(ISN) – LANGLEY, British Columbia – For a week in late December, the Trinity Western men’s hockey team went on a missions trip to Smithers, B.C. The team got a chance to run hockey clinics and share God’s love through sport. This is their story, told through their lens.
The Spartans are heading to Smithers! It was all smiles and laughter within the first five minutes meeting up in the airport. After tossing our gear onto the plane, the fellas all boarded up and took off. Although the plane ride had some bumpy moments, including a flight attendant who adamantly made sure one player in particular stayed in his seat, the trip went smoothly, with plenty of jokes and expectations for the upcoming week.
After landing in Smithers, the team munched on a brief snack before bunking down in the Smithers Evangelical Church, which would be home for the next four days and three nights. Although it was already nearly 1 a.m., the boys were too excited to not start a mini soccer tournament in the basement. But before heading in for the night, Coach Barrett Kropf gathered the team around to share the message of Luke 15.
The chapter states: “Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near to Him to listen to Him. And the Pharisees began to grumble, saying “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open pasture and go after the one that is lost? And when he comes home, he calls his friends together and remarks “Rejoice with me, for the sheep that was lost has been found!”
It might seem strange to many people that a group of elite athletes would be willing to give up spending time with their friends and family during their only holiday time to go to small communities in northern British Columbia. The reason why a group of athletes are willing to travel on a three-hour plane ride north in minus 10 degree weather is based on the first aforementioned. Christ seeks to go out and seek the lost; in particular the one lost sheep, not the ninety nine. Smithers is a town that is looked over without a second glance, the one lost sheep you could say, and as our coach reminded us, Christ came to serve and love on the lost. The popular contemporary comedian Penn was recently asked what about his thoughts about spirituality, in particular Christianity. Penn responded, “Most Christians must really hate me if they are unwilling to tell me about Jesus. They can’t love me or believe in their faith if they aren’t willing to tell me about God.”
It was with this in mind that the Coach asked the team, “What do you expect out of the week?” Hopefully much!
It was exciting to be with the folks at Smithers Evangelical Free Church for their two services this Sunday morning! It was amazing to see how many of their congregants had a connection to Trinity Western, either as current students, alumni or at least knew of a family member who had attended! We were welcomed with open arms.
After the services, we loaded up on groceries at the local Safeway and the proceeded to head towards the Seymour Lake area for some skating on the lake with the locals. However, the navigation skills of the bus driver meant we missed a critical turnoff, and since the road was too narrow to turn around, we had to climb the bus up the mountain on all these sketchy switchbacks, before we summited and found a place to turn around. Once back at the bottom, we located the turn off, and saw a patch of lake that was cleared off. Thinking this was our meeting location…the boys disembarked and dredged through the knee high snow to get to the cleared off area! Surprise! This was not the place we had intended, but I guess it was the place God intended! We had in fact just landed at a random lake, at a random cabin who happened to have four kids out skating around playing shinny and, in movie like fashion, these kids were blown away! We may as well been astronauts! The kids could not figure out how and why these “real hockey players” would show up from now where into the middle of nowhere and play hockey with them for hours!!! It was a sign of things to come, because throughout the rest of the week, God kept his fingerprints on our schedule and we had lots of moments like that where we had plans, but in the end His plans proved best!
It was a long and busy day. After an early wake up, the Spartans headed over to the local outdoor rink in Telkwa, for a session with local teenagers. The temperature was minus 18 degrees, but that didn’t stop a number of local teenagers from showing up to play. After two straight hours of play, the ice became unskateable due to the cold and the boys were spent.
After a brief lunch, half of the team served a local man who had recently suffered a stroke by splitting wood to heat his home. They all split wood for three hours in the freezing cold, just straight chopping. The other half went back to the local outdoor rink and ran an hour clinic for young children (age range 5-7). The focus was on skating, passing, and team play.
After their individual sessions, the boys had an early 3 pm dinner (Stew!) in order to reach a new clinic in the town of Hazelton, an hour and a half away. Although the rink temperature was colder than the weather outside (-20), the team ran a full two-hour session.
After a long but eventful day, the team retired back to the church for prayer and Bible study, where we wrestled through what it meant to lay down our lives. The exciting stage of the evening was when one of our very own players discovered Jesus was a missing piece to his life and surrendered his life to the leading of Christ!! The lost sheep/coin/son study from the previous day was beginning to bear fruit!!!
At 7:30 am, breakfast was served. The team wasn’t sure if lasagna was better for breakfast or dinner, but either way, lasagna was the right meal to the start of another solid day. After breakfast it was an hour and a half trip to the next destination, where the team ran two full two-hour clinics for the local youth. Each session included a detailed focus on power skating, crossovers, shooting, passing and stickhandling as well as prayer. The kids had an absolute blast and the team did as well.
