It has been almost two weeks since I landed back in America and I can still remember the kid’s faces distinctly in my head. I’ve come to realize these images of the kids smiling and laughing will never leave me. I have my wallpaper on my phone set as a picture of me and some the kids in Malawi because the pictures remind me of the love the kids showed us. Before the trip people who had been a mission trip had constantly advised me “when you leave you will feel as if the kids had more of an impact on your life than you did on theirs”. I listened to what they had to say, but I had no idea how true that statement would be. Over the three weeks that I spent in Malawi I formed a relationship with these kids. I felt like an older brother to some of them and it broke my heart to have to leave them. The kids would open up to me about situations in their life and I would tell them about how I had similar situations that had happened to me. The relationships that I built with the kids would change how I looked at life. I was amazed by the amount of care and love in which they showed. The kids offered to do almost everything for us, the kids willingly helped us set up the volleyball nets for volleyball day, they would offer to carry our things for us so that we did have to carry them, and they would ask us about our families all the time. The kids showed me, an outsider, a type of love that would impact my life forever.
Seeing how much the kids cared about us and loved us helped me understand how I should act around everyone at home. The kids showed a love to me that I feel that I must share to others also. As I was reading through my Bible about a week ago, I ran across the verses in John 13: 34-35 and it states “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The last sentence in this verse says that everyone will know I am a disciple of His if I love one another. As I read this verse I thought about the love the kids in Malawi showed me and thought to myself “If I showed half the amount of love that the kids had to everyone around me, I then would be following that commandment.” The kids in Malawi will never leave my heart or my mind, and I wish I could tell them one more time how much they have impacted my life.
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!
It is crazy to think that two weeks ago I was in Ghana repacking to head home; my bag lighter and my heart much, much heavier; saying rounds of goodbyes and collecting dozens of heartfelt letters. And now I’m repacking piles of issued gear to head back to South Bend for camp and it is setting in that the start of football season, school, and craziness that comes along with all of it is quickly approaching. Soon it will feel like Africa was ages ago and as time goes by, the vivid memories, emotions and experiences might dim, or be clouded out by new stress and priorities. Returning to my family and friends was relatively easy; they all knew where I had been and wanted to know every last detail about my time spent there, the kids I interacted with and the different types of food I ate. But, as reality sets back in, people will forget, not know, or not care about my trip and experiences this summer. They might ask how my break was or what I did, and I will have to summarize three weeks of life-changing experiences into a short conversation and I’m not sure how to do that quite yet.
I have no doubt that I have grown this summer; as a leader, as a Christian, and as an overall person. However, I also believe that these next few weeks of resettlement will also hold valuable lessons on patience, perseverance and keeping the faith alive in a world of unpacking shipments, practices, sunburns, walk throughs and sleep deprivation. This trip is certainly not a “one and done” deal, the experiences I had have taught, and will continue to teach, me so much about myself, my faith and my abilities. I was sad to see the end of my time in Africa, but I am excited to see what the past can teach me in the future.
To God Be the Glory!
My trip to Malawi is hard to put into words. The Lord worked in so many ways during and after the trip. I was anxious to go on this trip because of the fear of the unknown. I was unsure what the Lord would teach me, unsure of how my team and I would work together, and unsure of how I would teach the children. All of these worries went away when we got to the Rafiki village. The Lord opened my eyes to new things everyday. My team and I worked well together during the sessions and during bible study. Teaching the children came natural to me when I was giving them the devotional of the day. One of the biggest steps I took during this trip was sharing my testimony for the first time in front of people. After sharing, I felt like the Lord pushed me deeper into my faith every day. Now that the trip is over we have all had to make the adjustment back home. I would say this has been the hardest part of the whole thing for me.
Initially I was overwhelmed with so many feelings. I felt sad, guilty, happy, relieved, and uncomfortable. There are different reasons for these feelings, but at the time I did not understand. I reached out to my leader and asked him for advice. He challenged me to read a Psalm everyday out loud and start reading the 4 Gospels. I’ve been doing this every day since and I have found peace in doing so. A verse that had helped me find my way back is Psalm 61:2. It says that “when my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” The Bible says to stop, be silent, and ask Him to lead you. That is what I’ve been working on with the transition back home and I’m seeing results. Two weeks have gone by since the trip and everything has settled down. I miss the kids like crazy. I miss their smiling faces. I miss their energy during the sports sessions. I miss hearing them yell my name while running toward the gym. I miss their riddles and games. I miss the early mornings and late nights. Words cannot describe how I’m feeling, but I’m so thankful to have had this opportunity and the children there will forever be in my prayers.
