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Sports Ministry Team Touched by Zambian Orphans

July 3, 2014


"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." - Matthew 25:40

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

Wherever they went in Zambia, Baylor's Sports Ministry team members were swarmed and at times overwhelmed by orphan children that have been largely forgotten.

And they loved every second of it.

"I remember one of the days, the kids were just everywhere," said volleyball player Hope Ogden. "They were jumping on (Baylor football player Johnny Jefferson's) back, and he was doing squats with maybe eight kids and saying, `I'm getting my work in today.'''

This, though, was a labor of love.

Led by Baylor Athletics Chaplain Wes Yeary, a group of 44 Baylor students, athletes, managers and staff made the trek to Africa for the sixth consecutive year and spent nearly two weeks visiting orphanages, schools, hospitals and churches in and around Ndola, Zambia.

"For me, I was never really out of my comfort zone," said football's Patrick Levels, "Because Wes had said, `Just say yes to God!' So, I woke up every day with the mindset of whatever I encounter today, I'm just going to say yes and do it."

Because of civil unrest and increased tension in Kenya, this was the first year that the Baylor group did not spend at least part of its time continuing ministries started with Walter Machio and Boniface Mwalimu in Nairobi.

Instead, they turned one week into two in building on relationships started last year with Northrise University in Zambia.

"Because of the incidents that happened this past year, many of the groups had to cancel," Yeary said. "And because we had started that relationship already, it was just a natural to go there and serve the whole time. We were able to carry on and really build on some of the things we got to do last year at Mapalo and Airising Life ministries."

They have a hunger for learning and a passion for soccer. They live in extreme poverty, and yet they beam with joy and pride. . . . These are brilliant people that taught me countless lessons in just one day. And my eyes were opened to all of this through the universal language of soccer - Justine Hovden, junior, soccer (from May 20 blog post at www.baylorbears.com/sportsministry)

The first test is just surviving the 36-hour trip from Waco, Texas, to Ndola, Zambia. They left at 4:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday, May 17, and finally arrived in Zambia at 10:55 a.m. Monday, May 19.

"I'd go back to today . . . except for that plane ride," Jefferson said. "I'm not going to lie, that plane ride gets you."

On the first full day, the team conducts sports clinics at Mapalo School and Northrise University and makes home visits at Arising Life Ministries, where they delivered 100-pound bags of food that will feed families for months.

"I didn't find out until later, but the lady where I dropped off my bag was actually HIV-positive," said football player Raaquan Davis. "She had contracted it from her husband, who had passed, and her two children had passed. But it was amazing to see how grateful she was and how she was able to fight through all of that and still be happy and have confidence in everything just to live day-to-day. I know that would kill me going through that."

Yeary said the 100-pound bags of food the group brought to the families was something they would typically buy in a small hand-held sack, "and it didn't really cost us a whole lot to do it. But they were so overjoyed. They weren't expecting that at all."

Another thing that really touched me was being able to bring a family some food and seeing the big smile and excitement on the families faces, knowing that they were in need of food and that we were able to deliver it to them was a big moment for me. I'll never forget the woman's tears and her shouts. After just one day of experiencing real-life situations that these kids go through, it just makes me want to just stay here in Zambia for a while just to be around them and give them support. I can't wait for tomorrow! - Chris Sanders, junior, football (from May 20 blog post)

By the second full day in Zambia, the group was beginning to find its rhythm when they did sports clinics at the George School and Twapia School.

Football player Collin Brence said his impactful moment came at the George School, when one of the older students said, "I would like to be your friend."

"That just stuck a chord with me, because you don't really hear that in America," Brence said. "People just aren't so open about it. Usually, you have to do something for them, or they expect something from you. They don't just say, `I want to be your friend.' Turns out, his name was Gift, which was ironic to me, because he presented me with a gift that day. It really hit my heart, just to be open to saying, `Hey, Johnny, I want to be your friend. I don't want to just be there for you because I know you can do something for me, or I can do something for you. I want to be your friend because you're my brother in Christ and you're a cool person.'''

At that same stop, Ogden reunited with a boy named Simon, who remembered her from last year's visit to the George School.

