Sitting down reflecting on this trip there are so many emotions and memories that come to mind it becomes overwhelming. The past two years I spent three weeks each summer in Liberia with 67 kids and a handful of missionaries who have helped me grow and mature into a better person than I was before. There are so many moments that stick out from this trip. From a one day delay in Brussels, being able to see all the kids a year later, growing with my team at nightly devotionals, having a prayer night with the missionaries that hosted us, watching the World Cup with the kids, getting sick, staying two extra days. Lastly, the hardest, saying good-bye to all the kids, mamas, nationals and missionaries. Though there were so many different instances and activities I can talk about with this trip, the thing I want to focus on the most is what Managers On A Mission and Rafiki has meant for me.
When I first went on the trip I just finished up my senior year at Indiana University and was in the process of starting a job with Oral Roberts University as a graduate assistant for the men’s basketball team. I grew up a Christian, but struggled throughout college to keep my faith at the front and center of my life. My college years were a roller coaster when it came to my relationship with God. I struggled to get connected with different groups at school and thought going to church every other week was enough as long as I looked like I was a Christian from the outside. That started to change at the end of my senior year and after graduation. I decided to set aside time each day for God. It was hard at first, but just ten minutes every day was more than I had done in the previous years.
The first trip was a real eye opener, I was put in positions that I haven’t been in before. I was with three people who loved sports and competing. These individuals helped me grow in my faith every day and I now consider them to be great friends. For the first time, I put together devotionals, led Biblical based lessons, and prayed in front of others. Though I was uneasy at first, I still felt comfortable the whole time. It is also important to note how big of a role the kids took in this. Some of them have a pursuit of God that is so strong it is infectious. They asked me so many questions about my faith and the Bible. I made sure to write down some of these questions in my Bible and continue to pursue the answers as I grow with God. By the end of the trip I was on fire to know The Lord more and wanted to develop a stronger relationship with Him.
When I came back to the States, I was surrounded by a Christian staff at ORU that helped me not only grow in my knowledge of basketball, but also challenged me to be a better Christian. Before every meeting and practice we pray. We had chapels the day of games and had an environment that encouraged me to ask any question I had about the Bible. It was the first time I actually believed that I can use sports as my platform to help others know and grow through Christ. Though, from the outside sports doesn’t appear to relate to Christianity, there are so many similarities between the two. It would be foolish not to use something God has given me, sports, to bring others closer to Him. It was this last year that I realized how easily sports can be used to help the lost.
As the year went on, I was always thinking of the kids. By the grace of God I was given another opportunity to go to Liberia, this time as a leader. Outside of basketball I have never been in a leadership position. I decided this would be a great opportunity for so many reasons. I would be able to see the kids again, grow as a leader, meet other Christians in college athletics [now four friends who have helped me in the short time we have known each other], and grow in my pursuit of Christ. These most recent three weeks in Liberia was so much more than I could have ever imagined.
First off, my group was incredible! There were many bumps in the road while I attempted to lead, but my four teammates always picked up the slack and we wouldn’t miss a beat as a team. They taught me the importance of communication in all situations and challenged me in our nightly devotionals with our talks about Elijah, John the Baptist and discussed some of Jesus’ parables. I don’t think I can express how much each of them have impacted me and helped me grow in just three weeks. There is something special about this group and I can’t wait to see how they challenge me moving forward and what each of them will accomplish.
Seeing the kids was probably one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. After a year of praying and thinking of the kids, I was finally able to see how they were doing and spend more time with them; teaching sports and growing on a spiritual level alongside them. What stuck out to me was how much they remembered from last year. They remembered what lessons we led, outfits I wore, and they even, unfortunately, remembered my nickname, Mr. Red (I got burnt so bad I was red the whole trip). Spending three weeks and getting to invest into them and know them more on a more personal level is something I will never forget. I don’t think they understand how they have helped me grow in my quest to know the Lord more every day. The oldest boys are the group I connect to the easiest and since there is not much male presence, especially in the living area, it was an instant connection from both sides. I feel like they are my younger brothers. One reason is because I could mess around with them on the football field for a couple hours, but would also be able to have a serious life talk with them where most of them would actually make eye contact and listen (if they weren’t listening some, then some of them really fooled me!). It was the first time I was able to pour out into others and ultimately use my experiences in life to help direct and encourage the oldest boys in the village. There are so many smart, strong, God loving young men in that group I have no doubt they will be able to do great things for Liberia in the future.
In one year, there has been so many areas that I have grown because of this trip. I now feel way more comfortable to talk about our Lord and Savior and what He has done for us, while having a better understanding of His Word. A small example is last year I made myself sick trying to put together a single devotional. It would be a couple day process of searching on the internet and writing verses down. This year when a teammate got sick and couldn’t lead their devotional I was able to step in and put together a devotional for us to go through as a team. Without this trip from last year I would never have been equipped to do that. I was able to see first-hand what a year difference can make when we put God first. I have my group from last year, along with MOAM, to thank for helping me completely surrendering to God and my group this year to help me continue to grow in my faith.
One verse that stands out among the rest during this trip is a verse from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, that my group talked about during one of our lessons. It says,
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV).
It exemplifies how I feel about this trip but also how I have grown as a Christian. While in school I tried to do it alone and when I fell down once I had nobody there to help me up, I now have a whole group of Christians who can help me through any situation. Help doesn’t mean they are just going to tell me what I want to hear but are actually going to tell me what I need to hear. Before this trip, I struggled to find someone to talk to. Now I have missionaries, teammates from the past two trips, and all of MOAM to rely on when I am faced with a trial.
If anyone out there is considering applying for this trip I encourage you to do it! I didn’t think I would be able to go because of my job search, but God provided me a way. I have seen first-hand the difference it can make in your life. Though I still fall short because of sin, I have a God who loves me enough to have sent His Son to die on the cross for me! Through Managers On A Mission and this trip I have made relationships with some incredible brothers and sisters in Christ. I know they will always be there and help me in my pursuit to be a better Christian. If anyone has any question or wants to talk to me about these trips or about developing a relationship with our Lord and Savior feel free to reach out to me!