Fellowship

Late November and here we are.  I’ve heard 2020 described as a year we’ll forever remember and one we’d love to forget.

In some ways that’s true.  But to say that would ignore the many, many good things that have happened since the calendar flipped from 2019 to 2020. 

In late August I asked some of our coaches to let me know what the athletes on their teams did this summer that may have been unique.  Baseball coach Nathan Bacon replied with about five players who had jobs and internships ranging from engineering to finance to farm chemical applicator.  Many of those opportunities came about after plans changed in March and April.

Look closely at the photo at the top of this page. Seated in the second row, second from the left. There’s Defender Caleb Pollema.

One of those summer experiences was Caleb broadening his horizons, stretching a bit, and  being part of a Fellowship of Christian Athletes baseball team for the second straight summer—something he didn’t intend to do.

Caleb worked/interned for Wells Fargo during the week and then commuted to join up with his FCA team. 

He had the unique experience of sharing a dugout and field with athletes from all over the country and from all over the collegiate baseball landscape.

And while the baseball playing I’m sure was a highlight, I’m guessing the link these athletes had in Christ was exciting and eye-opening.  Along with that, the opportunity to use a game he loves and to share the gospel, well, I’m not sure there’s a much better way to spend a summer for a Christian ballplayer.

I continue to watch in amazement at the leaps of faith our students are willing to take as they grow and adapt to challenges.

mbyk

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God has an interesting way of using experiences in our lives to prepare us for some of the most unexpected circumstances.

During my four years at Dordt as a student and baseball player, I have seen God use the game I love in a multitude of ways. It has challenged me to have an unrelenting pursuit of personal excellence in all areas of my life, an unparalleled work ethic, and an intense reliance on my faith as a sure anchor when the world around us seems to waiver.

The game has brought me so many different opportunities for which I am forever grateful, but the times when I have seen my faith and baseball seamlessly intertwined are the ones that I am most fond of.

As a baseball player, few experiences in the offseason will compare to playing collegiate summer ball in one of many leagues across the country. You get to meet guys from other programs from Division 1 to Junior College and every level in between. You spend every waking moment with your team for a few months only to head your separate ways at the end of the summer season never knowing if or when you may ever see each other again.

It is a unique experience that no other collegiate sport offers.

The past two summers I have had the privilege of getting to play summer baseball with the SoCal Shepherds through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) in Southern California at Biola University. This team, unlike others across the country, is a Christian summer team that not only plays baseball but has the opportunity to put on youth camps throughout the summer.

During the semester break of my sophomore year when I was trying to figure out what my options were as far as employment and playing baseball for the upcoming summer, I came across FCA and the Shepherds.

I had a cousin who played college baseball for Fresno Pacific University and would later play minor league baseball for the Chicago White Sox. He had gone through a similar summer experience with Athletes in Action for a couple summers during his college years and simply loved it.

With that in mind and with a little encouragement from my mom, I applied for the team. At first, it was something I was reluctant to do. I would be away from home for most of summer. I would not get to hang out with friends and work a summer job. However, being from Bakersfield, the experience would also mean that I would be close enough to home (only a three hour drive) that my family could come to more of my games than when I played at Dordt.

My skepticism quickly vanished a few hours after I submitted my application when I got a call from the general manager of the team. He offered me a spot to play and help serve at their camps. With such a quick turnaround from submitting my application to an offer to play, I felt like God was opening a door for an exciting and life-changing opportunity even amidst my reluctancy.

Looking back, I can honestly say that the summer I experienced was life-giving and stretched my faith in ways I didn’t think possible. Coming off a college season in which my joy and love for the game of baseball was wavering, this was exactly what I needed.

Not only did our team get the opportunity to play games throughout the summer which allowed me to get valuable reps on the mound, but it offered the chance to share the Gospel through a variety of avenues.

One of these was a three-day mission trip to an orphanage in Primo Tapia, Mexico, which sat on a hill that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. The views were simply spectacular and a reminder of the majesty of our Creator. For me, this experience was something that I was both nervous and excited about. By nature, I am a homebody. I had never been out of the country before let alone a mission trip.

This trip was something I am truly thankful for. Looking back, I got to see how blessed I am. It was simply remarkable to see the joy that playing a pickup game of soccer was for these kids.

Not only did I get to go on a mission trip, but I got to help run five week-long baseball camps in the Los Angeles area. These camps allowed the players on my summer team to lead a small team of campers and instruct them in the game of baseball while sharing the Gospel with them.

For many of these children, they struggled with a difficult home life or faced other challenges. These camps provided an escape for them through the game. It was extraordinary to watch.

My summer playing for the Shepherds was something that I will never forget. I got to build relationships with fellow Christian ballplayers from Alaska, Florida, and every state in between and see my faith grow in ways I never thought possible.

This summer ball experience allowed me to relate to some of my teammates at Dordt who had never heard the Gospel before. It gave me confidence in my ability to lovingly share my faith with others.

Fast forward to March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hits and our entire baseball season is abruptly cancelled. With an internship already setup for the upcoming summer, I wanted to look for a way to play while working. I texted my pitching coach from the previous summer asking if the Shepherds would consider signing me to play on the weekends.

Before I knew it, I was signed up to play for the Shepherds again this past summer. While the pandemic altered the camp and game schedule, the experience of relationship-building and growing in my faith was much of the same. It gave me an optimism and hope while missing out on my college season and heading into the uncertainty of the upcoming school year.

As I enter my senior year and final season of college baseball, I am beyond thankful for the multitude of experiences that Dordt has brought me. Despite all the uncertainties that this past year has brought like losing a season of baseball, I am thankful for FCA and the experiences that it has brought me over the past two summers.

I am anxiously awaiting the upcoming season and one final opportunity to make history at Dordt and do what has yet to be done. I am excited to finally get back out on our home diamond where I haven’t played a game since my sophomore year.

If my college career both on the field and in the classroom has taught me anything, it’s that God uses the unexpected experiences and what I hadn’t planned for to make a story far greater than I could have ever imagined. For that, I am grateful!

Never forget that God can use you and your circumstances to influence others and grow your faith!

He certainly did with mine.

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