* Dr. John Ruter

Allan Armitage Professor of Horticulture
College of Agriculture and Environmental Science
Director, Trial Gardens at UGA

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Dr. Ruter’s Spiritual Journey

Have you ever been on a trip that you were excited about only to get there and realize you are in a different world? That happened to me when I moved to the southern U.S. from southern California to begin my graduate studies in Tennessee. I had heard of “the Bible Belt” but didn’t really understand what that meant. It didn’t take me long to figure out that most people’s life journey who grow up in the south seemed to have some type of church background. My journey is somewhat different in that at age 25 I could still count the number of times I had been in a church on one hand.

Church, Bible stories, Sunday School, etc.. were not part of my childhood. My grandmother had a Bible and said prayers before going to bed at night, and I knew my high school Vo-Ag teacher went to church, but that was about it. I don’t remember having friends that went to church nor that there were many churches in my home town (or I wasn’t paying attention). It wasn’t until I got to college that I began to interact with students who attended church and said that they were Christians. Unfortunately I was turned off by people who would preach one thing and then turn around and do the opposite.

It was while working on my Master’s degree that that I began thinking about spiritual matters. My major professor had spent his teenage years evading the Nazi’s in the Netherlands during WWII. I spent many evenings with him listening to his stories and hearing about the pain he suffered. Because of the atrocities that he had witnessed first-hand he did not believe there could be a God – who would allow such evil to exist?

During this time at the University of Tennessee I also began to realize that success did not lead to happiness. I was very driven to succeed as a teenager and young man. I discovered horticulture in the 7th grade and was working in a wholesale nursery by the time I was 14. All through high school I was active in FFA and won many certificates, awards, and competitions and success continued thru college. At age 22 I put most of my efforts into leading our college team to perform well at a national competition. All three of the teams I coached won, and I was fortunate enough to win top individual in all three competitions! I was on top the world for about an hour and then reality set in – what next? I crashed – what was I going to do next to find peace and happiness?

When I got to the University of Florida to work on my Ph.D. a crisis happened that I believe God used to finally get my full attention. I was diagnosed with some health problems that were potentially serious and would require surgery. After surgery I would need help with recovery. Let’s see – I’m a new student at a new school and my family lives 2500 miles away – confusion – yes, stress – yes, peace – no. Not a good place to be.

Not knowing what to do, I shared my situation with my major professor. He offered to take me to and from the hospital on the day of surgery and said that he and his family would look after me until I recovered. Not that surgery was fun but I had a wonderful week becoming part of their family. Over the months I became like a big brother to their two children and would often spend Sunday afternoons with them. What a blessing to have to be taken in by this family, who also happened to be followers of Jesus.

It wasn’t long until I was invited to attend church with my new family and sat in on my first Sunday school class. It was a little embarrassing when they asked me to read certain passages where Jesus had spoken and 1) having never read the Bible I had no idea where to find said verses, and 2) when they got me to the right page I had no idea that I was to read the parts that were highlighted in “red”. After the lesson God further got my attention when the discussion turned to Satan and the influence he has on the world. I had always heard the saying “the devil made me do it” but never gave it much thought. I began to ponder things – here I go to church with this really nice family and everyone my age is worried about the devil. What’s going on?

During this time in my life I stopped in to visit a fellow graduate student and his family one night. He was hosting a Bible study group and invited me stay. I attended for a few weeks when out of the blue I received a Bible from my grandmother in California. That was pretty cool. But this whole concept of Satan remained on my mind. One afternoon I went with my friend and his family to the beach and while we were out body-surfing I asked him what he thought about the subject. We talked for a long time and discussed God’s plan for mankind to have a personal relationship with Him. He explained to me the biblical concept of sin that causes a separation between God and man. He told me of the good news that Jesus had died to pay for the penalty of sin (which is spiritual death) and rose from the dead as proof that He could forgive my sin. He concluded by saying I had to personally receive Jesus in order to experience God’s forgiveness and begin a relationship with Him. Then he made a statement that has stuck with me to this day – “you have been told and you have a decision to make”.

I still wasn’t sure about this “decision” but I kept attending Bible studies and church. Then came Easter Sunday, 1989. At the end of the service when the opportunity was given to respond to the call to trust Christ, I wasn’t sure why but I just knew that I had to walk forward and talk to the preacher. I sat down with the associate pastor and my major professor and at that point placed my faith in Christ as my Lord and Savior.

That was half a life-time ago. Over the years I have been blessed with a wonderful wife and three children who also follow Christ. While I have had the opportunity to serve the Lord in many ways my current point of service appears to be on campus. Students in particular have noted (in a positive way) that there is something different about me, that I am often happy and peaceful. Does God expect us to be happy all of the time? – no (“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven… there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” Ecclesiastes 3:1,4). However, we have God’s promise that he hears our concerns, is close when we are brokenhearted and will deliver us from our troubles (Psalms 34:17-18). The Bible also states that we should “let our gentleness be known to all men” and that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5,7).

In closing I’ll share two quotes from the Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren that resonate with me – “You are not an accident. Your parents may not have planned you but God did. He wanted you alive and he created you for His purpose. Focusing on yourself (looking inside) will never reveal your purpose in Life. You were made by God and you were made for God. And until you understand that, Life will never make sense. It is only with God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny.” “What a God we have!… Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future home in heaven and the future starts now!”