The men's and women's basketball teams at Southwestern Christian University are using their summer months to polish and tone their ball-playing talents. Their first training camps of the break, however, were not used to increase their skills for collegiate competition, but rather as a service to several groups of starry-eyed youths that are growing up in a country that is not as developed when it comes to Christianity or the wide world of sports.
On Saturday, May 5th, thirteen members of the SCU athletic program loaded a van for the airport with a destination of Colombia, South America in mind. The group, composed of nine basketball players, two soccer players, and Athletic Director Mark Arthur, arrived in Barranquilla, Colombia on Sunday afternoon for a week-long sports camp and worship opportunity with the youth and community.
The group had the chance to visit two or three schools and basketball academies in the city of Barranquilla each day. The profile of the schools represented varied at each location, but in the end, the same happy smiles danced across each face involved in the activities.
"Some of the schools were Christians and some were not, some were a little more well-to-do and some were very poor, some had basketball courts and some did not," said Mayra Munoz, a Colombian native and an alumni of SCU. "The reality is that no matter where we went, the Colombian students received this SCU team with arms wide open and very excited for the chance to work with the ‘American team'.
Each morning, the SCU group collected a bag full of give-a-ways, including bracelets, player trading cards, and basketballs, and set out for the different schools. Once they arrived, it was their job to mingle and interact with the kids in a time of sharing. It was during this time that Mayra communicated with the kids how very hard the SCU students had worked to raise the money to make the Colombia trip possible. After Coach Arthur gave a brief greeting about their purpose in Colombia, the SCU athletes were introduced individually.
"The most special element of the camps, in my opinion, was when it was time for the SCU students to share their personal story - their testimony," said Mayra. "Whether funny, sad, painful, or whatever their story was, these Colombian kids were touched by their testimonies. They connected with their words. They simply related."
After the time of sharing and introductions, Coach Arthur would get the groups together to work on drills. The SCU students would start off with the demonstration with the Colombian students jumping in the activities shortly after. The session would close with a fun game of basketball followed by a barrage of camera flashes and autograph requests to the SCU group.
"We had a great time in Colombia," said Coach Arthur. "Our athletes' testimonies were so powerful and lives were touched and changed on their side as well as ours. The kids just flocked to us like rock stars. We want to go back again every year."
Besides the work done at each school, the group also participated in several praise and worship services. During the services, the team would always introduce themselves to the congregation, and some would feel called to give their testimonies to them as well.
"Perhaps my favorite part about this trip was the youth service on Friday night," recalled Mayra. "I was overwhelmed to see the faces of so many of the students we had met throughout the week. Many of these kids were not Christians and they came to church that night just to see the SCU team once again. I didn't want this service to be a traditional church service, so on that night, the SCU students were the ‘preachers'. Many of them shared their testimonies one last time. Though I heard them share their testimonies during the week (as the interpreter), I hadn't heard most of the stories they shared that night. That night, their testimonies came from deep down inside their hearts. I never saw the students become more real, vulnerable, and honest as on this evening. The church was filled with tears and, at times, even laughter."
On that Friday evening service in Colombia, over thirty kids gave their lives to Christ.
"I was incredibly proud of our SCU students for being available and ready to be used by God. He used them to inspire the youth of Colombia just by being themselves and doing what they love."
SCU Women's Basketball player Kelsey Dawkins agreed with Mayra, "Colombia was such a humbling and life-changing experience."