Who was Derek?

Who was Derek Taatjes? Can words ever capture a life?

Derek was a servant leader. Since having kids, I don’t remember the last time I washed a dish, and every morning my sink was empty, the dishwasher full of clean dishes.

He loved me and his children more passionately than anyone I have ever seen. We did life together—parenting, ministry, fun, just everyday life. We 100 percent co-parented. Derek actually stayed home and cared for all three of our children every Monday while I was at work. How many dads could do that with an infant, a 2-year-old, and a 4-year-old? He was always so hands-on with our kids, playing games, chasing them around with “the claw.” Our friends’ kids wanted to come over and play with Mr. Derek. I think he may have changed more diapers than I ever did.

He was my best friend. Before kids, we traveled together, lived life in Chicago, played tennis, worked out together, ate together. (We love food.) We met at Taylor University and got married in 2000. We lived 11 full, fulfilling years together.

The number one word to describe Derek is passionate. He was extremely passionate about the things he loved—from March Madness to his desire for people to grasp the truth of God’s Word that we are desperate, broken people in need of a Savior. Derek taught with such urgency that his listeners knew they had a choice to make. His laugh was larger than life. He was so sensitive in a way that most people didn’t see. He hated injustice. He loved golf, basketball, tennis, running, movies, and music. Over the years he gave up many of these things because of his priority to be a husband and a dad. Derek was an All-American basketball player at Taylor and All-State in 3 sports in high school. He adored his dad and thought of him as literally the greatest man alive. He desired to be the man of God exemplified by his dad.

He loved chips. I swear Derek ran every day just so he could eat a whole bag of chips at night. For a 6’5” guy, the boy could dance. Everyone loved seeing his big arms and legs going in crazy directions. Even more people loved to see his expansive wing span, once used for dunking basketballs, spread out reaching high as he worshiped our King. If you spent a morning at Crossroads Bible Church, you know what I am talking about.

He loved his friends . . . passionately. He asked the tough questions of them because he cared. Unlike many guys, he loved to talk deep, which I think came from having two sisters. He wanted to really know what was going on with you. He was a gifted communicator, in one-on-ones or to masses.

Derek’s love language was words of affirmation. His mom spoke to him in his native love language better than anyone on this earth. Her verbal encouragement instilled Derek with a confidence that allowed him to stand firm in who he was and what he believed.

He loved to make people laugh and tell stories, sometimes adding what we lovingly referred to as “The Derek Factor”—a little exaggeration, some superlatives, and an occasional dose of fabrication, but always worth a good belly laugh. His smile was contagious. It engulfed his entire face. His heart was only out-sized by his size 15 shoes.

All this makes him sound perfect, and he would be frustrated if anyone ever thought that. We fought, he lacked patience, and he struggled with anger and pride. He described himself as “not a good man, but someone who daily made bad choices, someone who needed the grace of God daily.” He believed strongly that to understand the depth of our humanity, we daily need to be at the feet of Jesus, repenting of our sin and fully embracing the gift of God’s forgiveness. He believed that the Bible is the truth and that even in our post-modern culture, the Bible is nearly all black-and-white. He didn’t think you needed an advanced degree to understand the Bible—simply a desire and the commitment and faithfulness to be in it. He was a man of prayer and faith.

Derek’s path to ministry was circuitous. He was a business major and was headed down a path of financial success with his sales career, which led him to his dad’s commercial real estate business. Derek and I had always volunteered with the youth at our church in Chicago, Harvest Bible Chapel, and at Crossroads we were the volunteer youth pastors. After the birth of our first daughter, Ella, we prayed about transitioning out of youth ministry, but God had a different calling in mind. He led Derek’s heart to desire a full-time vocation at Crossroads and to walk away from the American Dream. In Derek fashion, he charged through that door without hesitation.

In his last message at Crossroads, he talked about the question of why bad things happen to good people, and in typical Derek fashion, he said that question was “a joke.” When he said that, I cringed inside, wondering how people were receiving it. He went on to say that question puts the focus on us and our importance rather than the focus upward on Christ. “When you ask the question the first way, you believe in the supremacy of humanity. When you ask the question the proper way, you believe in the supremacy of Christ. Now you can come to the conclusion that I am only at the mercy of God.”

Written by Charity and delivered by Libby VanSolkema at Derek’s funeral


  1. Marion Digre

    I only knew you both as clients when I helped you buy, and then sell, your condo in Oak Park. I have very fond memories of the fun we had in the search for your home here and truly you were some of the nicest clients I’ve ever had. I remember Derek well and am so sorry that you have suffered his loss and the loss of your son. I have had some pretty tough years since I saw you last but what has happened to you makes me realize how grateful I should be for the life I have. I’m counting my blessings today and I thank you for that.

  2. Anonymous

    >I just have a couple of memories I wanted to share. I remember about a year ago, Derek found out that I wore size 14 shoes. He wore size 15 if I remember correctly and understood that it wasn't very easy to find shoes. He brought me a huge trash bag full of shoes and sandals that he used to wear to church – I was so pumped!! It still makes me laugh thinking about how cool that was that he took he took the time to do that.

    I also remember him using the word "overrated." I laughed when he said it because I had never heard it before. I still use that word all the time because of the time I heard him use it.