"At the end of the day, I noticed that he didn't have any shoes while we were playing," Ogden said. "And I asked him, `Why aren't you wearing any shoes? Do you want mine?' They had hot-pink shoelaces, but they fit him perfectly, and he loved them. He had such a big impact on me, just the fact that he remembered me after a whole year, it was just neat to see the way that we could help each other out."

As our time drew to an end at George School, my friend Agnes hugged my neck as tight as she could. I immediately felt tears about to swell up. I love this little girl. . . . As our embrace loosened, Agnes looked deep into my eyes, and in her soft-serious voice said, "I will miss you forever." What's funny is that this statement wasn't gut-wrenching. It didn't absolutely rip my heart out because it simply wasn't true. You see, today Agnes encountered Jesus and later accepted him as her Lord and Savior. So while this goodbye is sad, I know Agnes won't miss me forever. I will see her again in a place without orphans, poverty and pain - only joy. - Alexa Crumpton, freshman, Acrobatics & Tumbling (from May 21 blog post)

There is a certain dynamic on these trips that crosses the different sports' lines and bring student-athletes together that barely knew each other just a few days before departing Waco.

This particular trip was football-heavy, with 12 players from Baylor's first-ever Big 12 championship team. But there were also five each from Acrobatics & Tumbling and equestrian, four volleyball players, two from soccer, three from club soccer, one from the spirit squad and one from track and field.

"I didn't know those volleyball girls, and I didn't want to get to know them, because they're just big and intimidating," Jefferson said. "But I got to meet (Nicole Bardaji) and Sam (Hill) and Adrien (Richburg). Man, they're my girls now."

Acting like big brothers trying to look out for their new-found sisters, the football players "protected" the female athletes on the trip.

"I'm used to walking with Adrien, and nobody's going to try and put a 6-3 girl in the trunk of their car," Bardaji said. "And I'm pretty fast, I'm just going to split. But everywhere we went, if there was like a creepy guy or something, (football player Drew Earnest) would put himself between us and them. . . . It was just really cool to see them look after us, even if it was just killing a spider or a bug or something in our room. We were definitely really close after the trip. I miss those guys."

The first week also included trips to the Arthur Davison Children's Hospital, Cheshire Girls Home and a sports clinic in Maukulu.

The Cheshire Home is for teenage girls with some sort of disability or deformity "that have either been cast out or just taken in by Cheshire," Yeary said. And they are taught life skills like sewing and computers.

At the end of the tour, one of the girls from the home said, "Thank you for remembering us."

"She was just expressing what many of them were feeling, that we're often forgotten and left aside, and just you're coming by here meant a lot," Yeary said. "I challenged our group with Matthew 25, where Jesus talks about the least of these, and what you're doing for the least of these, you're doing for me. We didn't take a ton of time that day, but just to sit and share with people and let them know we value them and we did care spoke volumes to them. And I think our students were deeply impacted by that time with those girls that afternoon."

It wasn't until we got back to our hotel in the evening that I found out that the teachers and faculty members at Cheshire Home are all volunteers from their community and are not on salary. They are just people that God has placed a burden on their heart to be a blessing to these girls. . . . It really showed me the power of the call of God on a person's life and that God's will is above any other. - Josh Benenoch, senior, football (from May 22 blog post)

From the outside - and really even from the inside - the Makululu Grace Church looked like a dump. Without electricity and filled with holes, it looked about as far as you could get from a traditional house of worship.

But as Jefferson put it, "the worship in there was like no other worship that I've ever seen."

"These are people that you think have literally nothing in the world," he said, "and they're singing to the top of their lungs with so much joy and happiness as you've ever seen. The worship in there was so powerful . . . it got me back on track to being the best person I can be."

While the youth-led choir and band were performing, "some of them were praying and speaking with their eyes closed," Ogden said.

"That's just something we don't do in America. We keep our worship to ourselves," she said. "But they are so in tune with God, and they're bold. If something is going on, they will share it out loud, and it's just between them and God. They don't really care who's watching. You could just see the Spirit moving int hat place, and no one was ashamed."