Luke 17:33 “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it”
Thoughts of my trip to Liberia still constantly flood my mind as I sit back at home two weeks removed from the best trip of my life. This trip was everything I could have dreamed of and more. I am very thankful for God putting it on my heart to chase the call to mission in Africa. The verse written above has played a role in the growth I have had as a person. I would always hand God parts of my life, but never the full package. I struggled to think about having God control everything in my future because I like to be in control. The Rafiki kids no doubt helped me realize that I need to give God everything and have him be in total control.
There was a moment early in the trip where a young boy Austin asked me if I was scared to die one day. I told him that I don’t worry because I will get to be in a better place with God. He thought about the answer I gave and said “that is right I shouldn’t have anything to worry about”. This was such a quick moment, but one of my favorite on the trip because Austin and I were both thinking about our futures together and trusting in God to take control of our lives. Austin and I formed a special bond early on in my time in Liberia that got stronger the longer I was in Liberia. He wanted to know the Lord and pursue him with everything he could. Austin liked how the older boys were grouping up with Iain and having short talks about God and the bible. He approached me one day in week 2 asking if he could do the same. He was a leader and wanted to learn more about the Lord. What had an even bigger impact on me though was how he brought others in on the short bible study. He wanted others to be involved and would always tell his friends after lunch to meet outside on the porch for our talk. Many of the younger Rafiki boys started joining in to talk about their highs and lows of the day. Their passion for Christ and drive to learn more about him made me so excited! It made me wat to run after the Lord harder and harder. These moments with the younger and middle aged boys are some that I will never forget.
As I continue to think about all the happy moments I had in Liberia it is hard sometimes to accept that it could have been the last time I will get to see those kids. Whenever I look at my watch I add 4 hours to the time and think about what I would have been doing in Liberia with the kids at that time. When I see leftover food at the dinner table I think about how the kids would divide it up and share it with all their friends who wanted the extra food. The giving heart these kids have is incredible. They come from a place that doesn’t have very much yet they are so happy because they know God and surround themselves with his presence every day. The pure joy these kids had in every activity for the most part was very impactful to watch especially how well they all worked together. Sometimes working together with another person on a team can be difficult. Many of the jobs I have had and will have in the future involve teamwork, and it was inspiring to watch the 60+ Rafiki kids work together and support each other. That is what I miss the most about Liberia and the kids in the orphanage. They do their best to love everyone like God loves us and sometimes I struggle with that here. I struggle to see others showing Gods love to me, but the Liberian kids always did. That is something that as I read through their letters from time to time I have a vivid picture of in my mind. I read a name at the start of a letter and I can remember them either using their words or actions towards me in a way God would to love me. I miss that more than anything and I miss showing my love and appreciation to the kids as well.
God has blessed me incredibly well by giving me the opportunity to go on this mission trip. I will always remember this trip and the impacts it has made on my life. I always want others to feel cared for and loved like the Rafiki kids loved my team and me. There are many more values that I have taken from this trip that I will continue to work towards using in my future. I am incredibly thankful and I know this trip will stay in my memory forever.
Jesus is faithful.
It is crazy that it has already been a couple weeks since I was in Uganda, Africa. I remember the faces, smiles, and laughter like it was yesterday. I miss it. I miss the kids. I miss my team. I miss the country.
I have started the journey of processing the trip. What was my favorite moment? What did I learn? What do I miss the most? When people ask me these questions, I struggle to answer because the experience was too magnificent for just a few words. Yet, I will try my best.
So begins my attempt to write of this experience.
Uganda, culturally, is a very quiet and reserved county. The kids did not share much about their lives or struggles. This made it difficult to connect with the Rafiki residents initially. However, on the second Sunday we were there, walls were broken and the Lord’s presence was felt. James had the idea of doing a bonfire and s’mores with the kids. What an awesome idea, how could we not do it. Once the sun had set and the kids gathered, James opened the floor for the kids and our team to share what they had learned in the first two weeks of the trip. This was the first time I saw the kids publically open up and speak about struggles and their personal faith. Following this we prayed with the kids, some kids asked us MOAMs to pray with them about specific struggles and goals.
We had finally broken down the walls. This set the tone for the final week. The Rafiki students were much more open about their personal lives. Four Rafiki girls even accepted Christ as their personal Lord and Savior! PRAISE JESUS! What an amazing experience for us to be there as these four young women made the best decision of their lives.
Jesus is Lord.
