The Gift of an Alliance: The Nyack College-Dalat School Connection

Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other is gold.

The golden alliance that Nyack College enjoys with the Dalat International School dates back to when a sixth grader named George Irwin and a first grader named Harriet Stebbins were two of the school’s first students. When the Dalat, Vietnam school opened its doors in 1929, it was established to educate the children of Christian and Missionary Alliance workers like George’s parents, E. F. and Marie Irwin. As Dalat expanded to offer day and boarding school options, its population became more diverse welcoming people of different faiths and nationalities.

Both George and Harriet, (fondly known as “Hat”), became Nyack alumni (Class of 1939 and Class of 1945, respectively). After finishing his training to become a missionary with the hopes of returning to then French Indochina, George’s plans were derailed by the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Plan B for him was to serve his country in the military. The two Dalat alumni reconnected that same year via letter writing, during Hat’s first year of study at Nyack. A full-blown courtship ensued and they were married on November 28, 1945 at Nyack, after George completed his service in the U.S. Air Force.

The Irwins did return to Vietnam to serve the Vietnamese people as missionaries in 1947 and stayed for nearly three decades. After leaving in 1975, they continued to work with Vietnamese refugees in Canada, the United States and Europe. A reported 40 family members from three generations of Irwins and Stebbinses attended Dalat, including Harriet’s sister Ruth (Stebbins) Thompson (’46), who with her husband C. Edward Thompson (’45) were martyred in the North Vietnamese 1968 Tet Offensive. George and Harriet retired in 1990 and returned to Canada.

Benjamin Tse

Following what started with the Irwins, the legacy of Dalat alumni becoming Nyack alumni continues. The most recent Dalat alumnus is Nyack’s 2019 valedictorian, Benjamin Tse.

This year Dr. Ron Walborn, dean of Alliance Theological Seminary (ATS) and Nyack’s College of Bible and Christian Missionary traveled to Malaysia for Dalat’s Spiritual Emphasis Week, themed “Imagine More.” He spoke to audiences of middle school and high school students in separate sessions and then to combined groups for evening services. His trip proved that while some things have changed (Dalat is now in Penang, Malaysia and Nyack Missionary Institute is now Nyack College), 90 years later there is still a Nyack-Dalat connection. In fact, Dr. Walborn’s visit is said to have rekindled the relationship.

Kirk Ronzheimer

“It was amazing to see how Dr. Walborn connected with the students,” shares Dalat’s Spiritual Life Director Kirk Ronzheimer. “His messages in chapels were deep and challenging and his stories were engaging and relevant. He attended classes and stayed after each chapel session to talk and pray with students. One group, in particular, was greatly impacted by Dr. Walborn’s ministry. The seniors, who are a part of the ministry leadership team, got to dialogue with Dr. Walborn in class and even go out for lunch with him. The highlight of the week was seeing these kids hear God’s voice, feel His presence and reach out to the rest of the student body. Every evening after the chapel sessions these seniors would pray for their peers and even younger middle school and elementary school students who had attended services. Dr. Walborn encouraged them with a word God gave him, “fire-starters,” and these students truly experienced a revival of the fire of God’s Spirit in their hearts—and they passed this on.”

After Dr. Walborn returned to the States, Mr. Ronzheimer, who has been at Dalat for five years, forwarded  an email he received from the parent of an elementary school student who heard the ATS dean speak. It read, “10-year-old in serious night time confidences: ‘Mom, I want to go to Nyack College. He made everything NOT boring!’ That is such a small statement, but I believe it speaks a lot. She is imagining more. Please tell Ron how he was much appreciated!”

Mr. Ronzheimer explained, “Dr. Walborn made an immediate and personal impression on the students. After his first day the students would see him and wave and yell, ‘Hi Uncle Ron!’ The week after Spiritual Emphasis Week, one of my seniors was sitting in class and just exclaimed, ‘I miss Uncle Ron.’ I believe it was Ron’s authenticity that opened students’ hearts to him. His stories were also real, about loving people who need it, even if they aren’t Christian in any way. His message on “Parenting and Learning Like Jesus” really connected with the kids. It was deep, but one senior mentioned to me that she appreciated that Ron didn’t talk down to them like many youth speakers, but rather treated the students like adults and spoke in real-life terms to them about what following Jesus looks like in the real world. These are just some of the reasons our students really connected with Ron and also caught a vision for what life at Nyack must be like.”

The 90-year-old Nyack-Dalat connection is an alliance that has stood the test of time—even war and peace—evidence that Nyack can keep the welcome mat out for more Dalat students like George, Harriet and Ben to join the ranks of the over 32,000 Nyack alumni serving around the globe.