Calvin alumnus Dave Holzhauer ’01 is in South Sudan working for Samaritan’s Purse as an emergency relief coordinator. The Sudan does not garner as much attention as other countries receive, despite the desperation evident there. Holzhauer is eager to draw our eyes (and hearts) to this part of the world.
Tell us about your Calvin experiences.
I decided to attend Calvin after visiting my older sister who also attended Calvin. I knew Calvin had a great reputation among Christian colleges, and it was a great fit for me. One of my favorite classes was in economics with Professor Rick De Vries. The class gave me a taste of global economics and seeing the world on more of a macro level than I did growing up. A number of my closest friends at Calvin were from Africa. Hearing where they were from, where they had visited, how they had lived life differently, all of those things made me want to get out and see the world.
What did you do after graduation?
After graduation I spent a few months in Costa Rica and then moved to D.C. to work for a nonprofit experiential education program specializing in law, defense, intelligence and diplomacy. I worked with that organization for a few years and had my eyes opened to how America’s foreign policy is shaped. I then taught foreign policy and international relations curriculum to high-achieving honor students. Before coming to Samaritan’s Purse, I also spent a few years in banking, lived in the Dominican Republic for two years working with orphaned and abandoned kids, and then another two years in inner-city Chicago working with at-risk youth. I’ve spent the last five years at Samaritan’s Purse working in about 10 countries.
Share an interesting story with us.
One of the most emotional and spiritually difficult places I worked was in Greece. Our team was on the shores of Lesvos Island as rubber boats full of dozens of people would be crashing into the shore, and you just saw thousands of people with absolutely no possessions, soaking wet, trying to get out of a boat and on to dry land. These people had traveled for weeks through so many countries, and they were just exhausted.
“I think it's clear in scripture that God calls us to care for the suffering.”Dave Holzhauer
I was at the border of Greece and Macedonia one day as we were handing out food, and a man approached me smiling and laughing and saying he remembers me. I couldn’t remember who he was, and he proceeds to pull out his phone and on it, he has a picture of me and him together in Iraq! He was one of our Syrian volunteers who helped pass out Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to refugees in Iraq, and here he was two years later in Greece. That moment hit me very hard, realizing that for years this man’s life has been a progressive movement from refugee camp to refugee camp, country to country, and his journey was nowhere close to being done.
What are you doing now at Samaritan’s Purse?
Currently I’m in South Sudan working as the emergency relief coordinator. There are nearly 2 million displaced people from the civil war and nearly double that number who are at risk for food insecurity. My job entails overseeing programming that provides programs in health, nutrition, agriculture and food distribution. I was in South Sudan from 2011–13 and then left to work in our Iraq office for another six months. I then transferred to our headquarters where I did emergency response work in Ukraine, Russia, Nepal, Iraq, Kenya, Greece, Hungary and Croatia. These last three were in response to the refugee crisis that began to receive a lot of press in September 2015.
Tell us about the current situation in South Sudan.
The situation in South Sudan currently is quite severe. There is widespread food insecurity, which has led to record levels of malnutrition. The country was recently recovering from a civil war and violence again broke out this past July between the government and opposition forces. Hundreds were killed and an estimated 80,000 South Sudanese have fled to nearby Uganda for safety. The political environment is incredibly tense, and the United Nations is working to send additional peacekeepers to the country to help restore order. Pray for those in South Sudan.
How does your faith come into play in your work and life?
I think it’s clear in scripture that God calls us to care for the suffering. This can be done in so many ways, and for me, God has gifted me to work in high-stress environments. As a Christian, I see the chance to give humanitarian aid as an expression of displaying God’s love, not simply as giving out food or water. We collaborate with local churches in many of the countries in which we work so that the church is strengthened because there will be a time when all the expatriates will leave and in the end, above all else, God’s church should be built and his glory known.
Calvin challenges its graduates to be “agents of renewal.” Do you consider yourself one?
To say that I am agent of renewal seems an overstatement. As a Christian, I want to be part of God’s renewing plan for the world, and in some small way, this is my way to help further that renewal. But more than being an agent myself, I think what I desire is to help empower others to become agents of renewal, others who have lost everything and just want the chance for a life of freedom and opportunity.
What have you learned in your work?
I have learned that the world is not a fair place. There are a lot of dark things that happen, and the effects of war traumatize for generations. I have learned the generosity of those who are so poor materially, yet still give so generously. I have learned that God has created a beauty inside of people that shines out even in the most difficult of circumstances. I’ve seen God empower and restore people after they have been attacked by ISIS, experience civil war or any natural disaster. But I have also learned that there will be deep pain in the world until Christ returns, and we have to put our hope in that. It can be easy, very easy, to be overcome by the hopelessness I see in so many countries, but I have to trust that God’s redeeming plan for the world will come one day.