Rockbridge Academy Blog
One year ago, Mr. Northup retired from teaching at Rockbridge Academy after being diagnosed with brain cancer. Mr. Northup greatly impacted my life so when I was given the opportunity to write about his life, I took it. This article is dedicated to Mr. Northup and his family for their 17 years of love and support of Rockbridge Academy.
I know many of us are wondering how he is handling the cancer, but more so why he, of all people, got cancer. Mr. Northup was one of the greatest Bible teachers I (and all of Rockbridge) could have asked for. He displayed his faith in every word and deed, and his love for his students and the subjects he taught was unmatched so, why did Mr. Northup get cancer? This question can be restated in this infamous question: why do bad things happen to good people?
That was my main question for Mr. Northup, and he answered it. Before I reveal exactly what he said, make sure to actively look for the providence of God in Mr. Northup’s life throughout the rest of this article.
Mr. Northup was born in Rhode Island and moved to California a year later. At eight years old in California, he dreamed of becoming a real-life Tarzan but he had two problems preventing him from becoming the rope-swinging monkey-man. For starters, he lived in California, and one cannot be Tarzan when climbable objects are limited to a “cactus and a palm tree in the backyard.” This problem was solved when he moved back to Rhode Island the same year where trees grew as commonly as the California cacti. His other problem was more serious: he needed a Jane, but where to find the perfect girl? He did not need to look far; across the street lived the future Mrs. Northup, Merry Dupre. Mr. Northup said that from a young age he knew he was going to marry her. If she made a great Jane, which she did, then she would make a great wife. Obviously, he convinced the girl across the street that he was worth keeping around as they have been married for 27 years and have had five children.
Mr. Northup’s youth in Rhode Island involved street fights and big older brothers. Our teacher was small for his age but hotheaded. He was known for roughhousing and the kids on his street beat him up multiple times. However, they stopped picking on him after Merry’s brother began looking out for him. Her brother was big and strong with a statement 70s hairstyle, a mohawk.
While Mr. Northup had his fair share of fighting, he also spent a good amount of time in church. He was brought to church as a child, but only began searching for God in his teenage years. He told me that, “Everyone at church had a testimony but I didn’t.” Mr. Northup decided to change that by becoming a rebel until he had a good story to tell.
Mrs. Northup said this time was short lived once they had their first child, Samuel, when he was 17 and a daughter, Nadia, at 18. With two children and little stability, Mr. Northup decided to start bringing the family to church, but he made a mistake and joined, as he called it, a “cult” instead. The church that the Northup family joined preached that one’s salvation depended upon their daily missionary work. One had to share the gospel every day to a random stranger to secure their own salvation. Mr. Northup realized that this teaching did not match his understanding of the Bible from his youth. The dissonance between his understanding of the Bible from childhood and what this church was preaching lit his heart afire for God and truth.
Mr. Northup was hungry and curious to know God’s word, so he sought out the youth pastor from the church he grew up in and began a mentoring relationship with him. To make ends meet he worked as a mechanic until he pursued seminary at age 20. He brazenly decided to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. At first, the college rejected him but that did not stop our teacher. He caught a flight from Rhode Island to Chicago to meet the admissions board face to face. He told them, “I am going to come, but how do I do this?” Seeing the passion of this young teacher changed the hearts of the board. Mr. Northup’s grades were not great, and he was behind in the necessary schooling, but his heart was ready to tackle any obstacle presented to him. The college offered him a deal: he would take night classes until he was ready for full admission into regular daytime classes. Eventually, Mr. Northup worked his way up to those daytime classes and even earned a full ride. During this time, he moved his family out to Chicago and received free housing from a nearby church in exchange for his cleaning services. His living costs were low, so he only had to provide food for his family. Thankfully, the window washing business was booming and he received a job cleaning windows for around $100 an hour.
Here, Mr. and Mrs. Northup had their third child, Josiah. After finishing college with a wife and three kids, he moved back to Rhode Island, desiring to impact children’s lives. He first thought about working at summer camps, but a week or two was too short to create a lasting impact. He then considered becoming a pastor, which he did for three years, but he still wasn’t achieving his goal of teaching children. He decided to change careers once more and become a teacher.
The first and only school Mr. Northup taught at was Rockbridge Academy. When deciding where to teach, Mr. Northup and his wife asked the question, “Who do we want our kids to be?” They came upon this one, strange way of teaching called classical Christian Education. They fell in love with the idea of teaching children with a focus on the liberal arts but centered around Christ. Mr. Northup told me concerning classical Christian Education, “This is the way Christians ought to be training their kids.” The Northups found a classical Christian school called Rockbridge Academy which they thought embodied the classical Christian spirit and teaching they desired for their kids. Mr. Northup applied to work here and hit it off with the school board, landing the job for a Bible teacher. He served at Rockbridge for a total of 17 years and during this time, had two more children, Luke and Emma. I asked him which Bible class he enjoyed teaching the most and he answered, “Christ in the Old Testament . . . We get to explore the question ‘where specifically is Christ?’”
