Playing Soccer Opens Doors in Uganda

For the second time in four years, the Westmont women’s soccer team travels to Uganda to combine soccer and ministry

During a two-week trip to Uganda in May, 19 members of the women’s soccer team, two coaches and five other leaders became acutely aware of God’s presence. They spent much of their time in Africa building relationships and serving the less fortunate. Twice in four years the team has organized a trip to Africa, working with Sports Outreach Institute (SOI) both times. Through this organization, the group volunteered at rehabilitation institutes for young children, ran soccer clinics and worked at a farm.

“The trip helped me realize that soccer truly is the world’s language,” says Kristi Kiely, head coach of the women’s soccer team. “Everyone can speak soccer, and it creates an immediate connection. It’s the one sport that gives you a worldwide platform to talk about Christ.”

Kiely credits alumna Jane Wyche ’07, who helped organize the original 2006 trip, and Dan Ribbens ’77, assistant women’s soccer coach and SOI board member, for helping make the quadrennial trip a reality. Executive Vice President Cliff Lundberg and his wife, Diane, both alumni, also went.

“We hope the outreach will continue so we can build relationships over the years, have a community there we pray for, and constantly think about God’s people more than ourselves,” Kiely says.

The players began praying and planning for the trip a year in advance, raising $4,000 each and convincing worried parents their daughters would be safe. Midfielder Jenna Nelson ’11 admits it was daunting. “With money slowly coming in, it was hard not to be worried,” she says. “All the while we trusted in God, knowing that with our hard work the means would be provided if it was His will for us to go.

“We devoted one night a week to pray for different aspects of the trip — everything from safe travel, the people we would meet, our financial status and team unity. Now, safely back from the trip, the power of prayer is clearly evident. Everyone was able to attend, the experience changed hearts, we overcame sickness, and all the details went smoothly.”

When they arrived, forward Aolani Rueff ’13 says she saw how fortunate she is to live in America and how much she takes it for granted. “Although the people we encountered in Uganda had so much less than we do, I felt the presence of God more than ever,” she says.

Working in a slum affected Rueff most deeply. The team removed massive piles of trash, dug trenches and drew water for the residents of the depressed area. “As I was cleaning up, I had many kids fighting with each other to help me and hold my hand,” she says. “Realizing that I could bring joy to these young children stunned me. Where were their families? Instantly I was even more grateful for my family and saw how blessed I am. Young women my age were either abandoned, raped, or had witnessed death and many other things far worse.”

Nelson says the people of Uganda showed her what it means to live simply and for eternity. “They are people with very few possessions who survive only with necessities or less,” she says. “So often we think if only we had this, or we need that, but that’s finding worth and pleasure from this world. Many of the Ugandans are eternally minded, knowing their current state of poverty is temporary. Their laughter, smiles, hugs and joy are not an outpouring of all they have here on earth, but come from the Lord God with whom they are so deeply in love.”

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