Last week, AU welcomed former Congressman Pete Hoekstra to campus. Hoekstra, a member of the Republican party from Michigan, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993-2011. Hoekstra came to AU to speak with students, faculty and the community about foreign policy, the time he spent as a member of Congress, and his reflections on integrating faith into his life.
Hoekstra got involved with the Intelligence Committee in 2001 and became Chairman three and a half years later. This position gave him the opportunity to travel to 84 countries and meet with influential leaders from around the world. Commenting on his work, Hoekstra told of a time when he finished reading a newspaper article on the 20 worst dictators in history and asked himself, “what kind of job do I have that I’m meeting with these people on a regular basis?”
Hoekstra spent a great deal of his time here with political science students, university faculty and senior leadership. On Wednesday evening, he gave a lecture entitled “American Foreign Policy: Roaming into the Wilderness?” that all were welcome to attend.
“I invited former Congressman Hoekstra to speak in Chapel and in a class and forum because he has a compelling message of integrating faith in life in the real world,” Pistole said. “Each of us who seek God’s will for our life can benefit from hearing other’s experiences and hopefully be encouraged by their story.”
Hoekstra’s lecture was centered around his beliefs about what a “unique period in modern American history this is.” Since the 9/11 attacks, America has been fighting a war against terrorism and violent extremism. The toll this war has taken on our country is evident. He believes that, as Christians, “we need to spend more time talking about this issue. We need to do it with our eyes open; we need to be informed.”
Realistically, Hoekstra knows that “this is a problem we’re going to be dealing with for a long time. This is a problem your kids are going to learn about. It’s a long-term threat, and we need to be aspirational about how we’re going to defeat it.”
Hoekstra’s hope for our country is that we will become more bipartisan in dealing with these pressing issues. “At one point, we all viewed the world in a pretty similar way, but today it is a very divisive issue,” Hoekstra said. “I yearn for the days where foreign policy was a bipartisan issue, where we all saw the world through similar lenses, viewing America’s role in the same way.”
With the 2016 Presidential race in full swing, Hoekstra shared his hopes for the next leader of our country. He believes it is imperative that they, as well as our country as a whole, “understand the limits of America’s reach into other parts of the world. We are the strongest power on the planet and I believe we’re a force for good, but that doesn’t mean we can go in and change people when they’re not ready to be changed.” He also urges that we recognize that “all we can demand from our leaders is that they learn from their failures and don’t repeat the same mistakes.”
Hoekstra moved the emphasis away from politics when he gave the first chapel talk of this semester, which kicked off a new series called “Integrating Faith in Life.”
He described waking up in the middle of the night in 1992, after a 15-year marketing career, and saying to his wife, “I think I’m going to run for Congress.” He felt an indescribable nudging towards this idea, and decided to follow through after discussing it with Godly influences in his life.
He was running against someone who was already well known within the U.S. government, and Hoekstra was told time and time again that “there was no way someone like me with campaigns like mine would win.” However, he ended with 47 percent of the vote against his opponent’s 43 percent. Reflecting on the situation, Hoekstra said, “Not only are we created in God’s image, but he also has a plan for us.”
Hoekstra’s passion at the start of his career as a congressman was education. After visiting parochial schools in New York City, where kids from rough neighborhoods were flourishing because they were being fed the message of Christ, his goal became to make it easier for parents to send their children to religious schools.
Hoekstra ran to become Chairman of the Education Committee and lost, which seemed like a major setback at the time. Shortly after, however, he was placed on the Intelligence Committee. Nine months later, the 9/11 attacks happened, and Hoekstra spent the next nine years focusing on foreign policy and intelligence.
“God closed one door and opened another,” Hoekstra reflected. “He never gives you more than you can handle. He prepares us for exactly where He wants us to be.”
Hoekstra shared his favorite Bible verse—Esther 4:14, which reads “perhaps God has put you in this place for such a time as this.”
He also offered words of encouragement for those in attendance in chapel. “As you feel that tugging in your heart for peace and joy, and as you search for those values, you can have confidence that God created you, has a plan for you and will never put anything in front of you that He hasn’t prepared you to tackle.”
His advice to students, faculty and the Anderson community was to “remember that the people you’re sitting next to, that you go to school, work or church with, are all created in the image of God, and that should affect how you treat them.”