It was February, 2007, when I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Butters for the first time.
I interviewed this former professional hockey player/coach – turned hockey missionary – by telephone for my In the Spirit column then met him face-to-face when the Fellowship of Christian Athletes invited him to Grand Forks to speak at a chapel held during the North Dakota State High School Boy’s Hockey Tournament.
Last Monday (Sept. 23) it was a joy to meet Bill again, and his lovely wife, Debby.
My husband Jim, Debby and Bill Butters and me
I was delighted to hear Bill was to speak during Grandparents’ Day at Concordia Academy, a Christian High School in Roseville, Minn. Granddaughter Grace is a sophomore at CA and we never miss Grandparents’ Day.
Softball – just one of Grace’s loves
Grandparents’ Day is a time when love among generations bounces off the walls. Students entering the gym spot their gleeful grandparents and rush to quickly wrap their arms around them just before chapel.
The worship band and the orchestra provided accompaniment for our hundreds of voices who raised the rafters on, “Beautiful Savior,” and David Crowder’s arrangement of, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”
In his chapel message, Principal Tim Berner urged grandparents to talk to their grandchildren about faith. “Don’t just do Christian things,” he said, “talk about your faith. Sometimes the sins we’ve done keep us from talking to our grandchildren about our faith, but that makes us the perfect ones to talk to them. These students don’t even know how assaulted they are in this world. The culture is so against them. We are among the most influential people in their lives.”
After chapel the students left for class and the grandparents were served coffee and cookies on their way to the auditorium for more wonderful orchestra and choir music.
Then it was time for Bill Butters to take the stage to address his fellow grandparents..
His story of how he met the Lord for the first time at the age of 30 is a multi-tissue one. It happened when he was asked to be an instructor at a youth hockey camp.
Bill had grown up not knowing much about God or having time for anybody who did. That mind-set stayed with him throughout most of his successful college and professional hockey career.
Then came this camp which “happened to be a Christian camp,” Bill said. “I saw boys ages 12 to 17 singing about the Lord, reading their Bibles and being hockey players without using profanity and being respectful to coaches and picking up the locker room after themselves. It was different than what I had ever seen before.”
One night at that camp, Bill was invited to pray with some of the boys. He was changed from within when they began to pray for him. “I realized how bad a life I lived and that I needed a Savior,” he said.
Bill spent seven years in the National Hockey League and World Hockey Association, playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota North Stars, Edmonton Oilers, St. Paul Fighting Saints, Houston Aeros and New England Whalers.
He roomed with Jim Gambucci of Grand Forks and they were co-captains of the Gophers in 1972-73. He also played with Dean Blais, former UND coach.
After retiring from professional hockey, Bill coached for five years at Breck High School in Minneapolis, 10 years at the University of Minnesota and three years at Bethel College in St. Paul. He completed his coaching career with four seasons at his alma mater, White Bear Lake High School.
“When I got out of hockey and into coaching,” he told me in 2007, “I realized a person could have faith in God and still be a hockey player. I wanted to share that truth with all the players in the ministry I’ve been called to.”
Hockey missionary work is very rewarding, Bill said. “We have camps in seven countries for kids during the summer. And during the school year I meet with college and professional players and encourage them to be men of God. We study the Bible, learn how to pray and encourage them in their faith. It’s unbelievable how God can use a guy like me to serve Him.”
Is there a third meeting of Bill and Debby Butters in our future? Perhaps. Debby takes piano lessons from our daughter-in-law, Jyl and we love Jyl’s recitals.