NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Earlier this summer, 12 Belmont student-athletes and administrators traveled to Africa for a 10 day mission trip to Nakuru, Kenya. During their stay in Africa, they worked with a local ministry, Streets of Hope. Streets of Hope provides former street boys with a home, food, education, Christ-centered spiritual guidance, medical care and hope.
For the next several weeks, BelmontBruins.com will be posting personal reflections from the 10 student-athletes who took part in the trip.
Our first set of reflections comes from three members of the men's soccer program: Kyle Malden, Dan Brown, and Elliot Jones.
It has been almost a month since being back in the United States, and I think about Kenya and the boys in the Streets of Hope program everyday. This trip was one of the best experiences I have ever had, and I see it as a real focal point in my life. Since landing in Kenya, I feel like I have entered a rapid growth phase in my own life. Everyone on the trip was pushed in different ways, everyone encountered different things that made them uncomfortable that required growth. Even on the last day I could not believe our group was in Kenya. Coming back to the United States, our privilege to live in such a great nation was not casually familiar. I was grateful for all the available clean water, the paved roads, and diversity in meal options. Growing up in the United States, these things are widely available to nearly everyone. It is one thing to understand those things are a blessing, but I developed a whole new meaning when I reached for water, and there was none left. I feel for the boys in Streets of Hope, but I know they are in the best hands.
It is crazy how much you can connect with people when you get together and play a sport with them. We travelled half way around the world to be with people we did not know at all, but after we played a game of soccer with them, we were immediately connected and could make relationships and talk about God. God's love and the game of soccer really are international languages, and it was so rewarding to see God using the athletic talents that he has given us for his service.
Now, a few days on from the trip, I have been able to more clearly think about and understand what I was feeling while we were there. Going to Nakuru and spending time with the boys of Streets of Hope was an experience I couldn't forget if I tried. The most beautiful part of the trip was the fact that while we were the ones that took the two-day plane trip to share our love of the Lord, they had just as much of an effect on us as we did them. At the end of the trip, on the last night, there were tears from everyone.
If absolutely nothing else is to be taken from this trip, I took away how grateful we should be for everything that we have. From our homes, to drinking tap water safely, to our family situations, to the efficiency at which you get through the grocery store. They have so much less than we do. And we complain constantly about "we need this, we need that." In Nakuru, a roof to sleep under and a meal of rice and beans is all they need. The beauty in this lies in that the boys' happiness and spirit come from two places: each other, and God. They all come together to worship every day, and they thank the Lord for what he has given him. How many times do we take something for granted and not acknowledge that God is the reason we have that thing? The boys of Streets of Hope take everything they have as a blessing. How might our outlook on life change if we did the same? Especially when we know the alternatives? This hit me pretty hard.
In the short week that we were there, I learned a lot about compassion. We are not compelled to care about these boys. They live thousands of miles from us and more than likely most of us will never see most of them again (although I do plan to go back). But the second we walked into one of the homes, it was impossible not to feel a tiny fraction of that pain for each one of them. Many of the boys are recovering drug addicts at the age of 10. Many haven't seen their family in years or even met them. Many have been abused physically or sexually. These are sobering thoughts when you understand what exactly this child standing right in front of you has gone through. It is impossible not to feel that pain. But it is equally impossible not to return a smile at the smile and laughter of the boys. Their eyes when they speak/laugh/play with you are caked with love and genuineness. How can one not just ooze compassion when confronted with the place where disaster meets pure love?
Coming away from the trip, I have tried to bring home many thoughts to carry with me throughout life. I have made a much greater effort to thank God in the moment for what I recognize he has given me. I have tried to show more compassion to all. I have tried to be much more intentional with my prayers, and gear my cries to God away from myself, and over others. I have tried to talk to God throughout the day, as was mentioned by Dan Brown. We forget He is with us all the time, we don't just get to talk to Him when we go to bed at night. I have tried to think about where my ministry comes from. Dan mentioned that Kyle shows his faith through his passion of soccer. I thought to myself then that there has to be a best way for me to show my faith to those around me. It is a search I do not plan to end soon.
My last major takeaway from Kenya is that overall, we must simply enjoy life. We must enjoy life and immerse ourselves in the here and now. If we don't live in the now, then we cannot focus all our God-given energy where it should go. Thus we let down God. We must relish every lucky second we get on this earth, and do with it as much as we can. Much work has been done, but there is much work to do.