God’s presence was strongly felt. Many times I hear people say, “God showed up.” But God is always there and always present, right? So, what is the change? I showed up. Uganda allowed me to show up. I connected with God on a deeper level. I encountered Him in every aspect of my life. As I was eating, as I was walking, as I was playing basketball, I felt the presence of God. So, you have to travel half way around the world to show up? Not at all.
Travelling to Africa taught me more clearly, that I have to show up in my day-to-day life. Since I have returned, I have felt the Lord as I am eating, as I am walking, as I am managing basketball. The love and presence of Jesus transcends all language, culture, and geographic barrier. It is true, at all times and in all places.
The truth that Jesus saves all people is a truth worth sharing. Africa taught me that no matter what vocational path I choose, telling people about the Gospel is worth it.
Jesus’ love is overwhelming.
I think about the trip every day. I wish I could have one more game of knockout. One more conversation. One more hug. One more sound of laughter. One more moment. I miss the kids.
It hurts to think about, yet when it hurts I remember two things. Firstly, that I am unimpressive, yet Jesus loves me infinitely more than I could ever love. He loves enough to become human and die the death I deserved. Secondly, I remember because of THAT love, I will see these kids again, if not in this life, in eternity. I cannot wait to sing praise in the presence of the King with the Rafiki students.
Jesus offers hope.
My pastor once said, “The Christian life is like waiting on the sun to rise.” I am surrounded in the darkness of my sin and the sin of those around me. Yet, if I look to the horizon I can catch a glimpse of a sun ray. Sun rays are glorious, magnificent.
Sun rays remind me of what is truly important. They remind me of the purpose for my life.
They also offer a taste of heaven, an appetizer for a life that is too come. It is too good to explain and too glorious to comprehend. The only way to start to understand it, is to experience the love of Jesus and the power of His presence.
I would describe my three weeks in Uganda as a ray of sun rising over the horizon.
Jesus is worthy.
My three weeks in Malawi with Managers on a Mission was an experience I will always remember. This trip was unlike any I had ever been on, and the difference was in the children. From the moment we pulled up to the Rafiki gates that very first time, I knew this would be different from other experiences I have had.
What got to me on this trip was the mindsets of the children of this orphanage. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, and you see it from the second you get off the plane. You cannot escape it and even though these orphans live like kings and queens inside the fences, they are reminded daily of how much they have been blessed just from looking beyond the gates.
My favorite question to ask the kids was always about what they wanted to do once they were to grow up and leave the village. I was always interested in their aspirations and their dreams, and I found it interesting to gain their perspectives. Their replies blew me away because almost all of them were centered around wanting to give back. When asked, some would say they want to be doctors so that they can care for orphans. Another told me she wanted to go into law so that she could be a voice for orphans in the court room. Another even told me that they wanted to go into the service so that they could physically protect children with whom nobody will protect. Sure, some kids told me they wanted to travel to America and become a professional athlete, but so many voiced their passion for the marginalized and the over-looked.
It was more-than humbling to hear these kids talk about how they wish to serve rather than to be served and reminded me of the mindset of Jesus. Christ came to us, to serve rather than to be served. I could so easily see Jesus in each and every one of these children, and it completely blew me away and gave me a new perspective on why Jesus has given me what He has. Nothing that I have came from my own will or dedication. Everything came from above and is a gift to further the kingdom. Nothing I have is mine to keep, but rather to invest in glorifying the Lord and spreading the truth and knowledge of the One who sent His only Son to save the lost.
I want to thank Managers on a Mission for giving me the opportunity to be a part of their mission this year, to Rafiki for so easily welcoming us and making us feel at home, and the children of the orphanage who made much more of an impact on me than I did on them.
Where do I even begin?
Three weeks in Wakiso, Uganda has come and gone. I knew going into the trip that it was going to fly by but nothing could’ve prepared me for how hard it was going to be leaving the people of Rafiki. The kids are some of the most intelligent, joyful, faithful, talented and impactful people I’ve ever been around. The Mommas (women who look out for the kids and basically do everything to keep things normal in their day to day lives) are a true inspiration. Physically and mentally so strong!! Full of appreciation and the biggest of smiles they are women that I will never forget and will always come to mind for inspiration. The administration (Madam Yeen) a woman who has a vision to do everything she possibly can to give these kids an opportunity to become the best person they possibly can be and to fulfill whatever their dream is. A woman who has dedicated her life to serving others!