The pastor of that church is Simon Mwanamoya, who leads a Kabwe Sports Ministry that includes 266 coaches and over 5,000 children. In community of Makululu where Mwanamoya lives, there are 90,000 people overall and 60,000 children, with 22,000 orphans.

Mwanamoya bases his ministry on four principles: the fatherless, leadership, HIV and poverty.

"He wants to help the kids that don't have fathers," Yeary said. "Leadership is equipping people in the community to lead. HIV is really where they've lost that many people, and he's educating them and helping them make good decisions. And then (dealing with) poverty and hunger, and how they can use their resources to help contribute to society."

In Lusaka, the group spent two days with Family Legacy Missions, whose goal is to "educate and help change the cycle of what's happening" with the orphans in Zambia. Of the 6.5 million children in Zambia, more than 1 million are orphaned.

"When you get off the bus, and you see all those kids running toward you, you forget about any kind of comfort zone that you were thinking about before," Brence said. "They're just the cutest little kids. They might be dirty and they might be smelly, but you just want to play with them and hug on them."

On the final day at Family Legacy, Bardaji met a little girl named Rachel that shared her birthday, February 11.

"This little girl was teaching me things all day long," Bardaji said. "And at the end of the day, when we had to say goodbye, it made me so sad. I had fallen in love with this kid, and it was just in one day. That night at dinner, one of the leaders brought me a letter she had written, and it was the sweetest letter. It just had so much love in it. I still miss her."

Before returning, the group got a day of relaxation at Victoria Falls, a beautiful waterfall that is widely considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

"At the start of the trip, everyone was like, `Oh my gosh, we get to go here,''' said football player Cal Spangler. "But I think everyone on the trip would tell you that it didn't even compare to being with the kids. When we were there, we wanted to be with the kids."

Yeary, though, said it did give the group a chance to reflect and refresh and think and ask God, "What do we do next?"

"When you are in the beauty of God's creation, it reminds you of how big He is and powerful and magnificent," Yeary said, "and it reminds you, too, that He is big enough to reach the orphans. And He can even work through us to do that. That was a neat transition, that last day, before coming back."

And while the "work is never finished," Yeary said the group will pray and talk through the possibility of going to other places in the world. Yeary and Tom Hill, Associate Athletic Director for Community Relations and Special Projects, visited six cities in Brazil earlier this year.

"Through the World Cup and with the Olympics coming up in 2016, the International Sports Coalition has really encouraged us to help with the training in Brazil," Yeary said. "They've trained over 2,000 churches in sports ministry, and so many of them are desiring help in launching programs and using the momentum created through the World Cup and the Olympics."

Ultimately, Yeary said, "we're just trying to listen and be wise in how we partner and who we partner with and how we use the provisions God has given us to go share the gospel and partner with these ministers around the world. We want to give our athletes opportunities to give back and also put them in positions where their lives can be impacted and their world view can be changed."

Here is a roster of the 44 students, athletes, managers and Baylor staff that went on this year's mission trip to Zambia:

Acrobatics & Tumbling (5): Hailey Cowan, Kaelyn Cowan, Alexa Crumpton, Brandi Hanford, Courtney Pate
Club soccer (3): Lauren Azan, Shelby Cozette, Jessica Loyd (graduate)
Equestrian (5): Mary Brown, Gillian Chant, Ginger Chant, Alicia Gasser, Lindsey Otis
Football (12): Josh Benenoch, Collin Brence, Raaquan Davis, Taylor Douthit (graduate), Drew Earnest, Johnny Jefferson, Patrick Levels, Kevin Mitchell, Matt Ritchey, Chris Sanders, Cal Spangler, Sam Ukwuachu
Soccer (2): Justine Hovden, Michelle Kloss
Spirit Squad (1): Regan Volke
Track and Field (1): Erika Overbeck
Volleyball (4): Nicole Bardaji, Samantha Hill, Hope Ogden, Adrien Richburg
Women's Basketball (2): Epiphany Clark, GA; Kaylin Shillinglaw, manager
Staff/Leaders (9): Nancy Bearden (trainer), Norris Blount, Anna Maddox, Robert Perez (video), Dr. Ted Phipps, Melissa Pforr (trainer), Kim Scott, Megan Smart (trainer), Wes Yeary