outstanding Professor Educator” (H.O.P.E.) Award in 2003, and the college presented him with the “Janet L. Andersen Excellence in Teaching Award” in January 2014. In February 2014, he spoke through the “Last Lecture Series” at the invitation of the college’s chapter of Mortar Board. In addition to teaching on campus, he led students on study-abroad programs in both Japan and Palestine/Israel in the 1980s.
Following his undergraduate years at Hope, he earned a master of divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1972, and a master’s and a doctorate at Rutgers University in 1974 and 1978 respectively.
Established in 1994, the A.C. Van Raalte Institute is located in the Theil Research Center at 9 E. 10th St. and specializes in scholarly research and writing on immigration and the contributions of the Dutch and their descendants in the United States. The institute is also dedicated to the study of the history of all the people who have comprised the community of Holland throughout its history. Since its founding, the institute and its affiliated scholars have published approximately 40 books.
“Seeds of Hope, Seeds of Hate: A Love Story (Begins)” is available for $10 through the college’s Hope-Geneva Bookstore. The bookstore is located on the ground level of the DeWitt Center, 141 E. 12th St., and can be called at 800-946-4673 or 616-395-7833. Additional ordering information may be obtained by e-mailing the Hope-Geneva Bookstore at firstname.lastname@example.org.