For as long as I can remember, I knew that I wanted to use my life’s work in the service of others. As an incoming freshman to Hope College late in the last millennium, with a fairly strong academic record and an interest in the natural sciences, that seemed to add up to a career in medicine. In fact, not until halfway through Hope did I take my first psychology course (thank you Kristen Gray!) As a core curriculum requirement, this course sparked a fresh level of interest in the social sciences and opened new possibilities for a career in the helping professions.
In many ways this shift was freeing because it aligned more closely with my passion, personality and calling. It also, however, represented the first of many difficult decisions that required me to evaluate the tension between impact and income. Coming from a middle-class family of four children and as the first in my family tree to complete a bachelor’s degree, I received support in many ways. But I also bore a significant portion of the financial burden of college myself. As I finished at Hope and looked to enter the workforce, my options in the field were somewhat limited and none of them offered a significant income. In fact, as many of my friends and classmates landed lucrative first jobs with attractive perks like company cars and cell phones (a relatively new novelty at that time), my best offer within my field was working direct care at a children’s home making $8.88 per hour!
While I was excited to make a difference in the world and am grateful to this day for the many experiences, opportunities and relationships that followed, the reality was that our early years were challenging. My wife, Tina, and I attempted to navigate the milestones of getting married, buying our first home and starting a family, while accepting modest incomes and being weighed down by student debt. In time, I was able to obtain some invaluable experience and the graduate degree requisite for opening additional doors in my field. Eventually, I made my way into private practice counseling.
Then, just as we began settling into this next phase of life, we were again confronted with the nagging sense that more was available to us by choosing less. We prayed that God would draw us further into His will and allow us an opportunity to continue serving Him with our lives, depending on Him and teaching our children what it means to live for Him. God answered our prayer by providing an incredible, unexpected opportunity to serve Him on the foreign mission field. In an even more beautiful plot twist, we had the opportunity to serve alongside our best friends and respective roommates from Hope. Sharing this experience forever cemented our families. During that time, we all had to learn to rely on God and His people for our provision, which he graciously offered in abundance.
Ironically, I made my last student loan payment while living in Zambia, nearly 15 years after graduating from Hope. I couldn’t be more grateful to God for my Hope experience and the many blessings and opportunities that followed. Hope College is woven into so much of our story. After service in Zambia, I returned to private practice and am focused on building a team of professionals who can address the growing mental health needs in West Michigan. I am especially concerned about the skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression among our young people.
This past year, we took two new major steps forward as our oldest son enrolled as a freshman at Hope, and Tina returned to our beloved alma mater in the next phase of her career. As she invests her talents to support the Hope Forward initiative and we re-engage in the life of Hope, I wonder what doors will be opened for so many current and future students who will be blessed with the chance to be a blessing in our world. Free to choose a career based on calling, passion and vision rather than burdened by the increasing weight of education costs. Free to make a difference.
Kevin DeKam ’99
Lead Therapist, West Michigan Wellness Group