Ecuador. Idaho. South Africa. Iowa. Mexico. This might seem like an arbitrary list of locations, but they have a common denominator. Three beloved Northwestern faculty members have spent significant amounts of time in each of these places.
Professor Rick Clark currently teaches in the Spanish department and has done so for the past 16 years.
Clark spent a large portion of his childhood in Quito, Ecuador. After moving from Quito to attend Wheaton College, Clark taught and coached in Illinois before moving to Southwest Iowa. Clark said as much as he enjoyed teaching at the high school and working as the athletic director, the town itself “didn’t have very much going on spiritually.”
Clark said he felt a pull toward Orange City and was asked to start the public high school’s Spanish program. He had “never had the desire to become a college professor,” and he says that his transition from the high school to NW was because of his love of teaching and God’s hand guiding him from one place to another.
“It wasn’t something I sought so much as God orchestrated it,” Clark said.
He has since discovered a love for college students. At NW, Clark gets to teach, hang out with students and share his faith with them.
“I love being in a place where faith is really important,” Clark said.
For years, Idaho native Ray Gibler wanted to join the FBI. Everything he did was a means to that end. He majored in accounting because most FBI agents study accounting.
“I graduated and swore I’d never step foot in a classroom again,” Gibler said. “I always thought I was going into the FBI, so why would I go back?”
After graduation, he started his first job at an accounting firm in Ontario, Ore. Gibler later moved to Mexico to learn Spanish because, at the time, the FBI desired bilingual agents. For five years, he lived at a Bible college doing mission work, and his desire to join the FBI decreased during this time. Gibler soon realized he was passionate about college students and missions.
“If I have the opportunity to share that with students, even if it means teaching accounting, then I’ll teach accounting,” Gibler said.
After returning to the U.S., he began applying at colleges across the country. The first school to show interest in Gibler was NW.
“Then everything started happening very quickly,” Gibler said.
Within a couple of weeks, he had multiple phone interviews and had three on-site interviews, including one at NW. Within a month of the first phone call, he chose NW. The “commitment to missions, the commitment to Spanish and the atmosphere on campus” drew him here, and Gibler’s ensuing interactions with the students have kept him.
Traveling across the country for a job in small-town Iowa is one thing, but making the trek all the way from South Africa is quite another. Jackie Smallbones, a religion professor, ended up here when the South African economy crashed. Even though she had spent a considerable amount of time in Durban, southern Africa’s largest seaport, Smallbones opted for a change of scenery and began looking for her next position in the United States.
She had initially planned to teach at a graduate seminary program.
“Out of the blue, I was phoned by my predecessor here at NW asking me to put in an app,” Smallbones said. After interviewing, the search committee members decided they did not want an international professor, and Smallbones forgot about it.
A few months later, she was in the U.S. interviewing for another position, which she ended up not getting. Northwestern was struggling to fill the position and decided to offer her a job.
“I didn’t want a college job; I wanted seminary,” Smallbones said. “I didn’t know anything about the RCA. I had no idea what I was coming to.”
Yet come she did. Smallbones’ first task was to redesign the Christian education curriculum.
She then added the youth ministry aspect and came to love working with undergraduate students.