On August 15, the Huntington University women’s soccer team gathered for preseason camp. As per normal, they began their two weeks with a lot of hard work on the practice field, bonding through soccer and a common goal to make their team the best it can be. Then this year's camp took an abnormal turn as the women decided to put in a little hard work at a new place as well.
After spending four days putting in two-a-days on the field, the team, along with Coach Tom Datema, loaded a bus and a rental car and headed down to Nashville, Tennessee and the Center for Student Missions. After going through CSM's orientation Friday evening, the team had some fun hanging out before the real fun started Saturday morning.
The team got an early start with alarms set for 6 a.m. CSM leaders Jillian and Joy took the team to McDonald's for breakfast in downtown Nashville. Upon arrival at the restaurant, the team was given its first assignment. The women were split into groups and told to go scour the streets for someone to invite to breakfast – someone who could not afford to buy breakfast himself. Though this was a somewhat scary and shocking task for some of the players, each group managed to overcome their fears and find at least one person – if not more – to take out to breakfast. As senior Mindy Perry said, “After I got over my fear of the assignment, I really had a good time meeting and talking to the homeless men we took out to breakfast. They were so grateful for the things that I take for granted every day, it really made me step back and think about my priorities in life.”
Once all of the groups had finished their breakfasts and conversations with their invitees, the team headed to Isaiah 58, a food ministry in Nashville. There, they helped cook food, load it on the ministry’s bus, and serve it to people at a nearby park. Some of the players ran a “soccer clinic”, as well, although that turned out to be simply playing with the children.
After wearing out their energy there, the team climbed back into the bus and rental car and went to Feed the Children. This ministry is a Christian, international, nonprofit relief organization that delivers food, medicine, clothing and other necessities to individuals affected by famine, war, poverty or natural disaster. Here the team broke up into groups and opened pre-packaged boxes of food in order to remove soon-to-expire items and replace them with a different food item. The team flew through this assignment, finishing much earlier than they had planned.
After a delicious dinner at a Turkish restaurant, the team went on a prayer tour of Nashville. They made three stops at significant areas in the city. The first stop was the capital building. The second stop was an elementary school where a lot of illegal activity occurs after dark. The third stop was the Tennessee Titans’ football stadium, right next to the juvenile and family court. This tour accentuated how the city lives with richness and poorness side by side.
On Sunday morning, the team went to a non-denominational inner-city church for worship. The four-hour service was unique and much different from what team members had ever experienced. Although it was a bit long, it was a riveting service. As senior Christi Shook said, “I really enjoyed the worship time, and I liked observing the people and how they interacted.”
The team had lunch at the church, and got the opportunity to ask some questions about the service. Then they headed back to CSM for a bit of a break before going to the men’s Rescue Mission in downtown Nashville. At the Rescue Mission, some of the players helped to cook and serve, while others interacted with the men staying at the shelter and cleaned up the tables after they ate. “Getting the opportunity to talk to the people staying there was really interesting,” said sophomore Sarah Kaufman. “Some of their stories surprised me, and I wondered how some of the men ended up where they are now.”
On Monday morning, the team packed up and headed back to Huntington to resume their “normal” preseason. Besides helping many people and gaining new perspectives, the trip had a big impact. As junior Robyn Althoff said, “It was a great experience, and it really brought our team together.” Sure, running sprints and doing crunches can help a team bond… but playing how-far-can-you-kick-the-ball with a couple inner-city kids can do a lot of good, too.