School is a wonderful training ground for life. Some of our greatest lessons are learned in a classroom, on a playground, or at the lunch tables. Most people would probably agree that their experiences and relationships in school have had some impact on shaping who they are today. Ryan and Kit Van Rensselaer are no exceptions. In fact, for them, many of the most significant moments of their lives are directly connected to school.
For starters, the couple first met in school – third grade to be exact – while attending El Morro Elementary School in Laguna Beach. They grew to become high school sweethearts – but even before that, they were grade-school “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.” Now the parents of two elementary school girls, Ryan and Kit shake their heads when talking about being a “couple” in the fourth grade.
School was also the place where both would play and develop a passion for volleyball. Kit was a star outside hitter/setter at Laguna Beach High School; Ryan made a name for himself playing at El Toro High, the school he began attending in 10th grade when his family moved. The two fell out of touch during the last couple of years in high school, but they reconnected at Orange Coast College where, once again, they excelled on their respective volleyball teams.
It was during this time that the single most important event in Ryan’s life occurred. During a college Bible study, he came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and surrendered himself wholeheartedly to the Lord. Ryan re- calls being like “a kid in a candy store” as he grew in his relationship with Christ. Shortly after that, Kit received a scholarship to play volleyball at University of Oregon. And Ryan had the opportunity to live out something which has since become a major theme for the Van Rensselaers: how to release even the most precious things in life to the Lord.
Within three months of arriving in Oregon, the Lord allowed a profound trial which would reshape the direction of Kit’s life – she was overcome by rheumatoid arthritis. “I had some minor arthritis in my fingers and wrists, but I woke up one day and it was everywhere,” said Kit. The affliction was so debilitating that she had to leave Oregon and return home to be cared for by her parents.
“I was a high-level athlete, and the thing I was passionate about was taken away in an instant.”
Upon Kit’s return to Southern California, Ryan seized the opportunity to share the love of Christ with the love of his life. “I just said, ‘I’d like to start talking to you about God’.” It was that simple. Kit, who grew up with what she describes as a “fear-based” misunderstanding of who God is, was open to learning more about the loving Creator with whom Ryan had fallen in love. She joined Ryan’s college group and, as Kit explains, “a fire was lit.”
The couple was baptized together and began working in youth ministry. The passion for volleyball which was first birthed in school developed into a point of connection between the young couple and the kids they mentored. This connection was particularly strong for Ryan who was pursuing professional beach volleyball at the time.
Ryan finished his tenure in college at Van- guard University, where he received a degree in sports medicine. One month after Ryan graduated, he and Kit were married. Kit’s arthritis continued to worsen, forcing her to one again release something – this time, her studies in a nursing program. It also meant that Ryan had to release his plans to obtain a master’s degree in exercise physiology in order to give his wife the care she needed.
James 1:2 became the couple’s Scripture cornerstone:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kind.”
In spite of the incredible difficulties of their situation, the joy of the Lord was Ryan’s strength. “God said to me, ‘I chose you to take care of my daughter’, and I’ve watched Him make beauty from ashes.”
For a while, it looked like another thing that Ryan and Kit might be required to let go of was their dream to have children. “Every- one has their affliction and suffering,” says Kit. “But what are we going to do with our affliction and suffering?” For the Van Rensselaers, the answer continued to be release them to the Lord. Finally, after ten years of infertility, Kit gave birth to Halle (whose full name is Hallelujah).
As new parents, the theme of school would once again loom large in the family’s life. Concerned about some of the realities of public education (notably, large class sizes and an accelerating amount of mandated instruction which is in conflict with Scripture), Ryan and Kit began praying about finding a Christian school. “We wanted a place which supported what we believe, where Scripture was incorporated into academics, and where there was prayer,” said Kit. Unsure they were in a financial situation which could sustain a Christian education, the couple continued to pray and ask the Lord to reveal His will. Then, a family friend who teaches at Saddleback Val- ley Christian Schools in San Juan Capistrano urged the couple to set up a meeting with the school’s administrator, Ed Carney.
About the same time, the Athletic Director at Saddleback Valley Christian was looking to expand and elevate the school’s High School volleyball program. Recognizing the blessing Ryan would be to the school, the A.D. offered him the boys’ Varsity coaching job. Because the position was just part time, Ryan was able to accept it and maintain his full-time work in the x-ray film recycling industry. The Lord used Ryan’s new assignment to make provision so Halle and Hope could attend SVCS.
Just as Ryan and Kit are a “match made in heaven,” so too are the Van Rensselaers and Saddleback Valley Christian. Ryan has since coached the SVCS Warriors to two consecutive CIF championship titles and two consecutive #3 state rankings within their division. But more importantly, he has poured into dozens of young men’s lives, helping them to recognize the plans and purposes the Lord has for them as they move into adulthood.
Today, Halle is in fourth grade and is just about the same age as her parents were when they first met. Little sister Hope is in first grade. And the two girls are thriving in the very type of environment their parents had so desired for them. “When the girls see our Administrator Mr. Carney on the playground, they run up and give him a hug,” said Kit.
Agreeing with the old African proverb, Kit says, “A village raises our kids – family, church, friends, and school.” As believing parents, we want our kids’ “villages” to be steeped in as much Biblical truth and love as possible. One of the best ways to facilitate this is to be intentional about the influencers in their lives, whether it’s their teen- age babysitter, the friends with whom they interact, or the people to whom we entrust their formal education.
If that sentiment resonates with you, then Ryan would offer this encouragement: “Seek the Lord in prayer. If He puts Christian education on your heart, pray for Him to open or close doors as He sees fit.”
Don’t limit God, because He is without limit.
One more school connection: If the name Van Rensselaer sounds familiar, it may be because Ryan’s family founded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the nation’s oldest technical research university. Located in Troy, New York, RPI is a perennial top pick on many college-ranking lists.