My town: Maun, Botswana
During Spring Break 2008, 21 Wabash students ignored the siren song of
the beach to answer a higher calling.
For college students, those words conjure up images of tropical climates and trips to the beach—a week of relaxation and self-indulgence.
But for 21 Wabash student-athletes, Spring Break 2008 brought not self-indulgence but a sense of purpose, as they spent a week as Christian missionaries in the landlocked southern African nation of Botswana.
To understand how a group of 19- to 22-year-old athletes can be inspired to give up their one respite from a grueling semester, raise $3,000 apiece, and then fly halfway around the world to spread their beliefs, it helps to talk with Brock Graham.
Sophomore football wide receiver Brock Graham is driven by his faith. He is active in the flourishing Wabash Christian Men’s group, and during the academic year he attends Pleasant View Baptist Church in Crawfordsville. He has carried heavy class loads with plans to graduate from Wabash after only three years to attend seminary.
During the summer of 2007, Graham traveled to Kenya with his home church to work at an orphanage outside of Nairobi. The experience left him wanting more.
"I always knew I would go back to Africa at some point," Graham says. So Neal Neathery, then the Little Giants’ defensive coordinator, grabbed Graham’s attention when he told him of his connections to OneWay Ministries in Naperville, Illinois, and that group’s need to find individuals willing to travel to Botswana.
"We heard that the group has a tough time reaching teenaged males in that country," Graham says. So he and football teammates Joshua Gangloff ’09 and Matt Kraft ’09 began to talk about participating in a mission trip. Then they decided to offer other members of the team in their prayer group a chance to join them.
"We expected maybe five to seven guys to take us up on the offer," Graham says. He was shocked to see 25 Wabash men at the initial callout meeting, all waiting to hear the OneWay Ministries rep talk about traveling to Botswana over spring break. Soon, 21 men committed to the trip, including the $3,000 that each student would be expected to come up with.
"I knew it was a huge amount of money to put together," Graham says. "Between family members, friends, and the support of some Wabash alumni who understood the importance of the trip, each person was able to raise the money."
While Botswana was Graham’s second mission to Africa, for D.J. Singfield ’11, the trip was his first on an airplane
"I was so fired up when I first heard about the trip, because I had never been out of the country," Singfield says. "I was very excited about spending my spring break with some solid guys, and I was pumped to make a difference in others lives and give glory to God."
"God did amazing things to get us there, and amazing things after we got there," Gangloff says.
On March 1, the Wabash men and four OneWay staff members boarded the 20-hour flight from Indianapolis to Maun, the fifth largest city in Botswana. An afternoon of rest was followed with a meeting with the "Checker" team—the team of full-time missionaries supported by OneWay in Botswana.
The students were placed into three groups. One would spend the first day visiting prisoners, the second group met with high school students, and the third would spend time in a nearby village.
"In the villages and at the schools we broke into smaller groups and played basketball, volleyball, and soccer games with the children," Graham says. "It was so awesome seeing kids start running toward our vehicles with huge smiles on their faces, waiting for us to share our stories with them. It was amazing to provide hope to prisoners after hearing their tales, giving them a way to better their lives by sharing the Word of God with them."
"They had such a passion for learning," Gangloff says.
For two of the students, the trip was a chance to share an experience with new friends. Sophomore David Rosborough was the only soccer player on the trip.
"I left for the trip not knowing a majority of the guys, but came back good buddies with all of them," he says. "That stood out to me —the bonds we were creating through or love of God. We did not have to be on the same athletic team to act like a team during the trip."
"Experiencing the lives of the people in southern Africa, our eyes were opened to our ignorance and naivetÈ," says senior Gabe Guerrero. "To see these people happier than we could ever imagine, living in the conditions that they do, purely for the joy and glory of God was an experience that we will never forget. We learned that God’s power and plan is beyond our earthly conception.
"Some of the most amazing times though, came watching each other grow. We all knew each other, but over the duration of the trip, we became a family. We experienced the true Wabash family culture in a place that was a million miles away."
For Singfield, the experience provided a challenge to continue the effort to reach out to others back at Wabash.
"I realized how truly blessed that I am," he says. "Our trip was so inspiring that we are working toward starting an athletic ministry on campus."
Graham says Singfield is not alone in wanting to extend the work begun during Spring Break.
"I talked to [sophomore] Dan Eddelman after class one day," Graham says. "Like a lot of the other guys who made the trip, he wishes he was waking up in the chalet in Botswana, preparing to spread the Word once again. He wants to know what can we do now.
"We still meet as a group every week. We want to try and bring the same message of what God has done in our lives and what he can do in theirs that we di for the people of Maun.