News Story

Volleyball Star Reaches New Heights Putting Game Aside to Serve Others

All-American player really “digs” the people of New Zealand

Elders Bryce Jacobson (left) and Gavin Chambers visit with a friend in front of his home in their Papatoetoe, New Zealand area, on Friday, 10 February, 2023.© 2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

This guy checks all the usual boxes—he wears a white shirt and tie, has his scriptures at the ready, and possesses a natural faith in God, and a belief in himself and the work he is called to do. But it’s something else that makes Elder Gavin Chambers stand out from the crowd. 

Chambers, of Corona, California (USA) is a 206 centimetre (6-foot 9-inch) all-American volleyball player! But he’s traded in his volleyball togs for different clothes—those of a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' New Zealand Auckland Mission.

Elder Gavin Chambers, of Corona, California (USA), poses in front of his Papatoetoe, New Zealand apartment on a sunny afternoon, 6 February 2023.© 2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Chambers and his missionary companion, Elder Bryce Jacobson, of Cedar City, Utah (USA), are helping people learn about Jesus Christ and the influence He can have in their lives, in the Papatoetoe area of Auckland, New Zealand. In fact, Jacobson had been in the country only a few days when he and Chambers sat down to talk about their experiences. He admitted to feeling a little like he was “drinking from a fire hose” as his missionary service begins.

But Chambers, now a veteran of six months of service, says his junior companion is making great strides. “We’re both striving to be the best representatives of Jesus Christ that we can be,” he said.

“I really look up to Elder Chambers,” Jacobson said, clearly referring to him as his senior companion and trainer. But it’s simply a fact of life.  At his height, being looked up to is something that has happened to Chambers for most of his life.

He was always tall, growing up in a family where his mother was 182 cm (6-foot) and his father 187 cm (6-foot-2).  But there was nothing in the family history that suggested the son of Amber and Damon Chambers would eclipse his father’s height by a full 18 cm (7-inches).

“By the time I was 13 I was already 182 cm (six feet).  But my real growth spurt didn’t begin until my sophomore year in high school,” Chambers related. “I added 7.62 cm (3 inches) that year and another 7.62 cm (3 inches) the next year.”

Chambers added a final 2.54 cm (1-inch) his senior year in high school and, like most tall kids, the assumption was that he would be a basketball player. But that was not to be.

“I never really liked basketball that much,” he noted. “The other kids and the coaches always kind of made fun of me, telling me I couldn’t jump.”

It was at his mother’s urging that he tried out for a local recreation league volleyball team. “She said just give it a chance and see if I liked it," he said.

“So, I went and gave it a try,” Chambers explained.  “I had never had so much fun in any sport before, and I was hooked!”

“Even though I wasn’t very good, I went home and told Mom that volleyball was the sport for me!”

A member greets Elders Bryce Jacobson and Gavin Chambers (right) at the Ashlynn Avenue Ward, in Papatoetoe, New Zealand, Sunday 12 February 2023.© 2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Great club coaching helped him find his footing in the game, and because of his prodigious height, they made him a middle blocker, the player who defends the middle of the court closest to the net. Finally, the burden of “being tall” began to pay-off.  After playing a season of club volleyball that first summer, he was anxious to join his high school team and test his new skills.  But disaster struck in his very first scrimmage.

“I jumped and extended myself to try and block a ball, and when I came down I landed on the foot of the guy on the other side of the net and broke my ankle,” Chambers recounted. “I had to wear a boot everywhere after that and I didn’t get to play at all my freshman season.”

“It was frustrating to have made progress in this new sport I really liked, then lose that whole season.”

But from the ashes of that setback rose the “Phoenix” of an all-star career.  Over the next three years his performance on the court made him a feared opponent, and drew the attention of college volleyball teams throughout the US, particularly in volleyball-crazy California. After being offered scholarships by a number of top schools (Stanford and UCLA among them), he finally accepted the offer he truly wanted—to play for his favorite school, perennially nationally-ranked Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah (USA).

