On Wednesday, Feb 26, the youth community in Ontario lost a giant of a man. The day before, on Tuesday, Jake Hiemstra suffered a massive stroke from which he could not recover. The next day there was much rejoicing in heaven as Jake joined the angels there. Jake was a giant of a man in so many ways. He towered over most people and was indeed “a man to look up to.” Jake was involved in youth ministry most of his life. He was a volunteer youth leader at his church in Goderich, Ontario, meeting weekly with his youth, taking them on SERVE trips and many other events.
Jake was also the driving force behind Fall Retreat, a retreat for 300 youth and leaders in Classis Huron each fall. He also had the vision to start a leadership retreat for student leaders the day before fall retreat. I recall him calling me 4 years ago and saying, “Ray, we need to drive up to Muskoka Woods camp (a 4 hour drive) and talk to them about this leadership training for our youth.” So we went and now almost 100 youth have already received leadership training.
Jake was also a huge part of the All Ontario Youth Convention (AOYC). He helped start it as a young adult. It began as a small convention for those from Canada who could not make it to the “big” convention in the states. The AOYC now has up to 1000 youth and leaders attending on our May long weekend every year. Jake has missed only 1 convention in over 35 years. Jake also sat on Youth Unlimited’s board and was an influence on youth and youth leaders within the entire CRC.
Jake taught me most of what I know about doing youth ministry, mostly teaching by example. He taught me that the most important thing you can do in youth ministry is to build a relationship with each youth, one at a time. Long after youth group is over and when youth become adults, they will remember very few of the lessons you taught or the sermons you preached to them, but they will remember that you came to their baseball game, or showed up at their birthday party. I remember once when our convention was in Ottawa (6 hours away), Jake said to me, "we need to go have breakfast with Nathan," a former youth going to university there, so we did, taking time out from the busyness of setting up for convention. At Jake’s funeral, Nathan told me that Jake visited him 3 times while he was in Ottawa. Indeed Jake would go to the ends of the earth to visit his youth, even going to Korea to visit 2 of his former youth. Jake taught me that when you had a relationship with a youth, you could teach them, guide them and gently rebuke them if needed.
I went on so many road trips with Jake to volunteer at youth events in New York, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Grand Rapids, and many other places. This morning at breakfast I was reading Donald Miller’s interview with Bob Goff in the current Relevant magazine. Bob Goff wrote a book, Love Does, and Jake was a powerful example of Love Does. I urge you to pick up the book and read it.
It may sound like I am making Jake out to be superman, flying around being a super hero to our youth. In some ways he did seem to be like that, but he was just an ordinary guy who was faithful to God in the little things in life. Jake was also a loving husband to Wilma, who supported Jake in all his youth work. Jake did not neglect his 5 children to do all this youth work either. Listening to their testimonies about their dad, he was also a faithful and loving father to his children. He also more recently became a loving and doting grandfather to him many grandchildren.
Jake truly lived a full life in his 62 years, touching thousands of youth. His visitation and funeral were a testament to that. For 6 hours friends and family from all over North America came to visit with Jake’s family. There were tears, but there was much more laughter and story telling of all the wonderful and crazy things we al experienced with Jake. The funeral the next day was two-and-half-hours of praise and worship lead by a band, encouragement from Pastor Steve, Jake’s children and his wife Wilma. We celebrated with pizza, Tim Horton’s coffee and Jake’s favorite doughnuts. We all left strengthen and encouraged, encouraged to be more Christ like in all that I do, encouraged, because even though Jake taught me so many lessons. I often fall short in doing the things that Jake lived out.
So Jake, my friend, my mentor, thank you. Thank for your life of service, thank you for being faithful in the little things, thank you for being a shinning example of what Christ’s love is all about. We are happy that you are now celebrating with Jesus in heaven, but there is a huge hole in our hearts right now, and much sadness that there will not be any more crazy road trips with you.