Spartans Serving the Community

Here are some leadership and mission projects Spartan athletes have been and are currently involved with in the local and global community.

Women's Soccer - South Africa and Swaziland - Summer 2012

In the spring of 2012 , the Trinity Western women’s soccer team embarked upon a 17-day missions trip to the countries of South Africa and Swaziland. In this video, Coach Graham Roxburgh and players Caitlin Haines and Jessica King recall a profoundly impactful trip.

Click here to watch the Spartans tell their story.

Working in conjunction with Athletes in Action, the team spent time in and around the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria running soccer clinics, playing matches against local teams and developing relationships with a variety of girls’ soccer teams, ranging from youngsters to the South African national side that will be competing at the 2012 Olympics.

The team also spent time in the Swaziland town of Bulembu (Click here to learn more about the town of Bulembu) where the players and support staff worked in schools, orphanages and the community in general, while also running daily soccer clinics for hundreds of children.

Ultimately, however, while soccer was largely the common denominator, the Spartans journey to Africa was simply about helping wherever there was a need.

“It was an opportunity for us to serve and really experience that our program is more than just soccer,” Roxburgh said. “To be able to go and demonstrate God’s love by kicking around the ball with some kids or running some official practices for some aspiring young soccer players or whatever it was, we just kept saying, ‘whatever we can do to serve.’”

And in the end, while the Spartans no doubt left an impression on the people they met, the greatest impact may well have been on the players and coaches themselves, who returned to Canada with a new perspective on life.

“They’re just so joyful no matter what they’re situations were,” said Haines of the people of both South Africa and Swaziland. “We were in an orphanage where there were kids who had previously been abused or abandoned and just to see them smiling every day and so excited to see us, I think that impacted us to realize there’s so much more to life and there’s a greater purpose.”

While the main focus of the trip was on serving the people of South Africa and Swaziland, the Spartans also had a chance to play a series of exhibition matches against both local universities and a variety of South African national teams, including the country’s Olympic squad. In what will go down as one of the most memorable opponents the Spartans women’s soccer team has ever played, Trinity Western lost 1-0 to the Olympic-bound Banyana Banyana; a team that will play Canada July 28 in the group stage of the women’s soccer event at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London.

Women's Basketball - New Orleans - Summer 2012

In May 2012, the Trinity Western women’s basketball team travelled to New Orleans, La. for a week-long service and missions trip in the heart of an area still affected by the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Spartans coach Cheryl Jean-Paul and players Chelsey Olsen and Emily Knauff recall their week in which they served local communities within New Orleans however they could and wherever there was a need.

Click here to watch the Spartans tell their story.

Working with Camp Restore, the team did everything from working in community gardens to cleaning up people’s yards to working with kids in a nursery to sorting Mardi Gras beads to playing bingo with seniors at a community centre to working at a rescue horse ranch to what seemed to be everything in between.

“In our own way, it was just showing people love in the way we use our hands and the way we use our words and in our actions,” Olsen said. “A lot of those people’s lives aren’t easy and to make their lives a little easier, at least for one week, was a huge blessing for us as well as for them. And while we went to serve people, the people served us as well.”

The Spartans – who teamed up to work with the women’s soccer team from Nebraska’s Concordia University where former Trinity Western women’s soccer player and coach and women’s basketball coach Lisa White is the head coach – did something different each and every day they were in New Orleans and the focus was simply helping take a load off of someone’s shoulders, even if it was just for one day.

“The phrase I’ve been using is walk a week in someone else’s shoes,” Jean-Paul said. “This area of town, which had 36,000 people before the hurricane, still only has 18,000 people living there. It’s basically the people who couldn’t get out. These people are not thinking about what they’re going to do on the weekend. They’re trying to figure out how they’re going to feed their family that day.”

While service was certainly the focus of the trip, the value of the week away will no doubt have a long-lasting effect on the culture and relationships within the team. And for these particular athletes, it was a chance to bond as a team in a way this group has never done before.

“Our program has really been brought together by tragedy in this last year and really coming together by sad things happening,” Jean-Paul said. “I think this was a great opportunity to have joy together and experience some really cool things together. I think by combining those two, you’re able to fight for the person standing next to you because you know them a little better and you’ve shared a common experience. I think it’s going to be great and I’m really excited to see where this takes us.”

Men's Soccer - Benin - Summer 2011

The Trinity Western University men’s soccer team went on a two-week missions trip to Benin, from April 27 to May 10, where they built wells for clean water through Global Aid Network’s (GAiN) Water for Life Initiative, helped run soccer clinics, constructed a church structure in a remote village and played three matches against local clubs.

With each well that is built, approximately 1,000 people are given clean water and through GAiN, which is currently dedicated to drilling 70 wells per year in Benin, the Spartans men’s soccer team had the opportunity to help build four wells.

