Georgia football coach donates kidney to fellow church member

LYONS — Doctors have successfully completed dual surgeries that took a kidney from a Georgia high school football coach and implanted it into a fellow churchgoer he met earlier this year.

Matt VerSluis, who moved to Lyons in southeast Georgia last year to be an assistant coach at Toombs County High School, was among a group of Christians who had been praying for Curtis Rowe, a diesel mechanic from nearby Ailey, Ga.

“I had prayed that God would be with his family, and that God would strengthen him for what lies ahead,” VerSluis said. “Then, the Holy Spirit starts talking to me, and says, ‘Matt, you’re the one who’s going to help Curtis.’”

VerSluis and his wife, Manda, started attending First Baptist Church shortly after they arrived in the town of 4,400 last year, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that had forced Rowe, with his underlying kidney issues, to avoid the crowds of church. So they actually hadn’t met Rowe when they heard about his failing kidneys and began praying for him earlier this year.

On a Monday morning, VerSluis was in the “War Room” where the Toombs County coaching staff gathers to pray. VerSluis vividly remembers praying for Rowe when he felt God calling him to give Rowe one of his kidneys.

VerSluis, a football coach for 29 years, wondered what his wife would think when he told her he wanted to be the donor. Turned out, Manda had been praying privately for Rowe and had made some very specific requests of the Lord.

“I had prayed for God to give the kidney this specific week and on this specific day,” Manda said.

While she hadn’t considered that God might answer that prayer with her husband’s kidney, she was supportive of the idea.

“When God speaks to you, you just say ‘yes,’” she said.

But would VeSluis be a match? He assumed so, since God had spoken, but he actually didn’t even know his own blood type at that point.

VerSluis went to his pastor, Dannie Williams, to talk with him about what he believed the Lord had asked him to do.

Williams decided the next step should be introducing VerSluis to Rowe.

“I told Curtis, ‘the Holy Spirit is telling me I’m supposed to help you, that I’m supposed to give you a kidney,’” VerSluis said.

Rowe and his wife, Amy, were moved by his generosity, but they also knew the chances of him being a suitable match were slim.

VerSluis, who didn’t even know his own blood type, went to Mayo Clinic for testing. Given the clear directive he had felt from the Lord, he wasn’t at all surprised that the tests showed he was a nearly perfect match.

“What a God thing, to not know my blood type, to not know Curtis, to only know the Holy Spirit is telling me to give him a kidney,” VerSluis said.

For VerSluis and his wife, the entire situation allowed them to understood why their lives were abruptly changed the year before, why he had lost his job as head football coach at White County High School last year, why they had dealt with the heartbreak and uncertainty of that ordeal, and why he ended up in Toombs County.

“All the struggles and difficulties that we endured was for this,” Manda said. “We reminded ourselves over and over again that God would use that situation for good. Well, this is good.”

Rowe and his wife, Amy, have always tended to keep personal matters private, but she had learned through a Bible study that Christians should share their burdens with their church family. So, on a Wednesday night, after years of seeing her husband’s kidneys worsen, she asked her church family to pray for him.

Prayer was all she asked for.

“We were not going to ask anyone to be tested as a potential donor,” Amy said. “We were just going to pray and leave it in God’s hands.”

The Rowes, including 9-year-old daughter Rachel, kept praying and waiting, even before VerSluis had moved to Lyons.

Rowe said VerSluis was an answer to prayer.

“It’s just so humbling that someone would put themselves out that way,” Rowe said. “For me, it paints a really good picture of Christ, what He has done for us, offering Himself for us.”

Williams agreed that VerSluis’ generosity is Christ-like.

“Matt didn’t owe Curtis anything, but Matt cared about him,” Williams said. “Christ owed us nothing but gave us everything we could possibly need.”

On the day before the surgery, VerSluis and Rowe, along with their wives, got together for dinner and to pray.

“I’m excited to be able to give Curtis this gift,” Versluis said. “I’m thankful that God’s allowing me to be that vessel. It’s not about me; it’s about being used by God.”

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