Sadly, as we all know, Mr. Northup has left Rockbridge and pursued treatment for his cancer. He said that in these hard times, his wife, Merry Northup, has been his continuous rock and constant companion, a true helper. He is also very grateful for the time he can now spend with his immediate family and his three grandsons. God’s providence, which has shown itself time and time again, is clearly woven throughout Mr. Northup’s life. God has provided in countless ways from protection in his youth to free housing in college and ultimately a job at Rockbridge Academy. To end this story, I want to provide you with Mr. Northup’s answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” He said, “This sounds cheap, but I don't think that people are good; I think that God alone is good and He's gracious. I don't expect that I should get things because I'm good or because I'm not. He is. That's one part. The rest is grace. He's been gracious to me with everything from my family to provision. I don't expect that I should be taken care of. Everything is grace. I am grateful for the provision of my family. I can't do anything more than simply be grateful. I don't know if that's the right way to think about it, but that's what I think.”
Hannah Bates is currently in 11th grade and a member of the Rockbridge Review (student-run school newspaper) editorial team.
Faithfulness over time works wonders in the heart of man. This past summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to experience this firsthand. I traveled to Budapest, Hungary for a month with the Navigators, a worldwide Christian organization.
I learned so much from this trip, but I learned something special—that Hungarians take friendship very seriously. Once you make friends with a Hungarian, you will be friends for life. Because of this cultural norm for friendship, ministry in Hungary is relational. This basically means forming relationships and building trust are a necessary part of sharing the gospel in Hungary.
One sweet example of spiritual conversations stemming from relational ministry happened when my team and I took a trip into the mountains of Slovenia with twenty-three Hungarian college aged students. In most of their minds, this was just a really cool summer camp opportunity. For my team, it was a gateway to relationships, trust, and spiritual conversations. One day, my group was sitting in a beautiful grassy field at the foot of a mountain. As we waited to begin hiking, we split into pairs to discuss the question, “What is trust?” I was paired with Martzi, a student in school studying psychology. He typed me as an extrovert five minutes after he met me. (Who would’ve thought Sarah Williams would be typed as an extrovert? I was proud of that!) I had talked to him a good bit before, so when it came to this question, we were able to jump right in. Martzi is not a believer, but he shared with me that he liked this community because they were different. He felt like he could trust us immediately. “You are all such good people,” he said. “My other friend groups aren’t like this.” As the conversation went on, I explained to him why I am able to trust at all. “Because I put my trust in Jesus,” I said, “I no longer need to lean on my own understanding. He fills my heart, and he is more than I could ever imagine or desire. When Jesus directs my path and I trust Him, He multiplies my ability to extend trust to others and be vulnerable.” Martzi nodded, and we continued talking about his experience in the Christian community. It was such a special conversation stemming from shared trust in one another.
Another example of a memorable conversation happened about a week before we left to return home. In Slovenia, I became friends with a girl named Anna (pronounced like Anna in Disney’s Frozen) who is a fairly new believer. We met on the first day of the camp and after a few days she came up to me and said, “I know we’ve been joking around a lot, but I would really love to be real friends and get to know each other better!” This was so encouraging to my heart. Trust had been built. From that day on, we spent lots of time together. We talked about many things, including the importance of having Christian friendship and community. A few days before I left Hungary, I asked her what she thought of our team coming into her community and then leaving after only a month. “It just seems strange to be here, make friends, and leave,” I said. She looked at me and said something I won’t ever forget. She said, “Just because someone is in your life for a short period of time does not mean that you can’t make a difference to them.” She continued, saying, “It’s like if the people in your life were beads on a necklace. Just like each bead makes some sort of change to your necklace, every person you meet makes some sort of change to you. Even if you only spend one week with someone, you have the ability to make an impact. The bead that represents you on their necklace will never be unthreaded. Therefore, every interaction you have with another person, for however long, is special and important.”
Just because someone is in your life for a short period of time does not mean that you can’t make a difference to them.
I thought about what she said the whole way home. Every interaction I have is an opportunity: an opportunity to impact lives for Jesus. We know the good news of the gospel. In Christ, the joy of Jesus should pour out of us to everyone that we come in contact with. He can and will use us to be the bead in someone's life that makes a difference for the kingdom when we surrender everything to Him.
