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Valor at Vilseck

A few weekends ago, a BFA soccer team that I help coach traveled seven hours by bus to the US army base in Vilseck, Germany to compete against the base’s large high school.  As is the tradition in the DoDEA (Department of Defense) league in Europe, when we arrived the night before the game, school officials showed us to the gym where our teams would be sleeping. I’m no longer a spring chicken and so assumed I wouldn’t be getting much sleep that night.  But it was worse than that.  The gym’s security lights stayed on all night, and the corner of the gym where the guys’ coaches were sleeping soon became a thunderous cacophony of snoring. So loud was the snoring that at about 1:30 AM, I looked up and around to see the Varsity coach laughing along with me about our hilariously lamentable situation. 

The Value of Sleepless Nights

The good news is that I had a lot of time to think. One thing I thought about was how in the world were we going to convince a sleepless team to push beyond their exhaustion the next day.  What came to mind was a story that I had never previously shared outside of my family. It is a story that speaks to the ideals of perseverance and Christian brotherhood that we are seeking to instill in our players - and that I also hope to see develop within the guys that make up my small group at BFA. This is the story I shared with the soccer guys the next morning.

In John 15:13, Jesus famously says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  And in Philippians 2:4, Paul uses Jesus as the ultimate example of this sacrificial love for one another, writing that, like Jesus, we should, “not (look) to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Brian Ray Hoke

It is hard to find examples of radical and sacrificial love like this in our lives, but my brother-in-law lived that way.  The first time I met Brian was when he came to visit me and my parents in Nairobi, Kenya, several months after he and my sister had begun dating. Pretty quickly I realized that Brian was a remarkable person.  A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and a decorated Navy SEAL, Brian had stood out to the extent that, (we were to find out) he had been recruited by the U.S. Government to join its Special Activities Center. 

It was quite a resume, but the actual person was even more impressive.  A couple days after arriving in Kenya, I invited Brian to join a bunch of Rosslyn Academy staff for our regular Saturday morning pick-up soccer game.  He politely declined, saying he needed to do a quick workout first. He would try to join us for the second hour. 

I occasionally looked up from our game, and across the fields to where Brian was doing his “quick” workout.  What I saw was the most intense workout I had ever seen. I would have described it as superhuman had I not seen Brian, after about 30 minutes, bend over and throw up, demonstrating that even he had limits.  But then, after splashing water on his face, he went right back to it, and just as intensely, for another 30 minutes.

Brian finally joined us as we were close to wrapping up.  After the game and the rest of the guys had headed to their homes, I told Brian that I had never seen anyone push themselves so hard.  Why do you do it? I asked.  What do you get out of it that could possibly be worth the pain?  His answer has stuck with me.  It was something to the effect of, “Oh, I don’t do it for myself.  I do it for the guy next to me.  If I am not 100%, he might not come back.”

The Lesson

Regularly, we bump up against our limitations.  And limitations are real, even for Brian.  But when we do meet our limits, what allows us to push beyond ourselves or to be courageous when the calculus of risk doesn’t add up? There has to be something beyond ourselves, something that calls us to sacrifice for our neighbor.

The message I shared with the soccer team the next morning, and later with my small group guys, was the message of Philippians 2 and John 15:13. Our love for God and love for our brothers (and sisters) is the irreplaceable ingredient in self-sacrifice. Seeking to honor God and sacrificial loyalty to “the guy next to me” are the things that can inspire a sleepless team to fight through its exhaustion and towards success on the field.

It also helps explain what I see in many of the pioneering missionary families that BFA serves.  Don’t misunderstand me.  Missionary parents are not superhuman.  Like most of us, they are typical, complicated, fallen people who walk on “feet of clay”. My guess is that every single one of them would be embarrassed by the implied comparison I am making and would reject it out of hand. But in the final analysis, the work that they are doing - and any genuine acts of self-sacrifice any of us may do - don’t make sense to me outside of a fundamental love for God and our neighbor.  Catherine and I are grateful for your partnership as we get the privilege to serve these families and their children.


On October 21, 2016 Brian was killed in action in Afghanistan. He died protecting "the guy next to him". He is fondly remembered and deeply missed.


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