JACKSON, Tenn. – Aug. 30, 2013 – When Union University’s Lady Bulldog soccer team embarked on its first mission trip Aug. 3-11, the team members expected plenty of physical hardships.
What the players did not anticipate, however, was the number of personal challenges they would face during the trip – and the friendships and spiritual growth that would occur as a result.
The group of 26 soccer players and three coaches traveled to Eleuthera, an island in the Bahamas about 100 miles in length but less than a mile wide in spots. The team worked on several construction projects for Windermere High School, the only Christian school on the island.
Isaac Brooks, the team’s head coach, said the team was divided into four groups that worked on general maintenance tasks such as pouring cement into pot holes, installing classroom projectors and painting roofs and a teacher’s home. The groups worked until about noon each day, when the temperature and humidity became intolerable.
“It was definitely not a comfortable trip,” Brooks said. “But we knew that going in, and we weren’t looking for something where there was going to be a lot of instant gratification.”
Brooks said that island resources, both natural and man-made, deteriorate quickly due to the humid, salty climate and the intense heat. Storms also damage buildings and roads, creating a frequent need for repairs, while roofs have to be smeared with a thick, light-colored paint that reflects sunlight and seals out moisture.
The climate was not the only problem the team faced, as most of the women had little training in construction work. But Brooks noted that school officials gave only brief instructions before the Lady Bulldogs were mixing cement and slapping paint on roofs.
“Everything we did was something the missionaries didn’t have to do on their own,” Brooks said. “Missionaries work hard and don’t get paid well, and it’s a very thankless job. What I was hoping to do was go in and be a refresher – to be a light for them.”
The team stepped up to the challenge, as the women not only cultivated friendships with the missionaries but also completed projects that would have taken weeks for the missionaries to accomplish.
Dionna Linn, a senior athletic training major and team member, said her teammates were initially frustrated at having to paint the outside of a church two days before they returned home. The women were exhausted from several days of working in the intense heat and humidity, and they lacked proper equipment for the job.
But with everyone working together, Linn said they were able to apply nearly three coats of paint to the building – a job that would have taken days for the church’s maintenance worker to finish.
“As a team, we were able to overcome what was a huge challenge for him,” Linn said.
Eleuthera is divided into settlements, Brooks said, and the team ventured across the island in the afternoons to minister in communities outside of Windermere’s settlement.
Linn, who was born and raised on the mission field in Venezuela, said the team brought bags of sports equipment – including baseballs, basketballs and soccer balls – to play games with children. After playing games, many team members shared their testimonies with the children.
Linn had the chance to share the gospel while playing basketball with a boy who was wearing a “Jesus Rocks” T-shirt. She asked the boy about his shirt, and he began reciting information about the Bible. But during their conversation, Linn learned that the boy believed he may not get to heaven because he was a bad person.
“I realized in that moment that he knew all the information, yet he was missing the core of everything,” Linn said. She then shared with the boy that salvation is not a matter of being good or bad – it is a matter of what Christ has done for him.
“It was evident many times through the trip that we do have a full soccer season ahead of us, yet what we did on that mission trip is what our team exists for,” Linn said. “Just the mere fact that we were able to go on a trip is evidence to me that our team is going in the right direction.”
The team also faced personal challenges that fostered trust and formed friendships long before the women ever stepped on the soccer field.
Madison Purdy, a sophomore math major and team member, said the freshmen developed friendships with their teammates much quicker during the trip than they would have done on the soccer field. Upperclassmen can seem intimidating, Purdy said, but the freshmen quickly learned to trust their new teammates as everyone worked together.
Two of the team members also had deaths in their families while the team was serving in Eleuthera, said Alex Taylor, a junior chemistry major and team member. The loss formed bonds among the teammates, and the women learned to support one another in difficult circumstances.
“These hardships created an opportunity for us to lean on each other and grow closer as a team,” Taylor said. “We were all struggling in some way, and we bonded over that.” But the greatest improvement that Brooks noticed was the spiritual growth the team experienced during the trip.
Serving as the assistant soccer coach at Union for six years before becoming head coach in 2012, Brooks said that a handful of players throughout the years seemed disconnected during the team’s worship services. While in the Bahamas, however, Brooks saw all of the women come together on a spiritual level – neither showing off nor holding back in their worship and service to God.
The team may have suffered through heat, exhaustion and enough bug bites to resemble the chickenpox, but Brooks said that the friendships established and the work accomplished for God were worth the hardships.
“The trip was good because it wasn’t easy,” Brooks said. “If it was an easy trip, we wouldn’t have grown.”
By Beth Byrd