When Cedarville basketball player Lane Vander Hulst found himself on the other side of the world talking to a big crowd, he said he was a bit nervous.
“It was the first time I really had to get up in front of everyone and share the gospel,” he said. “It’s really easy to do in your head, but once you’re looking at all those people looking at you, it’s kind of difficult.”
In the summer of 2013, Vander Hulst and teammate Marcus Reineke, in partnership with Athletes in Action, went on a basketball tour to New Zealand. And although they went to New Zealand to change other people’s lives, they walked away from the trip transformed.
The tour was made up of Division I and II basketball players from Christian and secular universities. They spent a week in Irvine, Calif., participating in basketball practices and getting to know each other. After this, they flew to New Zealand, where they played against different college teams and New Zealand’s under-18 national team. Many of the games were played in Auckland at the practice facilities of the country’s top professional team, the New Zealand Breakers.
The trip took the players out of their comfort zones, especially Vander Hulst. Reineke had gone to Beijing on a tour two years before, but Vander Hulst’s experience with foreign countries was limited to Mexico and the Bahamas. He said the cultural barrier was not too difficult to overcome, however, since most people in New Zealand speak English.
The players were stretched in another way on the tour. At the halftimes of the games, one of the team members would give his testimony and another would share the gospel to the opposing teams and the fans in attendance. This tour was one of the first times Vander Hulst got the chance to witness to many people, and he said he enjoyed it.
“I got to share the gospel at one game and it was really nerve-wracking,” he said. “It’s definitely intimidating, having to share with a big crowd of people. That was one of the first times I’ve been able to do that, so it was a really good experience.”
They reached out to the fans, talking to them after games and autographing player cards that had Bible verses on them. But the witnessing didn’t stop there. They reached out to strangers while waiting for their flights in the airports as well.
Reineke said watching people come to Christ was his favorite part of the trip.
“We had a player from the Junior National Team that was saved,” he said. “There is nothing better than seeing that and being a part of it.”
For Vander Hulst, the best part was meeting other basketball players and seeing how they were having an impact at their schools.
“We go to a Christian school, so it’s kind of assumed that we’re Christians,” he said, “but the guys that go to the bigger schools, Valparaiso and Eastern Kentucky, just to see them acting in their schools and making a difference for Christ.”
The team was able to do some sightseeing, visiting several mountains and beaches, but its members did not forget the reason they were in New Zealand. The two Cedarville players said they grew on the trip and they hope to do another trip soon.
Reineke said he was reminded of how many people in the world are lost and are in need of hope.
“I think God revealed to me just how many unsaved people we have in the world, going to such a beautiful country that a lot of people probably think to be perfect has a lot of lost people,” Reineke said.
Vander Hulst said he became more comfortable with sharing his faith with strangers, and he learned to put his life into perspective.
“I think I learned a lot about basketball not being my identity,” he said. “When you grow up playing a sport that you’re good at, you tend to put your identity in it, and I think I really learned that basketball isn’t what defines me. It’s being a Christian, because basketball can be taken away from me any time.”
Jon Gallardo is a junior journalism major and sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys playing basketball, reading Tolkien and Dr. Seuss, writing fiction and poetry, and listening to Hans Zimmer and August Burns Red.