After twenty-three years at Bethel, our friend Ruben Rivera has decided to retire at the end of December. Before becoming the university’s chief diversity officer in 2014, Ruben served as a history professor, teaching courses like Latin American Civilizations, Minorities in America, Hispanic Christianity, and Christianity in Western Culture.

We’d love to hear from many of his former students in our comments section below or on social media, but to start our celebration of Ruben’s remarkable career, we’re happy to get things started with some reminiscences and reflections from colleagues — plus a few primary sources.

Ruben in 2005, as he appeared in a video introducing CWC faculty – Bethel Digital Library

“Neil was the department chair when Ruben was hired, and from the first Ruben was a cheerful, flexible and hardworking member of the history department. But he was initially determined to hold on to his California identity. For Ruben, that meant elegant, smooth-soled shoes. We winced to see him slip and slide as he walked to his car during his first Minnesota winter. When Ruben broke down and bought solid, slog-through-the-snow boots, both Neil and Kevin Cragg were relieved. They had been afraid that Ruben would quit if he didn’t adjust to our serious winters.” (Neil and Virginia Lettinga)

Two of Ruben’s most popular courses, as described in the 1998-99 Bethel Catalog – Bethel Digital Library

“Ruben was the first of six colleagues that I welcomed to the department. I remember well his in-person interview and meeting Anita. I am grateful that they both braved Minnesota and stayed to serve so fruitfully the Bethel community and the Twin Cities. Ruben’s insight, compassion, and neat-as-a-pin office will be missed. Blessings on him and Anita as they embark on the next exciting chapter in their lives.” (Diana Magnuson)

Ruben with History colleagues Amy Poppinga and Diana Magnuson before a Bethel commencement ceremony.
Courtesy of Bethel Communications and Marketing

“I was a CWCTA in the late 1990s when Ruben Rivera first came to Bethel and joined the CWC teaching team. From the very beginning he injected the course with his own point of view and teaching style. To me, Ruben was always a teacher who brought a lot of enthusiasm and energy into the classroom. He did fun, kind of gimmicky things like getting students to stand up and sing songs like “We Will Trent You” [click below] and “Evil is the Absence of Good.” More importantly, however, he never shied away from confronting students with really hard questions. He challenged students to take Catholic Christianity really seriously. He challenged them to view events which might seem frozen in the amber of history — like the American Revolution or 16th century peasant revolts — from multiple points of view. He cared for students, and he wanted to push them to think more deeply than they already were.

When I came back to Bethel to teach CWC with Ruben, he showed himself to be a really generous and supportive colleague. He definitely helped me to learn to be a teacher. He would spend time after class and after meetings talking with me and making me feel welcome on the teaching team. He was interested and invested in me and my development. And for that I cannot thank him enough.

In short, he was and will continue to be a really great teacher.” (Sam Mulberry)

Recording of Ruben leading CWC students in singing “We Will Trent You”

“Encouraging Ruben to consider becoming Bethel’s chief diversity officer was one of my best ideas as department chair — and one of my worst. “Best” because Ruben has proven to be such an effective advocate in Bethel, its denomination, and the Twin Cities for diversity, shalom, and what he likes to call “remarkable Christianity.” (Here’s a post on those topics that he wrote last year.) “Worst” because it meant that I’d see less and less of one of the kindest, most irenic people I’ve known in academe. Ruben was generous enough to keep teaching a class or two in the History department, but even after the CDO job became too big to maintain a partial course load, he still brought a teacher’s patience and a historian’s empathy to his work as an administrator. In any role, he cared deeply for his students, his colleagues, and the mission of the church in the world. I’ll miss Ruben, but wish him and Anita grace and peace as they take on new challenges together.” (Chris Gehrz)

If you’d like to share your own words of recollection and reflection in the comments section below, we’ll make sure they get to Ruben.

5 thoughts on “Announcing Ruben Rivera’s Retirement

  1. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to be a student of Professor Rivera for multiple classes and work with him as a CWC TA. I can resonate with others’ comments about how much I have benefited from his challenge to take various Christian cultures as seriously as my own. He has significantly shaped how I engage with others in the global and historical church. He pushed me and my classmates academically as well as spiritually, all while creating a uniquely enjoyable learning environment. And because of him I will forever use “x” as shorthand for Christ. 🙂

    – Cody Bishop, Grad Winter 2015

  2. I got to know Ruben when he joined Bethel as a faculty member and worked with him on a number of projects related to diversity as my administrative role changed. I admire him very much, as a teacher, certainly, but simply as a great human being who is deeply a disciple of Jesus. I’m grateful for his career at Bethel, both for how he has worked with students and changed their lives and also how he has participated in changing the institution.

  3. Ruben had a tremendous impact on shaping who I am today. I couldn’t possibly count the number of times over the years that I’ve thought back to his Minorities in America class. I don’t know if I ever thanked him for this role he played in my life, so let me do so now. Thank you Ruben. Incredibly proud and eternally grateful to have learned from you.
    – Brandon Marcott ’07

  4. I went to South Africa with Ruben on the Haita! South Africa trip in the summer of 2009. It was a transformative experience and I enjoyed getting to know Ruben on that trip. He was kind, wise, and fun. I didn’t have the opportunity to take a class from him (which I now regret!), but I learned so much from him on that journey together. This is a huge loss for Bethel. I wish Ruben all the best in his retirement and whatever else he chooses to put his energy into next.

    Naomi Thorson Krueger ’10

  5. I started as an undergraduate at Bethel around the same time that Ruben began teaching, and I took Minorities in America and Latin American History as he was developing those courses. What stands out to me after these twenty years is how Ruben showed what a prophetic presence in the classroom could be. Getting the history right meant facing the urgent moral questions posed by the past and recognizing their impact on the present. Getting the history right meant not turning away from the good or the bad. Getting the history right meant finding ways to live now with the accumulated choices of generations. I am so grateful for him, and I continue to reflect on his model in my own teaching.

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