Lucas Goltz: Learning to lead on the streets of Dublin

Posted: September 23, 2009

By Amy Robertson

Green countryside near Dublin, Ireland.
I always thought it would be fun to go to Dublin. Lush, green, rolling hills. The Dublin Castle. Bono. Really, really good shepherd's pie. It sounds far more exciting than, say, the wheat field next door.

Recently, I met Lucas Goltz, 27, a Clipper basketball player who had a somewhat different Dublin experience this summer.

Northern Dublin in divided into several areas. One of them is called Ballymun, and it's best known for the Ballymun flats, high-rise concrete tower blocks thrown up as a response to a housing crisis in the 1960s. Poor maintenance and lack of amenities became a problem almost immediately, leading to tenant transience and poverty, leading to high incidences of crime and alcohol and drug use.

A multi-million euro project is giving the area a face-lift—many of the tower blocks have been demolished, and hundreds of families have been relocated to better housing. But hundreds more families still live in the flats, and the area is still marked by poverty and crime.

Dublin's infamous Ballymun flats.
Several members of the Clipper basketball teams had a chance to work with some of the youth of Ballymun this August. With the shabby tower blocks in the background, they led basketball camps and soccer camps, listened to kids' stories, and shared their own.

The team also worked at the Lighthouse, a shelter in Dublin that meets some of the needs that have arisen because of the recession—many, many people (including immigrants who came to Ireland for work because of the country's open-door policy) find themselves unemployed and homeless, and have nowhere else to go.

The trip was an encouraging one for Lucas for a number of reasons. It was his first experience with the Clipper basketball team, having just relocated to Caronport from Vancouver. It allowed him to do something he's been passionate about for years—caring for underprivileged young people and adults.

The team under a cross in Bray, Ireland. Left to right: Mike Erickson, Will Con, Andrew Quiring, Lucas Goltz, Kevin Thiessen, Lance Fradette, Kaleb Leskiw, Philip Retzlaff, Gradyn Childerhose, and Caleb Klassen.
It also marked a small miracle for him—a time when God said clearly, "This is where I want you."

Early in the spring, Lucas got a phone call from Stan Peters, Briercrest College and Seminary's director of athletics. Lucas had played college basketball for Stan, who was the head basketball coach at Trinity Western University for nine years.

"Want a change of scenery?" Stan had asked.

At the time, Lucas was leading a street ministry called Night Shift that feeds and clothes homeless people in Surrey, B.C.

He had completed four years' worth of university classes, but had never really decided on a major. Nothing he'd studied stood out as his passion.

Caring for the desperate and the needy of Surrey, B.C.—that stood out. He was pretty sure he wanted to do something like it long-term. But most colleges don't offer degrees in that sort of thing.

Stan told Lucas about a unique opportunity he thought Lucas should check out—Briercrest College and Seminary's master's program in leadership. If he came, he'd get to play basketball again—and the basketball team was headed to Dublin for two weeks at the end of August. Did Lucas want to come?

The offer looked like it had God's fingerprints on it—the master's program seemed like exactly what he'd been waiting for, and the basketball team's Dublin trip would allow him to do exactly what he loved.

Lucas Goltz works on basketball technique with young campers in Ballymun.
Lucas came for a recruiting trip in April and was sold. All he needed to do was raise the money. It would be tough, but he thought he could do it. He took on three jobs.

By August, the 70-hour workweeks were proving insufficient. Some family matters arose, and Lucas was struggling. Dublin was looking less and less viable.

He prayed hard. "If you want me to do this, God, you need to make it crystal, crystal clear," he said.

The next day, he got a Facebook message from Kevin Thiessen, the basketball team's coach and the mission trip's leader. Was he coming to Dublin? The flight was scheduled to take off in two days.

Kevin explained that they'd gotten some kind of unusual group rate when they'd purchased plane tickets for the rest of the team, and they'd ended up with an extra ticket. (Neither of them had ever heard of that happening before.) If Lucas wanted the ticket, it was his.

Things were looking crystal, crystal clear.

Lucas left Toronto for Dublin early in the morning of August 14 along with 15 others to love the people of Ballymun.

Young campers in Ballymun.
What did he learn? "Patience," Lucas says, describing his surprise at how much tougher the kids were than he expected them to be.

He talks about how much he looks up to Theissen, who led the team to Ireland. "He did a fantastic job," Lucas says. "It definitely changed my approach to my education. I want to learn more about leadership for future trips."

Kevin and Stan are confident that he will. "Driver is the best way I would describe Lucas," says Kevin. "He has a strong desire to serve in whatever way possible. He was a very enthusiastic and engaging coach with the inner city kids at the basketball camp. He was also very passionate about the work at The Lighthouse. Even when he couldn't speak their language—a number of Polish came—he would simply listen and speak through those who could translate."

Stan believes Lucas's passion will build up the basketball team. "He's going to really help the team on the floor, but more than that, he's going to help them in the area of leadership and the area of having someone who is passionately wanting to grow in his faith."