The best part about this is that you don’t have to travel halfway across the world to do relational ministry! Though I highly recommend that Rockbridge students consider short term missions work, it is first vital that we as Christians and as the Rockbridge community start by focusing on the way we interact with those we see every day. Faithfully showing Jesus to those around us is such a beautiful way to glorify God and enjoy Him. I urge you to think about the way you can share Jesus with those around you. Not just once, but faithfully. Not to build yourself up, but to humbly serve the Lord and build His kingdom.
If any student is interested in learning more about short term missions or what the Navigators ministry looks like on a college campus, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please feel free to reach out with any questions! I would love to have a conversation with you.
Sarah Williams, '20, is in her third year at Clemson University. She is studying psychology and business management and is planning on pursuing Biblical counseling. She is thankful for the Lord's providence in allowing her to have such beautiful communities both in Maryland and South Carolina.
In the fall of 2019, I danced through the halls of Rockbridge with a head held high and a smile secured, for I regarded myself as the early bird who had “gotten the worm.” Before senior year started, I ordered my path for the next season of my life. I applied to the College of William and Mary to study English in W&M’s Joint Degree Programme with the University of St. Andrews; I was accepted and ready to attend before the new year. Even Covid-19, when it came, could not diminish my eagerness for my neatly-crafted plan.
A Zoom bible study early in the pandemic directed my attention to Proverbs 16, particularly verse 9: “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” While I nodded along to my peers’ reflections regarding the Lord’s sovereignty despite the virus’s disintegration of man’s plans, my heart stood secure against the truth of the proverb. Blessed, as I was, with rich resources of fellowship and support through my family and the Rockbridge community, I felt little of the pandemic’s mutilation until I left for school.
My first semester revealed not only the virus’s disintegrating effect but also my own pride in planning. By my calculations, if I could only attend a prestigious school, participate in an international program, and do so while achieving good grades and making good connections, I would arrive at a state of accomplished contentment. My efforts, I imagined, would yield happiness.
I completed my supposed prerequisites. Still, my desired result–satisfaction in my work as a student, as well as contentment and spiritual peace in my everyday life–evaded me. When I worked harder, I felt even more discontent.
Upon return after my first semester, the truths I had attempted to scurry away from found me out through various unexpected pathways, such as subbing for my mother’s fifth grade class and working in children’s ministry at my church. Simple truths that I taught to children–including verses like “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want” and ideas like “God is in control” and even “Jesus loves me, this I know”–riddled my sense of self-sovereignty.
Over the course of several months, I learned to listen to the Lord as he led me “in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Such listening prodded me to consider that perhaps I, with my perfectly-ordered path towards success, could be mistaken.
Our culture feeds us the notion that mastery over one’s own plans is inherently good. Such self-actualization sates the human hunger to declare oneself “master of my fate, captain of my soul”–a hunger that has been grumbling since Adam and Eve tasted the bitterness of sin. Yet the myth of self-actualization cannot provide sustenance for life or satisfy the soul.
As Augustine wrote in The Confessions, addressing God, “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” In finding my sustenance and rest in the Lord’s plans rather than my own, I released my schema of prestige and international opportunities and began the process of transferring schools.
Contrary to the notions of our culture, the Lord provided a place for me, as he provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. In the end, I am not, after all, that triumphant early bird with his self-selected worm but a bird fed by my Father.
Submission to the Lord’s rod and staff must not be a singular stance but a daily posture.
C. S. Lewis famously wrote that “relying on God has to begin all over again each day as if nothing had yet been done.” Since transferring to Grove City College last year, I have often reminded myself that submission to the Lord’s rod and staff must not be a singular stance but a daily posture. Surrender, especially of a seemingly-satisfactory schema for success, requires faithful practice, but the Lord has rewarded my surrender, opening further unexpected pathways before me.
The Valley of Vision contains a prayer I often return to during this practice of surrender: “I rejoice to think that all things are at thy disposal, and I love to leave them there. Then prayer turns wholly into praise, and all I can do is to adore and love thee.” May we indeed rejoice as we release our plans into the Father’s hands.
Sarah Soltis (class of 2020) is studying English and classical studies at Grove City College. She writes for GCC's newspaper, The Collegian, and the cultural magazine, Cogitare Magazine. Sarah works as an editorial intern for the online and print magazine Front Porch Republic, and she has contributed to Front Porch Republic, as well as The American Conservative and several online literary magazines. This summer, Sarah will be working at The Trinity Forum, a D.C.-based non-profit focused on cultivating Christian thought on faith and culture.