The players also had ample opportunities to use their soccer backgrounds to build meaningful relationships with the local people and, at the same time, spread the word of God through sport. Through a lot of hard work, a lot of testimonial sharing and a lot of relationship building, upon the team’s return coach Pat Rohla expressed that his goal of doing “something different” was, extreme heat and oddly fried eggs included, most definitely “mission accomplished.”

“We were just trying to break down a whole bunch of barriers that are pretty strong in the village areas mixed with voodoo and stuff like that,” said Spartans captain Gogo Vitic (Surrey, B.C.). “We were trying to go in and love on these people, and especially the kids, to further the Gospel.”

And if the group wasn’t mixing cement for the wells or hauling trees out of the forest for a church structure, they were interacting with the locals. And while French is the main language spoken in Benin, soccer was a common tongue.

“It was so easy. We would just roll a ball out and kids would come from everywhere,” said fifth-year defender Brayden Volkenant (Surrey, B.C.). “We wouldn’t have to have too much structure. They just loved playing the game and it was pretty awesome to see.”

And for the Spartans, the impact of the two-week venture was something they certainly will never forget.

“It is life changing to see people that have so little that are so happy,” Rohla said. “It gives us an appreciation for what we have here. It gives us an incentive to go and do some more. It just changes our perspective on a lot of values we have here.”

Brayden’s brother and third-year defender, Rhys Volkenant (Surrey, B.C.), added: “They joy of the people is something I have heard of, but it’s totally different when you experience it. Just seeing how happy the people are with very little and seeing how much they love the game of soccer is awesome. And for those who are Christians, they are certainly passionate about Jesus Christ.”

And specifically for Rhys, sharing his testimony to a crowd of people after one particular game was an experience he will forever remember.

“After every time we played soccer with them, one of us would share our testimony,” Rhys said. “I was fortunate enough to be able to tell mine after one game. And after I was done, they asked if anyone would like to come to Christ and about 30 people put their hands up, which was amazing to see God using me and other guys on our team to spread his word to another part of the world.”

Upon returning to Canada, the strengthening of relationships within the team is something that will no doubt go a long way in developing every aspect of the Spartans men’s soccer program, this year and for the future.

“I know it will have long last affect for the team, for the program and for the guys who went on the trip,” Rohla said. “There will be a really strong bond in a lot of different ways, both on the field and off.”

“The amount of conversation that happened and the amount of actually getting to know what guys believe and what’s going on in their lives and opening up to each other was crazy. And now I’m sure we can all say easily that when we play now, we’re definitely playing for the guy right beside us.”

Women's Volleyball - Paraguay - Summer 2011

The Trinity Western women’s volleyball team went on an Athletes in Action led missions trip to Paraguay, from April 26 to May 10, where the group served in nutrition centres, orphanages, churches  and in a number of other capacities wherever there was specific need.

The team, largely based in the country’s capital city Asuncion, helped make meals and played a variety of sports with the local children at the nutrition centres and orphanages, along with completing several service projects, which included the likes of painting rooms and cleaning up garbage-ridden areas. At the end of each day, the team played volleyball against local clubs where they also had opportunities to share their testimonies with both the team they had just played and their teammates.            

 “It was a great experience,” said Spartans middle Lindsay Dykman. “We saw lots of opportunities to share God and share our sport. The impact on us was a really spiritual one and it really deepened our understanding of the world and of God and of each other.

“We now have a totally new perspective on western wealth and, having gone from extreme poverty to seeing how we live, it’s hard to justify. There was lots of thinking to do.”

The trip was one in which the group was able to both serve an impoverished people and, at the same time, grow closer together as a team. From walking through the slums of the city to celebrating the unexpected healing of a six-year-old who had previously contracted dengue fever, it was a most impactful experience.

“Different girls experienced different emotions and different struggles as they saw different things or even shared part of their own story,” said AIA leader Christy Taylor. “And now they have that shared experience – where the girls had an opportunity to be there for each other – in which they can draw upon some of those experiences to continue to grow deeper and be more vulnerable with each other.”

 And while there’s no doubt a team can gel without such a trip, the Spartans trip in Paraguay was something that brought the team closer together on several levels.

“With the things we do teams can get brought together, but this is something unique,” said Spartans coach Ryan Hofer. “It goes deeper and you’re able to see truly the hearts of the people you’re around. The trip is more enriching. You’re able to experience a deeper level.”

Amber Brown, who missed this past season due to injury, added: “It think this trip will be really good for us as a team because everyone shared their testimony and you had to be pretty vulnerable sharing. Everyone poured out what was on their heart and what’s going on in their lives. Being vulnerable with the team will really create unity and just relying on each other to trust each other with that information that’s so dear to their hearts. I think it will help on and off the court bring us closer together.”