After the four hours on the ice, the team headed back to Smithers to play shinny for another hour and a half against the local men’s team. Four hours on the ice was just not enough. Like absolutely everything that has happened so far this week, the competition level among the boys was intense on the ice, including body checks and fierce battles. Unknown to the boys, it was actually Josiah Cockrill’s birthday, and after shinny the boys enjoyed some candles and ice cream cake to celebrate. But, after taking two bites, Josiah found his birthday present inside his cake: a frozen worm. A big time sewer to be sure.
The cake didn’t even come close to satisfying the hunger level of the team as they headed over to a local church member’s house for some excellent dinner. More importantly, after dinner, the team was blessed by the home owner Mike. Mike is a Trinity Western alumnus who has lived in the Telkwa area for the last 20 years. Mike is a carpenter and runs his own sawmill ministry. Mike helps train and give work to at-risk youth and ex-convicts in an effort to help serve and support the community in any way that he can. The team was extremely blessed to hear his stories of hope, courage and divine encounters. The team prayed for Mike and his family before heading back to the church for the night.
Although the boys could have used their free time getting some rest, they spent their time doing something much more constructive. They invented roller sledge hockey. A full contact game where each player rolls around to smash through the other team to the goal. It was basically rugby, soccer, and hockey all mixed together. The arguments and competition were fiercer than the action, which initially seemed not possible.
New Year’s Eve! Following the antics of the previous night, the team was up early to play some shinny two hours north. The temperature in the rink was -20, but it didn’t stop the team from firing it up on the ice. Although only three local players from the community showed up to the play, the team was able to play with and encourage them and make plans for future opportunities.
After playing shinny, the team was back on the (freezing cold) bus to race back in order to make a scheduled lunch. But, sometimes things don’t always work out according to plan. On the way back to Smithers, we pulled in to get some gas for the school bus in the middle of a very small town. Promptly, $100 worth of premium gasoline was pumped into the tank of the bus. Just one small problem. It was not until after the gas was pumped did we realize the bus required diesel, and not gas. We were stranded, with no money, no heat and certainly no diesel. After the initial panic and frustration, the Coach Kropf called a few guys to pray and ask God to take care of the situation. A tow truck was called and the bus was towed. But there was still two big problems: how would we get home and how would we pay for the $1800 bill that has accumulated for the cost of towing, gas, and repairs? Then Brent, Garth and Rick showed up to drive us back to Smithers, while the bus dangled from the back of the tow truck!
As it turned out, the mechanic repaired the bus for free, the tow truck gave us a discount, and the local men’s group is chipping in to help cover remaining costs! Answered prayer!
After lunch, the team played an exhibition game against the local midget team. The game was a lot of fun, with a particular defenceman who stood out at forward scoring four goals, which has caused the coach to reevaluate if he has made the right decision in keeping this potential offensive threat on the blue line. Only time will tell.
To celebrate New Year’s, the team headed over to the Weme’s house. The house had the greatest collection of board games, GT’s and snowmobiles known to mankind, and the team had a great night. After the most passion-filled and scandalous game of Monopoly ever, which included swarthy back stabs and questionable moral content, the boys headed out on the slopes on the fastest downhill tobogganing run of all time. After one player hit the jump at full speed, front flipped, and landed a measured 20 feet downhill, it was figured that snowmobiling would be the safer of the two options. However, it took nearly two minutes for one (overly confident) player to steer his speeding snowmobile into the woods, causing insignificant but hilarious injuries to himself (and the sled) in the process.
As the New Year’s countdown reached zero, the team collectively celebrated such an amazing and fun trip. The team saw God work in their lives individually and collectively at a deep and personal level. Our friendships were deepened, trust was formed and our expectation and excitement for the New Year and the new season reached a fever pitch. Like in all things, the glory goes to God for such a wonderful, successful and fun trip that will be remembered in the lives of each player forever.
Our team will benefit from this adventure. Trinity Western University has gained some new friends and renewed interest with old friends. Lives in the north were impacted and encouraged and the Kingdom grew! Thanks for reading our update, for your support and prayers. All the best in 2015.
As we started the trip asking each other, “What do we expect on this trip?” we saw so many amazing things of God at work in our lives, and through our lives. Whatever we expected on the trip, the Lord far exceeded it for us! And as such, entering 2015 we ask the same question to ourselves and those around us, “what do you expect?” and we know from our recent experiences, the Lord will far exceed them as well for 2015!