THANK YOU!! Thank you to all of you and also to Managers on a Mission. I’ve probably said thank you to Drew Boe and Seth Ralston (two amazing guys who make this opportunity happen for all of us) so many times since being back for letting me have this opportunity that it has gotten old but I can’t thank them enough.
Being back in the states and being able to share this experience with friends, family, coaching buddies, mentors, roommates and many others has honestly been one of my favorite parts of the whole thing. I’ve been able to have amazing conversations lately and can’t wait to continue sharing to others. Now actually putting this into a blog is something that has been hard because there is soooooooo much to share that all of you reading this would get tired of reading. I’ve joked around with friends saying I’m going to write a book about the trip… seriously might now that I’m typing this haha!
God is AMAZING!! Last year I heard about Managers on a Mission through a close friend of mine. He mentioned that I should look into this opportunity. It was a time where I had so much going on with trying to break into the coaching industry that I didn’t feel like it was the right time and also didn’t feel like I would stand a chance of getting accepted. Now this year comes around and the same friend mentions it again. This time I had zero hesitation. I applied and prayed about it for months until I got a call that I’ll never forget.
I want to encourage anyone and everyone to look into Managers on a Mission! I’ve seen so much growth in myself that I’m so excited to be able to use going forward. I was able to do things that I’ve never been confident about or make an impact in ways that I didn’t know was possible. These kids who you see pictures of are the most amazing kids! They taught me so much that I needed to learn! From teaching basketball, lacrosse, volleyball, football and many other fun activities, nightly devotions, to meals with food that I’ve never heard of, countless games of UNO, a bonfire that led to some of the most moving stories, and the most special events of all being called to lead two young women (Molly and Rebecca) to Christ for the very first time. I’ve learned so many lessons about life in general that has opened up my eyes and it gives me so much future excitement.
These kids are so talented but also are so open to learn anything that is being taught to them. Singing, playing different instruments, art, athletics, farming, and overall knowledge of how to do anything is so impressive! They were able to teach me so much!
The sports industry is an industry full of amazing opportunity. It is full of doors ready to break down to make an impact on others through Christ. I am PUMPED to share this with everyone I possibly can. I know life will bring me back to Uganda sooner than later. I can’t wait for that!! Thank you Managers on a Mission and Rafiki… you all are a true blessing. Thank you for anyone who read this and hope to be able to talk to you soon!
Ephesians 3:20 (ESV): “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power within us.”
This year, I gave myself several small areas I wanted to focus on that could help me grow in various parts of my life. In one of these, I challenged myself to show genuine love to every single person I meet, not just friends or people that can help me, as if they were created in the image of God (because we all are! [Genesis 1:27] Cool, right?). The Bible is full of verses saying things about loving your neighbors or loving people the way God loves us, so it seemed like a good goal. When I was first applying for this trip, I thought it would be a great opportunity to practice this in a new environment with cultural differences while doing the things I love: teaching and coaching. I knew this trip could help me long term as a teacher, a coach, and a man of God, but I never considered the immediate ways it could shift my perspective.
After getting there and spending a few days on the village I realized just how much more I could love the people around me. The kids wanted to know everything about us and our families. Every day I was getting asked by someone new about my favorite colors, sports, foods, or bible verses. They then would ask about family members and want to know everything they enjoyed doing, and if your answers changed from day to day, they remembered. Even though the questions at times seemed small and unimportant, I began to realize if they ask me my best friend’s favorite color, I may not know it. Loving people involves getting to know them, asking how their day is going, and not just giving a friendly “Hello.”
The second part of loving the people around you that the people I met on this trip helped me better understand love is an action. The first example I think of is the hospitality the children showed in the dining hall. Before meals, Paul would often ask me to sit at their table. On the days I would say yes, he’d offer to take my backpack and save me a seat. I at first thought this was to ensure I would sit by him, but after the third time or so, I realized that he was at the other end of the table. He had been putting me by different places to meet everyone from his cottage. At each meal, no matter at which table I sat, the kids and mamas were always there for me. They would make sure to inform me how to eat unfamiliar foods with advice about pouring your soup over rice or swallowing the fufu without chewing it. The kids were putting others like myself or friends from their cottage before themselves and that’s what genuine love looks like.
By the end of the trip the kids were constantly asking me about why I was being shy or quiet, and I kept reminding them that how actions speak louder than words and asking them that I could still be their friend even if I didn’t talk a lot. In reality, the whole experience helped me better understand love as an action, and that it may even speak the loudest of all, and I was also reminding myself of the same things. Love is a lot more than just smiling to a stranger and saying, “Good morning” or texting an old friend just to say “Hi.” Love is truly caring about those around you and often putting them before yourself. This new perspective has been my biggest immediate takeaway from the trip that I hope to apply in my own life as I try to finish this year of loving people.
