Old Friends

Nearly 30 years ago a kid from Canada came to Dordt’s campus. 

I crossed paths with him several times, but, I can’t say we were close friends.  More like acquaintances—we ran in circles that were parallel, but, probably didn’t intersect a lot.

He’ll smile as he reads this because our lines did intersect at an intramural volleyball championship—he was playing, I was officiating—let me tell you there are a lot better ways to make $3.50 than that.  The match was tight and I remember making a critical all that went against our subject’s team.  He very firmly informed me I had robbed his team of the title.

And it was the beginning of a friendship that has spanned a lot of years.

Now, friendship may not be the right word.  We exchanged messages over the ensuing years and he let me know he was following Dordt athletics off in Canada.

So, imagine my surprise when I was told Matt Beimers was coming to Dordt’s campus. Was going to be a part of the Education Department.

And we’ve picked up like those with something in common often do.  We speak the same language, so to speak.

We both enjoy athletics.  We work around students who give and need energy. And we are Christians who believe that should shade every part of our life and we’ve been profoundly affected by those who have come before us and who are currently here.

So, next time you see Matt on the sidelines, or in the stands, or in the classroom, know the journey he has covered to come back home.

**

They say you can’t go home again, but what if you didn’t realize what home was until you actually returned?

When I graduated from Dordt with an English-Secondary Education degree in 1994, I was ready to move on. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my undergrad years here and owe a debt of gratitude to this institution and the people here for their persistent presence in my life when I was younger. People like Dave Schelhaas, Jim Schaap and many others were a much-needed grace in my life. That said, when Bev and I packed our car and headed west after commencement, we were ready to leave Casey’s Bakery, The Auto-Dine and Level 3 infringement behind and get on with our lives. I was excited for our move to Montana and the opportunity to serve at Manhattan Christian School, a caring and hospitable place that is still close to my heart. After serving four years there, we moved to Langley, British Columbia, where we raised our four daughters and I served in local Christian schools for the past 20 years.

To our surprise, we felt that God might be nudging our family back to Dordt. So, with a bit of fear and trepidation, our family made the decision to return to Sioux Center where I now serve as an Assistant Professor of Education and the Director of the School Leadership program. I have also been blessed to volunteer as an Assistant Coach with the men’s volleyball team, an opportunity that I did not anticipate would present itself when I arrived but am deeply grateful that it did.

While I had been back to Sioux Center before our move last summer, the visits typically lasted only a few hours and were mostly to visit old friends and to grab our favorite Panini at the Fruited Plain.  So, there was something surreal last July when our family turned off the I-90 and headed north on Highway 75, knowing that this was much more than a weekend visit.

At some point in our first few weeks in town, I felt compelled to stop for a few minutes by the old soccer field that now functions as a green space behind the Kuyper and Southview apartments. Earlier this week I spied a large group of students playing spike ball in the same space where some of the best soccer teams in Dordt’s history competed. As I stared at the field, I was caught off-guard by both my strong memories and my emotions.

As a student at Dordt, I had the opportunity to be part of the men’s soccer team as the manager for three years, two under Quentin Van Essen and one under Bill Elgersma. Although 48 years old now, I still refer to them as “Coach” when I see them on campus or around town.  I did not know then but know now what a gift it was to sit next to Coach Van Essen or Coach Elgersma for many of those trips. While they each had their own unique coaching styles, both shared two things in common: they were intensely competitive and loved their players deeply and fiercely.  I also found myself recalling some of the epic and intense games I witnessed, and immediately smiled as I remembered Coach Van Essen getting so passionate about a bad call in the middle of an intense game against Teikyo-Westmar (a game I believe we won 2-1, and I can also confirm it was indeed a horrible call). But it was more than just those games that stirred something in me.

I also found myself thinking of other people on those teams too, people like Dave, Scotty, Ernie, Junky, Brian, Steve, Eric, Rick, Doug, Tony, Kevin and many others. It might be fair to describe us as a rather motley crew, and while those guys played soccer at a very high-level, I think what I remember more is that they were just wonderful human beings who worshipped God through sport and brought a lot of joy and laughter to my life. While I never set foot on that field as a player, those coaches and players made me feel like I was part of that team in every way. It did not matter that I was hauling containers of water, checking the air in the soccer balls or making sure the med-kit was full, those people made me feel like I belonged to something bigger than myself, and I needed that in my life. In a sense, I needed that team much more than they needed me. The flourishing and growth I experienced was not because that team was so good (and they were), but because of the way I was enfolded into that community, and it is that strong sense of community that I continue to find beautiful not just about sports, but about most co-curricular activities on campus today.

A few weeks ago, I found myself driving a much newer van as the men’s volleyball team made the 6-hour return trip from Ottawa, Kansas. The game was an important match for us in our season, not because we won, but because we lost. Truth be told, we lost badly. We were all disappointed in how we played, no one more than the players themselves. The match was supposed to be a measuring stick against a team that was nationally ranked at the time. The adrenalin I felt as a coach before that match was familiar to me and I thought the result would land in our favor. But it didn’t. And losing stings, and the feeling in the dressing room after the game is still palpable to me as I write this.

And yet, somewhere on the journey home, I think it was around Kansas City, after the team had digested their food and that loss (and it rightly took a while), signs of life began to emerge on the bus.  A quiet conversation could be heard, then a snicker, a playful argument, a laugh, and even though such a thing is tough to measure, I remember thinking that somehow these players found the right balance of carrying that loss appropriately while also ensuring that it did not consume them.

At some point, most found a space in a seat or on the floor and nodded off to sleep, and the bus was quiet again as we made our way down Highway 75, through Hinton and then Merrill as we neared campus for our 3:30 a.m. arrival. With Coach Hanson now at the wheel, I could not help but think how grateful I was to be surrounded once again by a motley crew of wonderful, life-giving young men. When I am in the gym with these guys or they stop by my office for a Tim Hortons coffee or they are over for Sunday soup, I sometimes think to myself “I get to do this!” In a season of transition for our family, I once again realize that I need this team more than they need me, and it reminds me again that God surprises us sometimes when we ask Him to give us what we stand in need of. And while I’m not sure there is such a thing as a good loss, the players used it as motivation that led them to defeat that same Ottawa team a few weeks later and secure the number two ranking in the GPAC tournament, a first for men’s volleyball at Dordt.

So why the surprise tears back in July? I’m still not sure, but if home is a safe place to be and a place where you are invited to become more fully the person God created you to be, then that field and those people and those van rides were a bit of a home for me. In their own way, that team provided shelter for me many years ago, and it felt good to be standing on that grass field one more time to give thanks for their short but faithful presence in my life.  And now? Well, I hope I can be part of providing that same place and space and shelter for some of the guys on the volleyball team, and my deep hope is that one day some of them return to campus and they might also say, “It’s good to be home”, because it is.

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