His youth career culminated in the summer of 2022, as his southern California-based Orange Coast Volleyball Club won the Under 18 national club volleyball championship. Chambers was named first-team all-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. The kid who “couldn’t jump,” had proven all of those early naysayers wrong.

“After that tournament was over, I took a couple of weeks and kind of basked in the excitement of it all—I wore my gold medal from winning the national championship and enjoyed the recognition,” Chambers said. “But then I knew it was time to move on with my life.”

That meant accepting his call to serve as a missionary for the Church. With all of his new-found glory and fame, one might think it was difficult to walk away from all of that.  But Chambers had made the decision as a 12-year-old, that he wanted to serve the Lord inviting others to come unto Christ. So, going on a mission was the right thing to do. 

Chambers says he can see the hand of the Lord in every decision he made to serve a mission. “Sure, it was hard to stop playing volleyball. As I got better and better, more and more people were telling me the sky was the limit, that I could play for the best teams in the country,” he related.

“But I had prayed about this decision, and I felt confident that the plan Heavenly Father had for me was to serve a mission right after high school,” Chambers  continued. “I knew I just needed to take that step away from volleyball for two years and serve others.”

For young men torn by such a decision, Chambers said deciding to do it early in his life made it much easier to manage all of the other things that could have acted as roadblocks to missionary service.

Former junior all-American and future Brigham Young University volleyball player-turned missionary, Elder Gavin Chambers, poses with the "tools of the trade," Sunday, 12 February 2023, in Papatoetoe, New Zealand.© 2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

“My advice is to make that decision to serve when you are young. If you wait until you’ve graduated from school, it becomes a lot harder,” he said. “There is so much pressure to do other things, from so many different directions.

“You want to make sure that you pray about that decision, too, because you may have ideas about what you want to do with your life, but your plan and the one Heavenly Father has for you may be different,” Chambers continued. 

“So just pray about it, bring the Lord into the decision-making, and then stick with the answer that you get. You can’t go wrong by doing that.”

Chambers is enjoying his service as a missionary, which began in July 2022 with three weeks in the Provo, Utah (USA) Missionary Training Center, followed by six months in the West Virginia Charleston Mission due to visa issues in New Zealand.  In West Virginia (a state in the eastern US)  he saw people going through severe economic distress due to changes in the energy industry. But Chambers found them to be humble and searching for spiritual guidance in their lives. 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ was the answer.

“I’m convinced it was the Lord’s plan for me to serve in West Virginia for six months, so that we could find, invite and teach the family we eventually helped bring into the Church,” Chambers stated. “Since coming to New Zealand, the situation has been a lot different--- people are very friendly and always waving to us all the time—but many are also searching for answers to life’s questions.

“We’re making friends everywhere we go, talking to people and sharing God's Plan of Happiness with them,” he continued.  “The work is hard, and we get rejected—not everybody is going to accept the message that we share at that very moment in time.

A little girl entering the Ashlynn Ward chapel in Papatoetoe, New Zealand, can hardly believe her eyes when Elder Gavin Chambers offers her "five," 12 February 2023.© 2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

“But we have tremendous faith that we’ll find people who are looking for a spiritual change in their lives,” he said.  “When they’re ready to listen we’re going to be there, to answer their questions and help them learn what to do.”

Chambers said his Stake President advised him at the outset of his missionary service to trust the Lord in all things, and know that He is heavily involved in his life.  “Sometimes we can’t see immediately the blessings that the Lord has in store for us, and it may be difficult to see that when we’re in the middle of the events that are happening in our lives,” he said. 

“We just need to go forward with faith. After the fact, its easier to see the hand of the Lord in our lives, and better understand why things played out like they did.

“As I look back now I can see how the Lord answered my prayers, and helped me find that perfect time to serve,” Elder Chambers says.  “By doing things the Lord’s way, I was able to receive an offer to play at a college that would allow me to serve a mission, and live my volleyball dream afterwards.”

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