Paul Boersma: The man, the myth, the legend

Paul Boersma remembers laying in bed as a child and hearing his parents read scriptures together, hearing them pray together before they went to sleep.

“My parents were strong, strong Christian parents. And not only in belief but in how they lived it out in the life as well, too,” Boersma said.

Boermsa is often wearing a smile on his oval face and tanned skin. He appears young and has short, combed brown hair. He now works as the senior chaplain at Hope College where his commitments extend to walking students through the most formative years of their lives, putting together the Chapel service speakers, supervising other chaplains and much more. This position has been his for 21 years.

To Boersma’s parents, faith existed beyond just belief and into their actions. They lived out their faith. Throughout his childhood, Boersma attended Central Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. He described the church as sturdy and known throughout the community to have superb lead pastors and preachers. This community nurtured him in faith from a young age.

Members of the church, who Boersma recalls by name, impacted his experience there. Every Sunday, people like Larry Streekstra and Jack VanEss took an interest in him, asking him how his week went. Even while watching the two live out their baptismal vows, Boersma thought the two were young and cool.

As a sixth grader, he attended Camp Geneva, a Christian summer camp.

“It was there that I saw college students who were really on fire for Christ. As a sixth grader, I looked at these college students and thought they were the coolest people in the world. They were so excited about following Jesus,” Boersma said.

It wasn’t until his middle and high school years that Boersma began to claim his faith on his own. But he considers his college years the most defining in his faith. Boersma went back to work at Geneva the summer between his sophomore and junior years as well as the summer between his junior and senior years. Those years forced him to articulate his faith to others.

But Boersma was not yet on track to become a pastor.

“I always loved people, and I loved kids,” Boersma said.

He planned on becoming a history teacher and high school coach. After his first history course in college, Boersma decided that he didn’t see that career in his future. He changed his major again that day to elementary education. After one semester on that track, he switched to a physical education major. After graduation, Boersma waited for his wife, Melody, who would graduate the next year, to obtain a position in a school. Working in the same school district seemed ideal to the couple. That year, he taught some tennis and also worked part time in youth ministry. He found that he loved it. Three months later, he was offered a full-time position with the Community Reformed Church in Zeeland. That set Boersma on a journey to seminary school.

“I was a little resistant,” Boersma said. “I was a little tired of school.”

Despite his hesitation, he went and said he is so glad he did because his Master of Divinity is what led him to his job today. He worked at Community Reformed Church for 11 years and became an associate pastor. There, he ran youth group, visited the high school to connect with students, recruited Sunday school teachers and planned for their lessons.

“I can remember saying to Melody, ‘I can do this for the rest of my life. I love it,’” Boersma said. “I said that, and a year later this Hope College position became available.”

When Boersma attended Hope, the Campus Ministries office consisted of one worker. 22 years ago, the Board of Trustees decided they needed to restructure the office, which they formed into a team. The dean of the chapel hired Boersma then. He has been in the office ever since.

Working with college students is a whole new game. Boersma can be found at Lemonjello’s Coffee at his usual table hidden in the back against the furthest wall. He might be reading the paper, but there is most likely a student sitting across from him chatting about life or faith. Lauren Taylor, the chaplain of discipleship at Hope, works closely with Boersma on a daily basis. He supervises her, checking in to make sure her work is getting done as well as checking in on her well being.

“Paul has, I think, more energy than a lot of the students on campus,” Taylor said.

Taylor first experienced Boersma’s energy at a four square tournament this past fall.

“There were a couple hundred students playing four square out in the parking lot, and Paul had a microphone and was just going nuts,” Taylor said.

At the same time, his job requires a lot of determination and focus.

“If you were to walk into our staff meetings, you would see the same Paul but a very focused Paul,” Taylor said.

“He’s super serious about the role that he has here. He talks a lot to us, as a staff, about just stewarding the resources, stewarding the ministry that we have here. I love that. He takes that really seriously,” said Bruce Benedict, chaplain of worship and Arts. Boersma’s love for students extends into the way he communicates with and chooses his staff. Benedict has a clear memory of this.

“When I was interviewing for the job, he told me, ‘If you’re going to do this job, you need two things; I don’t care about anything else. You need: one, to love Jesus and two, you need to love students’,” Benedict said.

Boersma enjoys helping students walk through these years in their lives. His online staff profile page says that Boersma loves helping students navigate the “tricky waters” of life, regarding issues like and calling and vocation, relationships or faith.

“I have the best job in the world,” Boersma said. “I love what I do. I liked high school kids, but I think college kids are fascinating.”

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