Jenica Groot-Nibbelink’s path seemed clear. Having completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, she was enjoying her work as a ministry intern with the Kuyper Centre for Emerging Scholars, a Christian Reformed campus ministry at Western University in London, Ont.
Although her studies at Calvin Seminary were initially set to begin in the fall semester of 2013, she decided to defer starting her program for one year. She felt called to continue serving in her chaplaincy role at Western for another academic year.
But suddenly, all those plans changed.
On Sunday, March 16, 2014, Jenica had just finished preaching a sermon titled “Seeing God Anew” and was on her way back home when a large truck T-boned her vehicle. The crash left her with several life-threatening injuries, including severe head trauma. Jenica remembers nothing of the several months that followed.
She spent weeks intubated in a critical care trauma unit and months in a coma. When she finally regained consciousness, she needed to relearn everything, from walking to talking and from breathing to eating. Finally, after six months, Jenica was released from the hospital to her parents’ home.
But her healing journey had just begun. Her new, rigorous schedule was dominated by appointments with physiotherapists, voice therapists, cognitive therapists, and hand therapists, plus training in the latest assistive technology. Numerous other medical appointments also filled her weeks.
Throughout her road to recovery, Jenica’s sense of calling persisted. In the fall of 2015, she decided to test the waters to determine how ready she was to begin academic work. Needing to stay connected to her local network of therapists, doctors, and other specialists, Jenica’s original plan of residential studies was now off the table. However, Calvin Seminary worked with her to offer an independent study course through distance learning. The course, Spiritual Formation for Leadership, proved to be affirming for Jenica.
For the next few years, Jenica took one course per semester until the 2020-21 academic year, when she experimented with two courses per term. She’s now on track to graduate with her M.A. in Ministry Leadership in spring 2022.
In Jenica’s view, Calvin’s distance learning program is “an expression of God’s hospitality.”
“The barriers of relocation and transportation are removed,” she explains. “The distance learning program allows you to express and apply theological truths in your here and now, wherever you live (and) breath.”
While Jenica’s story has inspired many, she finds that the stories of her fellow distance students also inspire her. Jenica said it’s often in the “jagged” stories where God is most clearly at work. “It’s in our brokenness where we often discover God’s faithfulness in new ways.”
Jenica is unsure where God will lead her once her degree is complete, although she dreams about possibly serving as a spiritual director at a retreat center. Nevertheless, she’s learned that it can be an audacious thing to claim to know what God has planned. “There is so much mystery,” she said. “His ways are not our ways.”
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