Hope, love, encouragement, spiritual enlightenment. For the women’s soccer team, a two-week (May 8 – 23) LoveWorks summer trip to Livingstone, Zambia in Southern Africa was about more than simply athletics and competition. It was about spiritually growing and being a leader for young children in a drastically different culture–one that was eager to learn, eager to follow, and eager to love.
“They’re not required to go on this trip; it’s their choice,” head coach Tim Hall said in reference to his team members. “We took about fifteen girls. Their goal was to just dive in and step out of their comfort zone. They had to deal with cultural sensitivity. We didn’t want to be invasive, but rather we wanted to fit in. The way those girls got love from those kids was just incredible. It was an anointed time.”
Hundreds of children, some as young as four and others as old as seventeen, attended school within the Third World region. The only cost for attending was a uniform. There was no formal class structure; teachers would do their best to spontaneously teach what they were capable of. The unaesthetic soccer fields outside were surfaced with dirt, rocks, ditches, and pipes as goalposts. But the subpar conditions around them didn’t stop the children of Livingstone from being passionate, energetic and welcoming towards international visitors.
Soon after their arrival, team members were unprepared for the expectations that lay ahead of them. After entering the classroom, they presumed that their first official task would be managing the children and perhaps serving as teaching assistants.
Instead, they immediately learned first-hand what being a teacher in the region was truly like. Before they had an opportunity to know what their task was, the teacher gave them a textbook, presented the class to them, and waited patiently for them to begin teaching.
Fortunately, team leadership proved to be a valuable quality. The women huddled together and in a matter of a few minutes, they managed to determine their lesson plan and responsibilities for the next hour. The enthusiasm that the children expressed also made the experience much smoother.
“Every day was like that. The teacher would just flip open to a page, and we didn’t know what kind of subject it was going to be or what the kids already knew,” said midfielder Sami Swanson. “[But] the kids there were so eager to learn. Whatever we taught and whatever information we gave, they took it to heart. It just flowed.”
Each of the team members also had the opportunity to share their testimony with the entire school. With the aid of a translator, the whole congregation listened for a solid hour and was enlightened by each spiritual life story within the PLNU women’s soccer team.
“We would say something in English, and it would be translated,” said Swanson. “It would be silent, but as soon as it was translated, the congregation would be roaring with clapping and cheering. That was our common language: sharing a relationship with Christ.”
Of course, along with spiritual passion and a passion for learning, the children also had a major passion for the sport of soccer. For a couple hours each day, the school’s main team, essentially all the boys from 12 to 17, played barefoot on the dirt field against the PLNU women’s soccer team. On paper, it sounds like a casual matchup, but to the children of Zambia, it was like watching one of the most important games in professional soccer. They were even split up in a strict manner to solidify rooting interests.
“One of the most joy-filled experiences I can say I’ve had was when our team would score a goal,” said midfielder Kaiti Freeberg. “Our entire sideline, probably one hundred kids, would charge the field, sprinting full speed to hug us and celebrate. It was like every goal was the game-winner in the World Cup. I couldn’t help but think, ‘This is how I want to run into the arms of Jesus, with a joy and spirit like these kids.’”
It would be an understatement to say that these children were happy to meet the PLNU women’s soccer team at their school. Don’t let the Third World conditions of Zambia fool you; these children had a passion and drive that more than likely can’t be fully explained in only words.
“One thing that was said to us… was that just showing up to this community would be unforgettable to them,” said midfielder Kaiti Freeberg. “This trip was a prime example that loving on people and being present in their joys and sufferings is so much better than any tangible thing we could do… The material things you do will perish, but someone will never forget the way you made them feel.”
Swanson had a similar overall reflection towards the experience. “I have never seen so much pure joy in kids before,” said Swanson. “Never complaining. They just wanted to experience life with us.”
Freeberg and Swanson will be sharing their stories at Point Loma’s Timeout session on Wednesday, October 12 in Brown Chapel.