Home Sweet Home Away From Home – Caleb Currier – 2018 Team Zambia Group Leader
Romans 10:13-15 (ESV): For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
I cannot even begin to express my gratitude to the Lord for allowing me to return to Zambia this summer. My trip last year to Zambia changed my life- it taught me so much about the Lord, about the person I was and the person I wanted to become, my passion and love in life, and the impact one person can have. Returning to Zambia was something I always prayed about; I felt a lot of pain leaving last year, not just because I was unsure if I would ever return, but because I also felt that the work the Lord had given me was not finished there. When I found out I would be able to return to Zambia this summer, it was all I talked about and all that I could think about. Zambia was my home sweet home away from home, and the kids and mamas were my family.
I had put a lot of thought into what I was going to say when I walked into the dining hall to surprise everyone. Every time I thought about it, it made me emotional- a lot of smiling, some tears of happiness, but never the right words. When I walked in that Sunday evening, I was prepared to say something in front of everyone, but I went straight to my dude Dennis, and then to my other dude Emmanuel. Being their sponsor, I get to hear from them pretty often, but seeing them again brought tears of joy to my eyes. They mean absolutely everything to me; they’ve taught me so much about myself and about life. There isn’t a day that I don’t think about them and what they mean to me. I always hope I am someone they can look up to, someone they can learn from, someone they can trust, and I want them to know I am someone who will always believe in them and love them.
Following dinner that first night, we went for devotion. Dennis surprised me- he had made honor roll! A true surprise because every report I received, asked that I please pray for Dennis to pay better attention in school. I could not be more proud of him for his hard work and commitment to doing better. I was still pretty emotional and at a loss of words for what was happening. Mama Florence made me even more emotional. We were sitting in a circle and she was telling the kids she had prayed that I would someday return to Zambia. Not just because she missed me, but because she felt that I was someone who could teach the boys lessons in life that she could never teach herself, because I was someone who was wise and caring, and I was a part of their family in Zambia. Hearing this made me really realize that God had called me to Zambia for a reason, it was just a coincidence that I got selected to go to Zambia. This is where I was meant to be, this is where my heart was and where the work the Lord needed me to do was.
The kids responded unbelievably well to everything my team was teaching them. I couldn’t believe how much they grew and matured in one year. Even kids who hardly talked to me last year were coming up to me and giving me hugs, telling me how much they missed me. Everyone opened up and I really got to know them more. They remembered so much from last year and it was fun to hear the stories they had. Our three weeks were full of basketball, volleyball, football, American football, baseball, capture the flag, ultimate frisbee, sleepovers, a talent show, prayer, laughter, and joy. At the end of the day, any frustration I had, seemed to disappear and the next day was a new day. These kids, they don’t care if you’re tall or short, black or white, athletic or artistic, old or young- they love you for who you are and what you do for them.
The time seemed to fly by and every now and then I couldn’t help but think about how hard it was going to be to leave these kids again. As Rascal Flatts would say, I wanted the days to pass easy and the moments to pass slow, because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye just yet. I always prayed that I would be able to return to Zambia one day because I thought it would fill a hole in my heart; I thought the second goodbyes would be more comforting. And while I did find it a little easier to say goodbye this year, there was and still is more hurt inside. Throughout the weeks it was hard me to hear “Caleb, are you coming back next year?” and “Caleb, move to Zambia, stay with us here; we love you.” One of the Mamas there told me she knew this would not be the last time I would be in Zambia, she assured me that I would be back. The most painful thing I heard in my three weeks back in Zambia, was from one of the older boys, who I really grew attached to this year. We were taking a picture together and I asked him if he was going to smile, he looked down to the ground and responded, “there is nothing to smile about, I don’t want you to leave us again.” Nothing had hurt as bad as that did, to this day it still hurts me.
I’ve shed a lot of tears these past two weeks, I’ve been filled with a lot of hurt, some frustration and confusion, and some uncertainty. And no matter who you talk to, nobody will ever exactly understand what you’re going through, even people on the same trip as you; we all experience things differently. It was difficult for me to understand why there was more hurt this year, and I still don’t know if I’ve figured it out completely. I always knew how much the kids meant to me, how much the experience changed me for the better, but I never really thought about how much I meant to the kids and how I had impacted their life. A good friend explained it to me well- we all want to feel needed, to feel appreciated and to feel loved. I guess that’s what’s difficult about coming back to the world of college athletics- by nature of the sports world, you’re replaceable, people get fired and replaced all the time. And honestly, someone could probably do my job better than I can, so a feeling of not being needed can exist. There can be a feeling of not being appreciated because in the grand scheme of things, you’re at the bottom and really there are more important things and more important people than you. That’s just the nature of it, and it’s not a bad thing, it’s just two completely different worlds and you have to readjust after having an experience like I did.
