There have been numerous story lines to the 134th academic year at Calvin College. Few, however, have generated more prayer and community response than the journeys of three students—junior Matthew De Vlieger of Grand Rapids and first-year students Brenna Hannan of Mentor, Ohio, and Steve Okeyo of Kisumu, Kenya.
They came to Calvin full of talent and with an eagerness to learn, but were challenged this year with physical, emotional and spiritual mountains of great height due to serious medical traumas.
In facing those challenges, with family and friends at their side every step of the way, their stories have done more to galvanize and lift the Calvin community than any athletic championship, building project or policy issue.
Their dramatic stories remind us of Calvin’s core mission—the teaching and mentoring of young people to do God’s work in God’s world—and provided us with valuable lessons about what’s truly important in life. Their testimonies shared on their Carepages and Facebook sites were regular illustrations of God’s goodness and grace.
Their perseverance and the inspiration they have generated in the Calvin community and beyond provide plenty of instruction on the fruits of the Spirit and reveal the true character of this place.
Take Matthew De Vlieger: While scuba diving in the Florida Keys with his family on December 28, he suffered injuries that left him paralyzed from the midchest down. Matthew, along with twin brother, Andrew, is an accomplished member of the Calvin tennis team.
His doctors warned that he’d likely never be able to use his legs again. But all year, Matthew’s faith and determination have inspired hundreds and captured the attention of many new friends. In April, Andrew posted a video of his brother doing the impossible: moving one of his legs.
“The doctors are all surprised,” Matthew said to the Grand Rapids Press. “But nothing is impossible with God. I’ve heard there are lots and lots of people praying for me. I’m getting messages from friends back home and people from Calvin all the time.”
Matthew’s journey even crossed collegiate competition lines. Andrew worked with Hope College tennis coach Steve Gorno to design a royal blue t-shirt that was worn by all seven MIAA tennis teams at the league championship tournament this spring. Proceeds from the sale of the shirt help the De Vliegers with the sizeable portion of the medical bills that insurance doesn’t cover.
The t-shirt reads “Stand Up with Matthew De Vlieger” on the front and on the back: “It is not the color of our uniform that defines us because, in the game of life, we are all on the same team.
“It is only in our capacity to love, the depth of our faith, and the magnitude of our commitment to others that we find the true measure of who we are.
“Matt, we are all walking beside you in faith with the strong belief that you shall be walking beside us again someday.”
The message of that shirt and the faith of the De Vlieger brothers ought to be what defines Calvin College, and I think—with a quick admission that we’re far from perfect—it does.