“The Complete Champion Approach is about encouraging our athletes to be as well rounded as possible. We want them to aspire to be their best and use their God given talents across the whole spectrum of life. Thus we challenge our athletes to go after excellence athletically, academically, personally, in leadership and spiritually. This is a challenging but noble endeavor that carries great distinction and is the highest honor we bestow in our department.”
—Jeff Gamache, Athletic Director, Spartans Athletics.
In 2007 and 2008, respectively, Jeff and Saralyn (Raugust) Stel were given the Complete Champion award. We wanted to catch up with them and learn what they’ve been up to since graduation. The following is an interview conducted by the Community Manager Jonathan Fehr of the TWU Alumni Association.
JF: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me about your story. Let’s start with TWU. Why did you choose to attend this school vs any other?
Saralyn: Graduating from a small town rural public school, the chance to gain a private Christian education was something I hoped for. Ultimately the other post-secondary options I was looking into would have been great choices for my volleyball career but were not able to offer the same full experience I knew TWU would be able to give. What an amazing opportunity it was to be able to pursue my CIS (now USPORT) career as well as gain an incredible education and be surrounded by a faith community upholding me in ways that were extremely formative in who I have become today.
Jeff: I was the opposite of Saralyn. I grew up going to Langley Christian School, which meant I was immersed in and surrounded by the private Christian school community my whole life. The transition to TWU was therefore an easy and natural step to continue to be educated through private Christian schooling. Being given the opportunity to become a Spartan finalized the decision and made the choice an easy one!
JF: What was your time at TWU like? Do you have any fond memories or experiences that helped shape you who are today and the work that you’re doing?
Jeff: Because of what I was involved in at TWU (men’s volleyball athlete and an education student) I was out in the community a lot, coaching volleyball teams and teaching in the school systems. As I invested time outside TWU, I gained lots of support from the students, athletes, and their families that I was involved with. My favorite memories would be competing with my best friends on the court, while those extended community connections would faithfully show up to watch! The crowds in the stands weren’t just fans, they were like family in so many ways!
Saralyn: I am still in close contact with my mentors and the staff/coaches at TWU that invested so heavily and believed so strongly in my leadership potential right from the very beginning. God used my years at TWU to help take my purposes and passions to another level of impact. They dreamed even bigger for me than I did for myself (and I’m a pretty big dreamer!) and now years later, I am able to experience (with lots of patience) how God really does have dreams that will blow your dreams out of the water.
JF: What did you play with the Spartans? What was one of your highlights?
Saralyn: Volleyball from 2003-2008. One of my favorite highlights with the team would be the opportunity we were given to travel to China as a team and play and serve together over in a new culture/country. I also was able to start working for Athlete’s in Action while I was a Spartan and was able to start travelling all over the world playing and coaching volleyball. Being able to love kids, create change, and provide some basic humanitarian needs… all with volleyball as my platform was truly God’s timing and provision.
Jeff: Volleyball from 2002-2007. The biggest highlight was winning the National Championship Title in 2006. However, just having the opportunity to play the game I love in university was amazing. This sport has given me so many opportunities while at TWU, but also many across the world.
JF: What did you do after graduation?
Saralyn: I met and married Jeff while in my 4th year. I spent my first year of marriage still on the volleyball team at TWU and finished up my studies at TWU. Once I had graduated, I continued to coach and stay plugged into the volleyball community in the lower mainland but I also started to invest into the children’s ministry at our church in Abbotsford and officially became the children’s director. What a huge blessing for your job title to be 100% focused on giving your time into little children… teaching them about who Jesus is and could be in their lives. Eventually seasons shifted and I got back involved full time with Athlete’s in Action and Volleyball Canada coaching and investing in the future of our volleyball community.
After five years post university of investing in the keen, elite, and truly blessed volleyball communities of the Fraser valley, we moved to rural Alberta where volleyball would look very different for us. We moved back to our family farm: Raugust Farms, Delia AB. Jeff took on the steep learning curve of changing from a city boy to a rural farmer and my coaching career would take a shift onto grassroots and inexperienced athletes. We started our family and we would continue to coach locally in our rural small town (Delia, AB) not just volleyball but hockey, soccer, baseball and wherever else needed. Seven years later we are doing LIFE with our neighbors and small community with three boys and a dog!
When we first arrived, the original farmstead seventy year old barn needed desperate restoring, but this space along with plenty of wide open spaces had big dreams rushing through my mind and heart. We managed to start restoring the barn… enough to save it from further damage, and began to build beach volleyball courts in the pasture. It was a start.
The bigger my dreams got the more Jeff had to help me realize how out of reach they were until God’s timing and provision would be undeniable. In other words when there is no budget, you learn to be patient and wait on His provision! So in the meantime, we are being intentional with the things we can be. We do life with our neighbors and community and love having them use our barn, and be on our yard with us in whatever form that takes on. And that’s where we are at… everyone expects us to have a concrete and perfectly planned mission for our big blue 18-2 barn (18-2 is its land location, but Psalms 18:2 is our family foundation). We don’t, but we do know and trust that God is and will continue to show us ways it can be used to impact and love others. We know we want to do life with our community and neighbors in a way that draws them to our purposes and passion for Jesus. We hope we can do that by “building” a safe place for kids and families to be, to want to be.