    Praying for you everyday Charity, that God will give you and your family comfort and that He will protect all of you in every way. God will continue to be glorified through all of this. Derek served God with his whole heart, and God is honoring that. Love ya sister.

    Tyler Howe

  3. Anonymous

    >I don't know any of the family but I'm praying for each of you every day. I can't begin to imagine the sorrow you feel. Praying that you will find some comfort in knowing Jesus is interceding for you before the Father on those days when you can't pray. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  4. >Charity, As I read those words I was so proud of you, knowing you as you grew up and the wonderful woman you have become. Words cannot express my sympathy to you and the girls, but know you and your wonderful husband much better after reading all of the inspiring tributes to him and you. Was so wonderful to spend time with you when you were in Holmes County. Love to all of you, Dixie Gray

  5. Anonymous

    >I am only aware of this situation through friends of mine who are related to Charity. I can tell you that the impact of Derek and Dylan's lives, as well as the testimony of his wife and daughters, will be far-reaching. I have relayed the story to people and asked for prayers, but more importantly was able to share the faith of all involved. God is definitely in control and uses all things for good for those that believe in Him. Thank you for your faithfulness…God has blessed you.

  6. Anonymous

    >I didn't know Derek as well as most people, but he had such an impact on my life. He completely redefined my view of life and God and Heaven. He spoke so passionately about what Heaven would be like, and now he gets to marvel in that. He cried when talking about how being in front of the Almighty God will only bring us to say, "Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips!" Who gets excited and passionate about that? Derek.
    Charity, passionate is the best way to describe him! Our prayers are with you and your daughters.

  7. Rachel Lamb

    >I thank you for sharing this beautiful sentiment with those who could not be there. Derek made quite an impression on me during middle and high school, and I was surely one of many girls who followed him down the hallway & fought to sit next to him in class. (I mean, that hair alone! And as Courtney said so well, the Tevas and shorts, those images are crystal clear!!) Since I met him in 6th grade math class, everyone always wanted to be around "Taatj", and of course, watch him play sports. While I did not know the man he grew up to be, it has touched me profoundly to read the words of those who were so clearly fortunate. I do believe that has a lot to do with the woman he chose to spend his life with and to have his children. Your faith and belief in God's will is something that I find inspiring, and I hope brings you light on the days ahead.

  8. Christina Jill


    Thanks for sharing this real gift, this honesty and power and encouragement and hope and love and truth all in the form of words. Derek: truly passionate, truly alive. Truly dedicated to you and your kids and Crossroads and Christ.

    No words fill the gaps you feel, but these words you've written honor him and you at the same time.

  9. Anonymous

    >When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!"
    D. Andrews

  10. Anonymous

    >What a service! It’s difficult to even articulate how moving it was…you could literally feel how thought provoking and transforming it was for so many people. It was truly a celebration of life. Death was once described as simply like being in another room, where people may not be able to see them anymore, but they’re still progressing, still living, loving, and blessing.
    There is a community praying through this, and prayers DO bless and ARE answered. Derek’s loved ones will not be left in the wilderness, but a loving God is at this very moment providing them with everything they need.

  11. >I did not know Derek but I have learned a lot from him this week. I am amazed and inspired at the man he was. The stories of Derek, inspire me to run this race all the more fervently. To love more, to care less about the trivial and to focus on the eternal destination of those around me. It can be so tough to see good in someone passing the way Derek did but definitely, good is coming from this. Thank you for your strength and faithfulness to Christ! May the Father hold you close Charity.
    J Wagner

  12. Anonymous

    I just wanted to let you know that my son Joshy is in Ella's class at Northpointe. Tonight I told Joshy that Ella's daddy is in heaven with Jesus, so she is sad that she can't see him anymore. We prayed for her tonight and Joshy prayed that she would come back to school so he could give her a hug and make everything all better.
    I sincerely wish that would be enough for you and your precious daughters! His hug may not be, but the arms of our savior are wrapped tightly around you. I pray for a supernatural peace in the coming weeks and months for you.
    In Christ,
    Kate Walker

  13. >Dave & I were just talking about Derek's last sermon. Loved it! We had just asked ourselves "why did this bad thing happen God?" the week leading up to this sermon. Its really "why do good things happen to anyone?" He nailed it! Everything I have in my life is only by the grace of God. I'm a sinner, saved by grace, but I still stumble & fail daily. My savior took what I really deserved on the cross. Derek blessed us & convicted us through his words. You're our sister Charity & we will walk alongside you through this. Praying for you & the girls constantly!
    Beth Stone

  14. Anonymous

    >When Libby read this it was one of the most poignant moments of the day, among many. Incredible service celebrating a life lived for Christ and where God was glorified rightly!

  15. Anonymous

    >Derek, your family and friends celebrated you today. We cried. We laughed. We reflected. And we loved on one another. We could feel you and Dylan with us. We're not you and can never replace all that you are to Charity and the girls, but know they will never be alone or uncared for. Thank you for all that you are and the legacy you've left us with. Love you.
    - Courtney and Max

  16. Anonymous

    >This is beautiful Charity. Thank you for sharing.


  17. >Charity your name says it all. Its God's charity we are all enjoing. Thank you, God Bless you all.

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