Evangel women’s basketball team makes history in Guatemala
June 4, 2012 | Ashli O'Connell
A perennial power in the Heart of America Athletic Conference, the Lady Crusaders basketball team is used to setting records on the court. But in May 2012 they made history of a different sort. As the first American basketball team to play in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, they made an international impact that will have lifelong implications for both the players and the people of the city.
The trip to Guatemala was part of TEAM (The Evangel Athletics Ministry), an outreach formed in 2007 to give Evangel students the opportunity to respond to their calling as Christian athletes in a significant and meaningful way.
“The entire athletic department has a good understanding that they are called to minister to people with the talents that God has blessed them with,” says Chad Gehring, athletic ministry coordinator.
“Developing a ministry program that is specifically designed to take our teams to places and for an intense moment in time reach out to people through their sport and with their God-given natural skills and people skills is an eye-opening experience that punctuates for our athletes that God uses all of us and all of our talents to communicate his love to all people.”
While in Guatemala, the Crusaders worked with the Ephraim Foundation through a local outreach called the El Faro Mission. Several members of the Ephraim family are Evangel alumni and share the university’s Christ-centered purpose and love for all people. The mission has earned national credibility as they serve the people of Guatemala.
The Lady Crusaders completed service projects in two villages, including the job of painting the inside of a new school building. They also hosted basketball camps and clinics for the local villages and played two exhibition games against the high school team in Puerto Barrios.
One day the Evangel players hosted an event called “Ministry City,” which was part Vacation Bible School and part English class. The participants were all children taking English classes at the El Faro Mission. The children enjoyed themed activities throughout the day designed to teach them English and biblical concepts. They earned “funny money” for completing tasks and at the end of the day got to shop in stores for trinkets and goodies to take home with them.
This is the second time an Evangel team has worked with the El Faro Mission. Last year the Crusader volleyball team made a similar trip.
“Being able to partner with Evangel is an amazing blessing,” says El Faro Volunteer Director and Communications Director Meagan Ephraim, who is also a 2007 graduate of Evangel.
“The teams and faculty that come down to Guatemala are examples of beings hands and feet of Jesus. They come, many without knowing the language, and jump right into working in the villages painting schools, conducting sports clinics, and loving the people. They bring an energy to El Faro that is contagious and the staff of El Faro immediately feels a part of the team. I am always extremely proud to call myself a Crusader after serving alongside Evangel in Guatemala. They make El Faro look good by representing us in the villages.”
As is always the case with missions trips, the basketball team returned from Guatemala saying that though they went to give blessings, they ended up receiving them.
“It’s amazing to go into a place where you think you’re going to do so much to help the people, and in reality you do help a lot, but the impact the place and the people have on you can’t be put into words,” says Sierra McSpannden, senior. “It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to go again.”
Her teammate Amanda Landolt, a sophomore, agreed: “The trip had a huge impact on me. It taught me to always remember to count my blessings in life and to always be thankful no matter what the circumstances may be.”
Coaches Leon and Dawn Neal returned with a burden on their hearts for Guatemala that will not soon fade.
“My desire is to not live an eight-day missions trip experience, but to take what I saw, experienced and lived for eight days and use it for 365 days,” says Dawn Neal. “To keep my heart, mind, soul, prayers and desire ready to help the people of Guatemala everyday possible. My prayers are for Meagan and Peter to continue this good work of sharing Christ with all Guatemalans outside the EL Faro gates.”
Planning for future TEAM trips is ongoing. Currently two trips are planned for the 2012/13 academic year. Funding for the trips comes from a variety of sources. The athletes are generally responsible for raising a portion of the cost. “This gives them ownership of the trip and helps them understand the concept of sacrifice,” says Gehring. The coaching staff also participates in fundraisers and boosters participate as financial partners.
“We have seen God’s blessing on our athletic trips and are truly thankful each time because God seems to engineer making sure that the means necessary are always covered,” says Gehring. View the full Photo Blog of the trip for more pictures.
— By Ashli O’Connell, Web Content Developer and Editor for Evangel University