Derek Schuurman’s biography

Derek and Carina Schuurman I grew up in a northern suburb of Toronto where I developed early interest in electronics and ham radio. The Bible tells us that God has chosen the “time and place” in which we live (Acts 17:26). I am grateful that I was born in a time that brought the invention of the first computer on a chip, the introduction of the first personal computers, the Internet, and many other exciting technologies that have since changed the world. I tinkered with many of the early personal computers, beginning with a Timex Sinclair ZX-81 (which I purchased with money earned from my paper route) and other early personal computers like the Vic-20, C-64, Commodore PET, and early IBM PC’s. I am grateful that my vocation eventually brought me to a place where I was encouraged to think more deeply about how how faith informs our work in technology. I am also grateful that my earlier years of tinkering as a hobbyist could inspire some of my later work with platforms like the Raspberry Pi, including being able to share my delight in computing with folks in various majority world countries.

Meeting Carina

Derek and Carina Schuurman My wife, Carina, grew up in the Netherlands on a dairy farm (a "boerderij") in the province of Utrecht near the town of Breukelen. My wife and I met while we were still undergraduate students; she was a student at the new campus of Redeemer College while I was studying engineering at the University of Waterloo. We were mutually attracted to each other: a fine arts major and an engineer. In those days, I traveled frequently between Waterloo and Redeemer to visit Carina in my (mostly) trusty, brown, nondescript, 1981 Dodge Omni. These were my first encounters with Redeemer, an insitution whose history would intersect my own in many ways. My wife, Carina, graduated from the first education class at Redeemer College and went on to teach in the small town of Drayton, Ontario where we lived for a time. In subsequent years, we were blessed with four children for whom Carina was a loving and dedicated mother.

Carina had a gift for teaching; in particular, she loved integrating outdoor education into all subject areas. After our children were school-aged, Carina returned part-time to teach in Ontario and later in Michigan, where she was able to pursue her passion for outdoor education. She was a nuturing and much-loved teacher and she touched the lives of many students over the years.

The Move from Industry to Teaching

Derek and robot After graduating, I worked in industry as an engineer, but I sensed a call to teaching and began to ponder what my faith had to do with my work. Carina encouraged me to read about how a Christian world-and-life view might apply to the world of technology and to pursue further education for teaching. I completed my PhD at McMaster University in the area of robotics and computer vision. Eventually, I landed in Christian Higher education, a calling she had encouraged despite being far less lucrative than an industry position. One of our wedding vows we exchanged was a promise to encourage each other to develop the gifts that God had given us, and this she surely did.

I began working fulltime at Redeemer College, where I taught for many years. It was at Redeemer that I came to appreciate the importance of a solid liberal arts core, also for those studying in fields like computer science. Besides teaching, I began speaking and writing about faith and technology and Christian higher education. Carina frequently read and edited my writing, giving thoughtful advice and feedback.

Calvin University But my calling in Christian higher education was not without its upheavals. After some years teaching at Redeemer we found ourselves facing change. We spent a year in Sioux Center where I worked as a visiting professor at Dordt College and then we moved to Grand Rapids where I began teaching at Calvin College (now University). The summer of our move to Grand Rapids was an eventful one — two of our children were married within weeks before we moved. In 2023, I completed 20 years of teaching in higher education.

The Loss of my Wife

Carina Sadly, my beloved wife Carina passed away in December 2023 after an intense battle with an aggressive lymphoma. Her memorial service was based on the words of Psalm 27, a psalm we read at various pionts in her illness and which was used at her profession of faith. Besides being a nurturing mother and much-loved teacher, she was my greatest encourager and friend and helped me develop as a Christian scholar. Carina became actively involved in each of the communities in which we lived: helping establish commmunity gardens, serving as a deacon and in prayer groups, volunteering for the Calvin ecopreserve and for the New2You thrift store, teaching, and being a good friend. In particular, she loved teaching elementary students with an emphasis on outdoor education. She will be remembered for her creative eye expressed in painting, quilting, gardening, and homemaking. Her life was a testimony to a sincere faith, and she taught me that “knowing about God is not the same thing as knowing God.”

Almost two years before she died, she gave a testimony of lament and hope in the wake of the death of her youngest brother, Hans. Her testimony cites Question and Answer 1 from the Heidelberg Catechism: “I am not my own, but I belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ” ▶️. She concludes by saying: “That doesn’t take away the tough questions and hurt around suffering, but it does put them into the wider perspective of hope and thankfulness.”

Her reflections about her brother’s loss now speak to me about about losing her. I wrote a lament for a wife describing my grief. I am grateful to God for giving me a “wife of noble character” as described in Proverbs 31:

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life…

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Proverbs 31:28-30

I loved Carina deeply. The Bible tells us that “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matt. 22:30), but I would still like to hang out with Carina in the new heavens and earth.

Dutch and Reformed Roots

Schuurman family I am also the son and grandson of Dutch immigrants to Canada. The picture on the right shows my family and I standing in the “Grote Markt” in front of the Martini Toren in Groningen, the Netherlands. This was the home-town of my paternal grandparents and where my father was born before they immgrated to Canada. My grandfather (“Opa”) later became the first employee at the Voortman bakery and worked there until he retired. My maternal grandparents originally came from the island of Rozenburg in South Holland and were among the first wave of post-war Dutch immigrants to arrive in Canada in 1947. They eventually settled in Hamilton, Ontario, where they started a potato business. My grandparents helped establish some of the first Christian schools in Hamilton where later our children (their great-grandchildren) would attend.

The Dutch immigrant heritage in which both I and my wife were raised was shaped by the Reformed tradition, one that believed faith was comprehensive and ought to inform every square inch. This tradition can be traced back to John Calvin and St. Augustine, but found fertile soil in the Netherlands during the era when my grandparents were born, in the time of Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. The tradition was transplanted to North America and elsewhere in the later half of the twentieth century, and continues to this day.

Engineers who read philosophy
Drawing by Sean Purcell.

Much of my teaching, books, and writing is informed by this “Neo-Calvinist” tradition. In particular, I have found helpful resources in Kuyper, Bavinck, Dooyeweerd, as well as more recent Reformed scholars. These resources provide helpful tools for thinking about engaging issues arising in modern technology (as an example, see this article on Kuyper and Technology). My wife was the one who originally encouraged me to follow a calling into teaching and writing about faith and technology, for which I am grateful. My hope is that I can help equip another generation (or two) of students to think deeply, act justly, and live wholeheartedly as agents of renewal in the area of technology.