If you mention the name Loren Van Tassel to any of the international students at George Fox University (GFU), you will probably get the same reactions from them: a big smiling face and plenty of compliments.
Loren, almost 79-years-old, is one of the oldest professors on campus, and teaches biblical knowledge to the students with no Christian background.
Loren was born in his grandparents’ farm house, in a rural part of Oregon; he lived in a forested area where wild animals roamed. Coming from an agricultural background and being fully interested in the subject drove him to want to study agriculture and work for Future Farmers of America.
Loren earned his master’s degree in Zoology at Oregan State University. One day, he prayed before he went to the lab section of his Bio-Chemistry class. “God who do you want me to be partners with?” He stood there and waited. “A short girl from Thailand came to me and stood here and so we became friends.”
It seems like God already had a plan for Loren. When he was in college his roommates were from Hong Kong, and he went to the Chinese-Christian fellowship. Then he started working with international students, which opened up his vision to the world. He never expected to live in a big city working with people from around the world.
When Loren was planning to attend Washington State University for his Ph.D. in Bio-Physics he did not pass, instead he was invited to assist in a course for nursing students. He discovered in that situation that he had a gift for teaching. He thought he was going to teach for the rest of his life, but at the time he gradually realized that God was calling him to Christian ministry, and he found out that he wanted to focus on something more significant than biology, and that is people’s spiritual life and the Bible’s message.
“I am a shy, introvert and coming from the rural area, but God was bringing these influences into my life and that gave me confidence. I was always so unsure of myself before. God gave me affirmation through people around me,” said Loren. “It’s ok, I can change.”
About that time Loren met his wife Sylvia, a woman who he found common ground with, and a woman who was willing to go abroad to preach God’s message with him. They left home and went to Hong Kong. For 23 years, the couple dedicated not only their time but also their stamina to churches and schools in Hong Kong. When the churches started getting more and more independent, and they didn’t need foreign missionaries very much, Loren and Sylvia decided it would be better for local people to take over the leadership entirely.
Their journey to the other countries did not just end there. A few years later they went to Guangzhou, China to teach English for three years.
“It was a highlight in our lives because it was so easy to make relationships,” he said. They started a Bible study at their apartment, and several of the students who joined their Bible study became Christians.
When Sylvia started the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and losing her memories, this was the hardest period of time for Loren. Her health was getting worse and worse and Loren had to take her to the health care center.
“She was mad at me, but I had no choice. I could not take care of her by myself,” he said while looking at the floor. Even during that time, Loren was keeping his classes and helping his students.
About seven years ago, George Fox University started a Bible course for mostly international students who have no Christian background. Because some international students were not doing very well in other Bible classes, they talked to their advisers to see if the school would offer pre-Bible class for them. After having so many years interacting with people from different countries, Loren was the first person that school considered probably would be the best to teach this class.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, Loren comes to class early and prepares for his class, writing down the notes with his frail hands on the board and organizing the chairs carefully for students to get better views. He waits for them while whistling his favorite songs. It was hard for him to teach this class at first, but throughout these years he is just only improving his teaching skills and building intimate relationships with his students.
Besides teaching international students, Loren has been holding Bible studies for students and visiting scholars for many years in Newberg. He also devotes most of his time to international students when any of them need help. He not only remembers all his students’ names, but also their difficulties. Their joys are his joys, their burdens are his burdens.
Building an environment and inviting students to come is something that he loves and enjoys to do. “I am very blessed to have the privilege for this many years with these opportunities to build relationships with international students, the very kind of people I love the most,” Loren said. “This is a gift that God gave me.”
He loves this gift so much, but he knew he had to be realistic because he is not the only one who could do this. And he needed to be ready to turn it over to somebody else who is younger and has more energy. When that time comes , he will do this, even though he knows it will be hard.
“I came to America for a couple years and I have met a lot of nice people, but he is beyond nice,” one of his student said. “I consider him as part of my family here in America; I know he is getting old and his health is not as good as before. I just want to pray for him to be with us international students forever.”