Last year the kids and the overall experience made me understand that basketball is not my passion, it’s what I love. My passion is to connect with kids/young adults and talk about life- leadership, respect, treating people the right way, and doing things the right way; basketball has just always been my platform for doing that. After this year, my eyes have been open to the calling of mission work overseas, and I’ve really questioned whether the coaching profession is for me or if my heart was elsewhere. I feel like I’ve poured so much into basketball and given so much time to the game, but what has it given to me in return? I’m a super competitive person and I’ve been able to experience competition at the highest level, I’ve met some incredible people through the game, and I’ve been able to go to some pretty cool places, but is that what I’m seeking in life? When I think about my time in Zambia, I poured so little time of my life, six weeks to be exact, into these kids, into serving the Lord there and what has it given me? More than I could ever imagine. It’s given me life lessons, another home, another family, and it’s drawn me closer to the Lord. College basketball will always be there for me, nobody can take away the work I put in at Tennessee and the things that I learned there, I can always come back to the game. I don’t want to regret missing out on the opportunity to serve long-term if that’s what God is calling me to do. I am not closing the door on my college athletics career, but I don’t want to ignore the Lord if He indeed is calling me to serve Him in a different capacity than I ever thought before. I’m going to continue to pray about, continue to explore my options, and continue to trust the Lord has a plan for me.
Truthfully, Zambia feels like another home to me. I like the food, love the people, and feel so at peace there. It’s somewhere where I feel appreciated every day, somewhere I’ve grown as person, somewhere that I feel free and at ease. I feel like I can be myself and not be judged on a single thing there; and these kids and these Mamas, they feel like my family. They’re my Mamas, my brothers, my sisters, my home boys and home girls, my dudes, my everything.
I’ve really had to take time to myself since returning, to think, to pray, to get closer to God. I thought it was difficult to have my heart in two different States, but now, now I have my heart in two different countries, two different continents. I came across a quote by Miriam Adeney that’s really helped me make sense of returning to the States:
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
I often wonder if the kids ever miss me as much as I miss them. I take them everywhere with me- I have them on my phone, pictures on my desk, pictures on my bedroom wall. I take them with me because I love them with everything I have. I wish more than anything that I could pack my bags and take a short car ride or flight to Zambia and spend more time with them. Distance can be a difficult thing, and honestly, I fear I may never make it back over to Zambia. I also fear that the kids might forget me and everything we share together, but I fear even more that I might forget them- forget favorite colors, favorite foods, favorite sports, forget names and faces, forget the memories and the laughter. During my time back in the States, I came across a another quote, this one from The Notebook, “the scariest thing about distance is you don’t know whether they’ll miss you or forget about you,” and I couldn’t have said it any better myself…
As much pain and hurt as I have, the experience truly was incredible and I have so many good memories from this year’s trip. From day one, the kids were all smiles, you felt their joy and their love, and it was contagious. I didn’t have one day where I felt exhausted to the point of not wanting to spend time with them, they gave me energy and joy to fulfill my days. Their smiles, their laughs, their jokes and riddles, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. One of my favorite memories is when one of the boys asked me what the greatest thing that ever happened to me was, I had never really put much thought into it, but I immediately responded coming to Zambia, not just once, but twice and spending time with you all. The whole table lit up with smiles, myself included. This experience has truly made me a better person; it’s made me more conscious of what I do- do I spend more time with the Lord or watch another episode of Netflix? It’s made me more conscious of the way I talk and the way I treat people; it’s made me more conscious of who I surround myself with. It truly shaped me into the person I am today, still broken and imperfect, but better and striving to improve every day through Christ.
I’m forever thankful for my time in Zambia, for the life lessons, the laughter, the friendships, the joy, for Managers On A Mission for giving me the opportunity, for the Rafiki Foundation and the staff, for my good friend Kate Wilkins, for the two teams I was a part of, for the people of Zambia, for the Mamas and kids at Rafiki Village Zambia, and for the good Lord calling me not just once, but twice to serve in Zambia.
God Bless & Go Lady Vols,
2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV): “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."