Alumni Spotlight: The Gunnink Family

We have been blessed to watch our alumni make an impact all around the world. Some families have continued to be a part of our community for multiple generations. For this week’s alumni focus, we spoke with Chris (class of 2006), Stephen (2009), and Leesha (2012) Gunnink. This trio of siblings are third-generation DC students. Their grandmother and parents, Paul and Judy, were all DC graduates. (Some of you may know Judy Perkins as an alumni–we are also blessed to have her as a teacher in our High School!) Chris, Stephen, and Leesha’s journeys are a wonderful reminder that God is faithful–not only to us as a school but to us as families as well.

All three of the Gunnink siblings attended Calvin College and have followed in their late father’s steps working in the healthcare field.  Stephen and his wife, Kyla, met during orientation and Calvin and now have a daughter, Everleigh (who Stephen says is too smart and adventurous for her own good!) After completing medical school in Illinois, they moved to Grand Rapids. Stephen is currently a 2nd year fellow pursuing specialization in pediatric emergency medicine at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. 

Stephen  reflects on how Denver Christian helped him find God’s calling on his life. Stephen points out the many small ways that God directs us over time: “I learned that God had a plan to use my talents and gifts for his glory and all I had to do was trust him and follow the path that he had already laid out before me.” For Stephen, the school assignment of shadowing a professional turned into an inspiration to work in emergency medicine: “I don’t remember anything flashy or TV worthy about this shift in the ER but I do remember and was inspired by the knowledge, confidence, respect, and friendliness that this doctor had between his patients and his nursing staff. I point to this experience as the flashpoint for my medical career and pursuit in becoming a doctor.” 

After majoring in education at Calvin College, Chris taught Physical Education for two years before transitioning to nursing school at the University of Washington. Chris and his wife, Elizabeth, have two wonderful children, Anna and Simeon. They live in Grand Rapids, where Chris works as a nurse in the pediatric ICU and pediatric cardiac ICU at Helen DeVos Children’s hospital in Grand Rapids. Chris reflects on how God’s calling is persistent, even if our careers shift:  “DC instilled in me a desire to work in a field where I can help others. I watched the way my teachers served their students and poured into the community and it inspired me to do the same. While I ultimately changed careers from teaching to nursing, I think the lesson doesn’t change: we are called to serve others and be a light in the darkness.” 

In high school, Leesha appreciated the freedom she felt to pursue whatever calling she discovered and explore a variety of interests and passions. While Leesha was prepared academically for college and PA school, experiencing everything from class to sports and the fine arts allowed her to flourish as a whole child: “As simple as hobbies may seem, they continue to be an important part of what it looks like for me to be a healthy person, which is a calling in itself.”  Growing up watching her father work as a nurse inspired Leesha to become a PA. After majoring in Spanish with a minor in Biochemistry at Calvin, Leesha went to Duke University’s PA program. After working in the cancer unit at Yale New Haven Hospital, Leesha is excited to work in community health providing care to a largely underserved population. 

God is using each of the Gunninck children in amazing ways. In discussing their careers, each sibling emphasized the importance of allowing their relationship with Christ to guide the way that they treat others. While these three alumni work in the healthcare field, their message is powerful for Christians in all vocations.

“Each day I have the opportunity to be the “hands of Christ” as I care for my patients and their families. It’s an honor caring for children on what is often the worst day of their lives. My hope is always that in some way my patients can feel Jesus’ love as I work to bring them comfort, healing, or peace.”

Chris Gunnink

Stephen says, “I believe that God put me in this position to provide support, hope, and guidance to each patient and parent that I interact with–to be someone who listens and provides empathy.” Similarly, Leesha reflects, “As I care for cancer patients, I know it’s a privilege to care for them at their lowest points and often at the end of their life, just as other healthcare providers did for my dad. As I look towards caring for patients in my new role in community health, particularly those that often have poor access to health care otherwise, I recall my time in South America and ways that God was calling me to similar populations; he put a mission on my heart to a global community and I wonder if this new position will be a step towards or even fulfillment of that calling in some way.” Leesha is also a part of a community that has started The Jubilee Project–a project that is built to pursue justice and transform the physical and spiritual neighborhood they live in. 

The Gunnink family is an inspiring reminder to our students and alumni that when we open ourselves to God’s story, he will use us as individuals, as families, and as a school community. Leesha comments on how it’s hard for her to even conceptualize her childhood apart from Denver Christian, “I spent so much time in Denver Christian as a student and teacher’s daughter that separating my childhood from Denver Christian would be impossible.”

“As I look at where my kids are now, not only in their careers but also in their walk with God; I know Denver Christian played an integral part in educating and loving them, allowing them to become the awesome adults they are now. I truly hope that the influence DC had on my children and myself extends to all the current students part of DC now and in the future.”

Judy Perkins (Mom to Stephen, Chris, and Leesha, and HS Teacher at Denver Christian

 We are immensely grateful for the Gunnink family and for their reminder of what legacy looks like in our alumni. As a school, partnering with students as they discover the role that God has for their lives in His story is a great blessing. This year, as we reflect on the theme “See the Story. Live the Story,” the Gunnink show that true learning doesn’t stay in the mind but is lived out for the rest of our lives.

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