I sometimes wonder what I’m going to do when I grow up. I used to get asked that question all the time when I was younger. People don’t ask me that much any more, but I still think about that question. When I graduated from high school and went off to college, I didn’t have any specific plans to go into social work — in fact I hardly knew what social work was! I just had this sense that I wanted to work with people. My first job was working in a treatment centre with very troubled children. I always knew in my head that there was a lot of misery and pain out there, but in this job, for the first time in my life, I came face-to-face with that misery and pain haunting the eyes of children I came to know and love. In my idealistic naiveté I got angry and blamed these children’s parents who seemed to me to be irresponsible and terrible people. I had so much to learn!
After about five years of work in residential child and youth treatment, I was ready to go back to school. When I made plans to quit my job and start an MSW program, I recall one of the teens (let’s call him Alex) asking me why I was leaving. My answer was that I wanted to work in the “system” so that kids like him wouldn’t have to end up in places like this.
That’s what I found out social work was about; that I could focus on changing and helping not just individuals, but the system, too. After my MSW I had the privilege of joining Better Beginnings, Better Futures (www.bbbf.ca, an innovative prevention demonstration project funded by the province of Ontario) as a community site researcher with a team of researchers from five universities. From there I took a position as a research associate with the Faculty of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University where I worked on multiple research projects in child welfare and family services.
I loved my work as a community researcher, and I was actually doing what I had told Alex: I was working to prevent kids like him from ending up in “the system.” But God wasn’t finished with me yet. I happened upon a job posting for a teaching position in a BSW program in a small Christian college in the Midwest. I had never thought about teaching, and some colleagues were skeptical that I had the necessary qualifications, but when I saw that ad, I had this strange conviction that I knew I was going to get that job. While putting together my application materials, I saw a thread of coherence in my varied experiences that I had never noticed before, and which gave new and personal meaning to Ephesians 2:10: I am God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do the good work of teaching and research in Christian social work programs, which, unbeknownst to me, God had been preparing in advance for me to do.
I got that job (who was going to stop what God was doing?), and have now been working in social work education for more than 15 years. God has given me the tremendous privilege of joining with wonderful colleagues in shaping and forming new generations of Christians in social work in both the US and Canada. I discovered NACSW in my first year of teaching and have been a member ever since. NACSW has been a tremendous blessing to me by providing a network of convicted Christians in social work education and practice who share a passion for equipping Christians in social work. In addition to these relationships, NACSW has given me access to a wealth of resources, and even provided outlets for me to contribute to these resources through its publications and conventions. I am honoured (Canadian spelling!) and humbled to serve now on NACSW’s board – although I still sometimes wonder what I’m going to do when I grow up!
After time in the field and in social work research, Jim V. has been teaching at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Canada, for the last 7 years (and at Dordt College the previous 9 years). He has been a member of NACSW since 1998.