It was 1978 when Nels Hawkinson (’80) was called into President Neil Snider’s office. Nels was a second-year student at the time and loved playing basketball for Trinity Western. But because it was still a young college, there weren’t the same full-ride scholarships available that many other schools were offering in the United States. President Snider knew that if he wanted to keep Nels at the school, they’d have to get creative.
It was at that meeting that the very first student recruiter position at Trinity Western was created. In exchange for free room and board in the following year, Nels would go across North America to promote the school, collect names, and recruit as many new students as possible.
“It was really unique,” says Nels. “No one gave me a schedule. I got some literature, a gas card, and some money. Then it was, ‘go get names!’”
Nels packed up his 1971 Ford Galaxy and embarked on a journey that summer that would take him 13,000 miles, crossing five provinces and twelve states.
As soon as Nels arrived in a big city, he’d pull out a map, crack open the phonebook, and start looking up churches, camps, and schools.
“I’d be in a city for about two weeks. I contacted every church I could. I’d go in on youth nights, I was a speaker for a week at a church camp. Whatever they needed,” says Nels. “Then I’d go into the schools. No one ever turned me down.”
Each day was different. He’d do everything from working out at the gym with students at a high-school while promoting the athletics department at Trinity Western, to even watching a play and then taking the drama club out for milkshakes and burgers.
“Remember, this is before internet. I was social media,” says Nels with a laugh. “It was a great job. I did what I loved to do. Meet people and talk them into something that was cool. The best way to promote is from within.”
One of his strengths was making connections wherever he went. This had the benefit of preventing him from ever having to rent a hotel room while on this trip. Every place he went, he found someone who was willing to host him.
THE NEXT STEP
Nels says that he first attended Trinity Western because he wanted to learn as much as he could so one day he’d be able to make the world a better place wherever he went. Today, he continues to pursue that goal.
“I think my profs thought I didn’t take life seriously,” says Nels. “But I take it extremely seriously. We represent Jesus Christ wherever we’re at. Jesus hung out with the people that needed him. That’s what I still attempt to do. Hang out with the people who need it. Churches are meant to encourage Christians in their walk, but disciples are meant to go out and encourage others. I use the platform of sports to do that.”
For the last 33 years, he has been the CEO of Basketball Travelers, Inc, a company he co-founded that organizes NCAA games around the world, as well as the World University Games.
“I’m 61 and still feel like I’m 18,” laughs Nels. “My business partner and I started this and created all the things we do. There’s never a day that’s the same. I love it. Variety is the spice of life and my office is a spice shelf!”
In many ways, Nels says he feels like he’s a missionary.
“I’ve travelled to 78 countries, met with pretty big time leaders, held babies that never had a loved ones. Just incredible experiences,” says Nels.
LISTENING TO OTHERS AS A MEANS TO LOVE THEM
Nels firmly believes that he wouldn’t be where he is today without the loving hand of God guiding his life.
“Life’s a journey and not a destination. Each day can have problems, but they’re not really problems if you remember that God’s got you,” says Nels. “Once you think things are about you, you worry and get nervous. But if you remember that it’s not about you, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Then you can focus on others”
One way Nels has been able to make a positive difference in the world is by paying attention to others. In his experience, this has made a significant difference in the way he’s been able to connect with and love on others.
“God is a God of love,” says Nels. “Our job is to love, to love, to love. Not to drop our standards or morals. You can love without sacrificing your principles. That’s how I hope to finish out my season of life.”
Nels admits that there is no way he could have planned this life if he tried. He’s incredibly thankful to God for all He’s done in bringing him to this place and providing him with all these opportunities to share the love of God through his work.