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Fields of Faith brings 500 youth together for lessons in life

October 14, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

Though the rain put a damper on the field part, the faith was as strong as ever for the 13th Annual Fields of Faith inside the Union High School gym, hosted by the Union FCA and featuring guest speakers, plenty of laughs and stories of belief to over 500 attendees.

Youth from the communities of Benton, Dysart, Hudson, La Porte City, Traer and Vinton gathered in the gym as local Christian leaders such as Okee Walker and Craig Greiner from NtBasic out of Traer took to the mic. Greiner led through bible verses and fun activities for attendees who mainly were in middle school or high school.

"It was awesome to have an opportunity to either be outside or inside thanks to Union schools," Joe Hadachek, longtime organizer for Fields of Faith. "We can't control the weather, we adapt and adjust."

Article Photos

Grace Blake completes her speech about her battle with cancer with support from her youth pastor, Craig Greiner, during Fields of Faith on Wednesday, Oct. 2.

Fields of Faith not only featured adult preachers spreading the gospel to a young, engaged audience, but also the stories of various students from the local school districts. Grace Blake of Traer was diagnosed with Stage 2 Thyroid cancer in 2016, the start of her freshman year of high school. A tumor was found on the left side of her neck, requiring not one, but two surgeries. She missed school because of radiation treatment and showing her horses over the fall season, a passion of hers. After years of treatment, Blake was able to compete once again and attend classes on a regular basis. However, she kept much of her cancer to herself. When attending Fields of Faith, Blake was asked to tell her story in front of peers and complete strangers.

"What inspired me to talk was never giving up on your dreams because I was once very sick for months and had to take a break from my passion for showing horses nationally," Blake said. "I was able to push through it and now I have the opportunity to ride at a Division I university on scholarship."

Blake found herself emotional at the beginning, leaning on help from Greiner to complete her speech. The room grew silent as the senior related her nights in the hospital and how even to this day she still has to complete monthly checkups to ensure the cancer did not spread from her thyroid, which affects metabolism and heartbeat. Applause echoed through the gym when she completed her story.

"Seeing everyone's reaction made me feel like I was supposed to speak," Blake said. "God wanted me to speak that night. I wanted people to take away to never give up, no matter what."

Hadachek feels the ability for young people to go up in front of people to speak is difficult enough, but to share a story of faith can be hard. However, he believes with each story, hope is spread to those who may be hesitant to share their own issues.

"There are people sitting out there with problems and feel they have no one to talk to," Hadachek said. "Our hope is that people can seek help and find the right church for them."

According to Hadachek, Fields of Faith was initially started on a football field, a place where Hadachek has spent many days as a college and high school coach.

"They are a lot of men in the history of football who have been faith-based such as Tom Osbourne, Scott Frost and Dabo Swiney coaching at Clemson," Hadachek said.

The first event 13 years ago brought in 75 kids, growing to incorporate multiple schools in hopes of other school reproducing Fields of Faith in their community. Waukon and Cedar Falls also host a similar event.

Wednesday night continued as two UNI athletes, Jessica Heims and Hezekiah Applegate, shared their experiences with faith and athletics. Heims is a member of the United State Paralympics Team and a Discus World Record Holder, competing as a member of the Panther Track and Field Team.

"Before I was a believer, a lot of my identity was in my athletics, my accomplishments," Heims said. "I want athletes to understand that even after finding Christ, life isn't a happy bubble of all these wonderful things. Hardships comes with that."

Hezekiah "H" Applegate grew up with Christ as the son of a youth pastor in Johnston, receiving lessons in the form of something as simple as stick from his father. A standout athlete for the Johnston Dragons, Applegate enjoyed individual and team success throughout high school.

"I felt fortunate early in my high school career to have put God first," Applegate said. "In my three years of varsity football, I got hurt every single year with a major injury: fractured hip, fractured sternum, dislocated elbow. Those injuries were God reminding me, because those were times I was getting on my high horse. He took football temporarily from me to show me that truth. I love football, but God is my base and rock."

Applegate started at linebacker for the Panthers early in his college career only to see his spot taken away later. However, he believes his identity lies in God and not football, a fact he wanted to teach young Christian athletes in attendance such as Blake.

"Like what Jessica said about life not being all rainbows and everything, life was tough for Grace, but a little bit easier just because she could hold on to her faith," Applegate said. "He blessed her with family and friends through a tough time."

Heims grew up in a family she described as "loving", yet did not teach the Gospel in a way she could learn. After finding a new church and growing with fellow Christian athletes such as Applegate, Heims said she felt she "truly learned the love of Christ". With the night's speakers, she saw God through their stories.

"It's so beautiful to see that resilience in young people finding the love of Christ," Heims said. "I feel I didn't have as much courage as they have when I was in high school. I love seeing them grow and know they can love gospel."

As the evening drew to its conclusion, Curtis Fry took to the mic not necessarily as a preacher, but as a man who saw his life turn upside down after one fateful night. Fry was 21, a college football athlete at St. Ambrose University in Davenport and grew up in a strong Christian family in Wilton.

"I was just like many people in that gym in high school," Fry said. "Good athlete, seemingly good Christian, did nothing wrong. However, I wasn't actually living the life God envisioned for me and I see that now."

Fry celebrated his birthday with his brother and friend in Iowa City, drinking heavily and ended up losing his group. They would find him later without pants and his wallet, taking him back to their apartment. Later on, Fry would be approached by the Iowa City Police saying they found his belongings within the apartment of a 75 year old man beaten to death. Fry would be charged for second degree murder, later found guilty of manslaughter. He would spend five years in prison and then serve probation afterwards.

"Before I even got out of prison, youth groups started asking my dad if I would come to share my story," Fry said. "I knew God had laid that on my heart. It wasn't my story to hold in. It was SALT company in Iowa City I shared to first and I wasn't ready. As soon as I got up there, I knew it was God's message to share. I've spoken between 200 to 250 times since then."

Hadachek had heard of Fry through a faculty member at Union and asked him to speak to the students at Fields of Faith. True to the recommendations, students listened intently at Fry's story, realizing their stories weren't so different and learning how one decision can impact your life.

"No matter what you've been through, God is there to rescue you," Fry said. "The way that these students opened up instead of putting on a face is encouraging. This community was great to speak to."

The group of 500 attendees circled up for prayer to end their night. All in attendance were encouraged to find a faith system and help was offered if needed in finding a church to belong to.



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