As we descended into Uganda after 24+ travel hours, a cloud of excitement hovered over our AROMA team, much like the clouds of unearthed red dirt that would soon linger over our missional feet. Our team of athletes, coaches, trainers, alum and Sawyer Representatives had been preparing for months leading up to this trip and we were finally here, a little nervous but filled with expectant hope of God’s working on our trip. We walked out into the parking lot and were immediately greeted by staff from the Sports Outreach Institute (SOI) group that we would be partnering with for the next 10 days. Hearing their laughter and welcoming words reassured us that this would be a great journey of relationship-building, sports-playing, water-filtering and hope-rising.
Making connections through sports ministry
We began our visit in Kampala, the capital city, where we delved into discovering what urban life was like in Uganda and the programs SOI was using to reach the people there. Our group split into sections, some running ingenious soccer clinics to 200+ children with only two soccer balls, some using their basketball skills to interact with local girls on the courts, and some taking an overview of all SOI’s programs. Traveling with the group overseeing the projects, I visited the slums feeding program, the local church, the chess program reaching non-soccer fans and the soccer pitches. It was here that I saw the first glimpse of what “sports ministry” really means.
After meeting the Good News team who was coaching the local slum children in soccer, the other girls in my group and I jumped right into playing drills and games with the kids. This brought out a lot of laughter and smiles from both the players and spectators alike. The coaches there are amazing men who donate their time investing in these children and their lives, providing them somewhere to go, giving them a sport to devote themselves to and using sport as an avenue to show and tell the children (and spectators!) about the love of God. After our playing, our AROMA team was invited to share some words of inspiration and the gospel to the group we were just playing with. Initially, I tightened up but as children started running over to us, I knew the words I would speak to them about God’s faithfulness through struggles and challenges, using my own story. Speaking to these children, my heart was filled, and tears welled up in my eyes at the completion of our talks and presentation of the gospel when three boys decided to follow Christ. Praise God (a common phrase heard throughout our stay)!
The following morning we took a six-hour trip across the expanse of Uganda’s beautiful countryside to Soroti, seeing villages and children chasing our bus waving and screaming “Muzungo!” Our long journey brought us to the town where we spent the majority of our time ministering. Pulling up to meet the Divine Stars soccer team, there was both giggling and anticipation from our team and theirs! After hugs, we proceeded to have a time of worship together, one of the most moving and personally impactful times on our stay for many of us. Hearing the blended voices of Ugandans and Americans rising to glorify our same God reached deep into my soul.
Along with leading running track, soccer, volleyball and field hockey clinics, the best part was building the friendships with these people. On multiple occasions, we found time to simply sit under the shade of mango trees and discuss our lives, hopes, dreams and faith. The encouragement was reciprocal, bringing us closer to each other and God. As a unit, we traveled to surrounding villages to play soccer games and present the gospel to their people. Playing with the children, learning some Teso phrases and songs, giving out Bibles to those who “wished some day to have one,” worshiping and eating with 800+ villagers at their church and seeing more than 300 people decide to follow Christ were amazing highlights of our visit and works of God.
Providing safe, clean water
Along with growing and sharing, our AROMA group was so fortunate to be traveling with life-giving machines in our back packs: water filtration kits from Sawyer Products. The company generously donated 75 water filters which remove all harmful bacteria, providing over one million gallons of clean, safe, drinkable water over its lifetime. We distributed these to churches, families, towns and the mayor! It was apparen
t how crucial clean, safe water is for the people of Uganda as we poured the dirty water taken from the ground and wells and sent it through the small devices. Water that was once grimy and risky now ran fresh, sparkling and drinkable! However, there was still hesitation that these devices could actually provide water safe for consumption until our team members took swigs themselves, and saw mouths open and face-lighting smiles as the people realized how their lives would be changed.
Just as the water was once mucky and soiled, so are our souls before Christ transforms them into new, spotless reflections of Him. Through this trip, I was reminded over and over of the true cleanser of souls, the One who provides life-giving water. This stay renewed my own soul, and my commitment to Christ and I will carry the spirit of the beautiful country of Uganda and its people forever in my heart.
Reflection by Victoria Hepp `14, a senior member of the track and field team.