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Sports Ministry Team Taking Word to Kenya

May 2, 2009

Baylor Bear Insider

When Athletics Chaplain Wes Yeary first started working through Baylor University Missions to organize a sports ministry trip to Kenya, what he found is there are already working relationships and things in place in the capital city of Nairobi.

"I started looking at that and thinking that we could go alongside and maybe do some things that they've done in the past," said Yeary, who's leading a 16-member team that includes five soccer players, two basketball players and two football players on the May 17-31 trip to Kenya. "But what's happened is that most of them are new contacts that have opened up, which just broadens Baylor's influence over there and the opportunity we have to partner with even more people."

Just last week, another door opened.

While Yeary was at the 100th Drake Relays with the Baylor track teams, he was introduced to former Kenyan Olympic middle-distance runner Mike Boit. Now a professor at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Boit invited Yeary's team to the university for a sports clinic and possible ministry opportunities.

"That's what for me is so exciting, or almost affirming that God's hand is in there," Yeary said, "because I couldn't have created all these. I really do get more and more excited each day in working through that schedule and seeing how the blanks that we had earlier have been filled in so much."

One of the "blanks" was filled by Boniface Mwalimu, a native Kenyan who answered the call to become a minister by leaving his job, his car and his home to reach out to homeless children addicted to sniffing glue. Yeary's sports ministry team will accompany Mwalimu on one of his early-morning trips to the streets of Nairobi to feed the children.

"These are kids that have been orphaned or abandoned and literally live on the streets," Yeary said. "(Mwalimu) feeds them at 5 in the morning. He wakes them up and feeds them. One of the reasons for that is it's the start of the day. But so many of them are addicted to glue. They sniff that glue to mask the pain, and that's a time when they're most alert, because they haven't gotten high yet. He shares God's word with them. And that's the one thing, he says, that can transform them is God's word. And many of them have gotten back in their villages. He's even had two that have made the Kenyan National soccer team."

Out of his original ministry to street children, Mwalimu has expanded to helping homeless women as a way to "stop the cycle."

"He turned the corner one day and found a bunch of women sleeping on the street," Yeary said. "And many of them even had infants. So on a separate day, he goes and feeds those women and shares with them. And he feels that's one of the ways to break the cycle is to get them back in (to the village). Instead of birthing and raising kids on the streets, get them back into the communities."

On another day, the Baylor sports ministry team will paint and do repair work on a rehab house that Mwalimu built through money raised by former Baylor volleyball player Jenne Blackburn.

"(The students) get excited about each and every one (of the mission opportunities)," Yeary said. "We went through our itinerary the other night, and every day is so different. Almost every day, we're going to be doing something with sports. But there's a couple of days that we're not. That morning that we get up to feed the kids on the streets in Nairobi, we're leaving from there and going to the house and just working. We're just putting the gloves on and going to work. And they love that, too. It's a good mix of things."

Although the team is going on a safari on one of the last days of the trip, Yeary definitely doesn't see the two-week journey as a "vacation." He wants their mission trip to have sustaining power.

"We want to be a part of something that carries on," he said. "And that's the beauty of partnering with folks over there is we're able to come in and help them build on what they already have or start something that will carry on. We're not going in there to entertain. We're going in there to help and support existing ministries or do some works for some folks that they'll be able to carry it on.

"And to me, part of going on missions is how it changes our views when we get back here. Even our hearts for reaching those right around us. They're going to see some sights that are going to challenge them. I'm just praying that it will be a life-changing experience for all of us."

The team also will conduct sports clinics and help with a coaches' clinic in schools and athletic organizations in Nairobi and the Simba Village Orphanage, which is 30 minutes outside of the city.

"We're taking our soccer girls, which is natural," Yeary said, "but they love to work other sports as well. So it's going to be a lot of fun with the football and basketball and a few other things we can do there."

Since this is Yeary's first trip to Africa, he said a huge blessing was when Kim Scott filled in as a leader when someone else dropped out. Not only has she been to Africa, the school's director of Campus Recreation and the McLane Student Life Center worked in athletics for 10 years as house supervisor at the Ferrell Center, coached for 12 years at the high school level and served as athletic director for six years at the Kanakuk sports camp in Missouri.

"She's been a coach, an athlete and she's been to Kenya," Yeary said. "So she's going to be able to help us a whole lot."

Also part of the team is Tanna Burge, an assistant strength and conditioning coach who works with softball, equestrian and football.

Student-athletes on the team are Lindsey Johnson, Amanda McGrath, Lindsay Smith, Nicky Smith and Rachel Stepp from soccer; women's basketball players Melissa Jones and Lindsay Palmer; and football players Bryan Swindoll and Andrew Sumpter. Also part of the sports ministry team are athletic training graduate assistant Shellie Spiers, student trainer Leah Capps, Baylor Club Soccer player Laura Smith and Baylor student Brittany Berg.

Considering that his only "recruiting" was just sharing about the trip, Yeary was excited by the response from the student-athletes, "and I've already heard from some football players and a few others who have said, `Hey, I want to do this next time.' I think they've heard about it and watched these guys as they've gotten ready, and it's really peaked their interest and desire to do that as well."

Much like the mission trip to Mexico that Yeary took over the Christmas break with associate athletic director Tom Hill, he has seen the group dynamic growing through the team meetings and planning sessions for the trip.

"Some of them already knew each other . . . but you can already tell the difference from that first (meeting) to the one that we had this past week," Yeary said. "Just the community that's building in that with the laughter and the sharing that's going on. That's really going to be special."

While the sports ministry team had raised over $36,000 as of Thursday, Yeary said they are still trying to raise an additional $10,000 to finish funding the trip and "be able to meet some (ministry) needs while we're over there." They also are trying to collect soccer balls, footballs and basketballs, shoes and Power Bars that would be used in place of bread for the street children of Nairobi.

If you are interested in supporting the Baylor sports ministry team or any of Baylor's University Missions teams, you can make donations online at: http://www.baylor.edu/spirituallife/index.php?id=53462 or send donations by check to:

Baylor University
Gift Office/University Development
One Bear Place #97026
Waco, Texas 76798

If you have any additional questions about the Baylor sports ministry team's trip to Kenya, you can contact Wes Yeary at 254-710-3027 or 254-644-9750 or by e-mail at wes_yeary@baylor.edu