Jeff: God provided unbelievable timing in our transition from BC to Alberta. After TWU, I worked at MEI in Abbotsford for five years with incredible coworkers and students. During this time, I had the opportunity to teach many different subjects, but also I was able to coach a variety of sports. However, opportunity arose in Alberta to join Saralyn’s family farm. I was able to continue teaching in the Delia School (k-12) in a very part-time manner that fit into our new farming situation in Alberta. With the teaching role in the school, I was able to connect and establish our family with all the families in the school/community real fast. We are still reaping the benefits of that job opportunity and are thankful for how it fits into our passion for the youth of this community.
Now, six years later, my passion for farming is still increasing as I learn how to steward the land God has given into our care well and responsibly. It has allowed Saralyn to be a stay at home mom and freed her up to volunteer and coach almost every sport in our community. The kids and their parents trust us because we have been given the opportunity to love their kids on the field, in the arena, the gym or on our beach courts! We love our community and extended neighbors. While life out here in small town is nothing like our community in the Fraser Valley, our time at TWU and living in Abbotsford prepared us in incredible ways, and still offers us so much support for what we are doing now.
JF: Wow, this is so great. When did you first know you wanted to get involved with youth work?
Saralyn: I enjoyed all the opportunities that came my way to work with kids and never necessarily felt pressure to know how it would all play out later in life in the form of an official job title. Looking back, it is incredible how all my passions and abilities worked together to impact so many kids—especially through coaching.
Jeff: I started coaching Grade 8 volleyball in High School. Since that time, I was hooked with working with kids and knew that becoming a teacher would allow that to continue both in the classroom and wherever else I could volunteer, whether it be with sports or extracurricular school things.
JF: What has been one of your biggest struggles in this work? How have you handled it and learned?
Saralyn: Timing. I have had to learn that sheer grit and determination and skill are no match for patience and God’s perfect timing. I am a big dreamer, and fairly creative, so I can quickly muster up a pretty good plan for how we could impact a small little rural town like Delia. And I’m a farm girl that knows how to work hard and “get-r-done”. So I spent a large portion of my life doing things at high speed in my own strength! Now on a much more spread out timeline than I would have ever desired (in my small perspective), God has used so many other people besides us to begin to set up things in a bigger way than we could imagine.
JF: Is there any specific story or memory that sticks out to you on this journey, one that you like to share with people?
Jeff: Similar to what Saralyn has been talking about with timing, it is amazing to look back on God’s perspective and blessings in the past. We have had over seven years of sports camps that we have run out here in Delia. Students that I taught at MEI, kids that Saralyn taught Sunday School to in Abbotsford, as well as, kids we coached have travelled out to our small community to help us grow our ministry together. It’s crazy to think we have our TWU volleyball coach’s sons or younger siblings out here in Alberta living in the 18-2 barn and plugging in and serving the kids of Delia, AB! Having these athletes from BC come be staff at our camps each summer is a reminder of how our time in the Fraser Valley has beautifully woven into our life in rural Alberta. Our impact back then brings them here to continue impact. Remaining faithful in the little things long ago creates opportunity for us today that we truly enjoy.
JF: Do you have any words of advice for students or alumni who might be interested in this type of work, but have no idea how to go about it?
Saralyn: Learn how to lead by watching someone who is humbly seeking God’s plan through constant prayer. Pray, pray, and pray some more. Wait, be patient, and allow Him to mature you and equip you for the bigger dream that you can’t even imagine. God wants us to trust Him and His timeline. I spent so much of my life pushing forward, accomplishing so many things that God did/does use for His Glory (and that I truly did desire to impact his eternal kingdom) but when it’s all done in my strength I know it’s falling short of His potential in me. Go for the BIGGER dream patiently. What matters most? Not what I get done, but that whatever I get done was done hand in hand, side by side, with Jesus. And now the things my fast-paced, efficient self would have pushed forward with years ago are coming to fruition at the RIGHT time not in my own strength… at a time when my heart is more mature to handle the weight of His “Bigger than I could imagine/plan myself” dreams.
JF: Thanks for sharing all that. I have another question that might be more difficult to talk about. I was told you recently endured a high risk pregnancy and that God worked some miracles for you. Is there anything about that experience you’d like to share?
Jeff: October 28, 2018 was a life changing day for us. Baden was born unexpectantly eight weeks early in an emergency situation. Seven days later almost losing him again, 32 days later finally leaving the NICU, four months later finally seeing him improve eating/sleeping, and now eight months later finally seeing him as a healthy normal baby… we can easily talk forever about incredible miraculous provision. But our favorite part of Baden’s story is what we were told before he was even born. Benson and Brock were big brothers once before Baden. We lost our third child Breck Lena Jacob Stel in 2015. During our grieving, a family prayed over us and shared a vision they had receive for us that was at its most basic form: an exchange. We had no idea what it meant but did trust there would be a time we may understand this exchange more fully.
Three years later, Baden Jaxx entered the world in an emergency situation (much too soon) but in perfect exchange for Breck—as we later pieced together that we had lost Breck October 28 on the same OR table as our little Baden was forced into the world and delivered October 28! What an incredible testimony that God KNEW. We don’t think Baden was meant to arrive so early, we don’t think God’s wanted him here that early… but we do know that God KNEW that he would arrive in perfect exchange for Breck and that as we trusted, provision would allow Baden to survive that exchange we were promised. A pretty cool testimony for an 8 month old! Excited for what God may do through him as we continue to pray for his eternal future.
If you would like to learn more about the eighteen-two barn, please click here.