Posted on June 30, 2013 at 11:29 PM
Monday, Jul 1 at 5:13 PM
DALLAS, TX - The women's soccer team at Dallas Baptist University just came back from a trip of a lifetime.
"I don't think I’ll ever have another opportunity like that so I was really grateful that I got to go with the team," says Lea Sedwick, a member of the team.
"The trip was definitely eye opening for me," says Kelsey Hall, Sedwick's teammate.
Their journey was a mission trip to Liberia, the first women's group to visit there since Civil War ravaged that country.
"No female soccer team has ever been there, eight to ten years since any organized sport has happened over there, it's a pretty impressive thing," says Dallas Baptist University head coach Michelle Lenard.
"It was a long journey since Liberia is located nearly 6,000 miles from North Texas on the west coast of Africa.
It’s a country that has endured two civil wars which lasted two decades. It has left a large percentage of the population under the age of 15.
"There are 1.5 million children in Liberia that are under the age of 15," says Doc Lawson, President and CEO of DonamiSport.org. "The population is only three and a half million people."
Sports fans in north Texas will remember Doc Lawson as a member of the league champion Dallas Sidekicks back in the 80's.
These days, he has partnered with the YMCA and is setting up the infrastructure for a parks and recreation department in his native country of Liberia.
Getting the women's soccer team from Dallas Baptist to visit is another step toward reaching that goal.
"We couldn't have picked nor had the opportunity to have a better group," says Lawson. "The first American soccer team first of all, an American female soccer team coming to Liberia. It opens up the possibilities of others coming to share in that experience. It helps us really target what we're trying to reach in Liberia which are the children. Impressive."
Dallas Baptist played a game during a driving rain storm; one was against the Liberian Football Association female All-Stars which attracted one thousand spectators.
They conducted sports camps which always attracted big crowds as well, and shared their faith.
"To share soccer is a way to connect with them," says Lenard. "There was a language barrier in some cases, cultural barriers across the board, but soccer connected us on a level that was hard to do with any other thing. That's really what I took away, was that we were able to use that to share what we came to do which was to share our faith in Christ."
"Just seeing people in a different light that have nothing and are willing to give us everything and welcome us with open arms, It definitely made me more grateful for what I have here and the way that we live life here," says Hall.
"I think having the common bond of soccer let us put our foot in the door over there but they were very receptive," says Sedwick. "Some of it was hard because we talked with a lot of kids so we weren't sure how much they were understanding, but at least we got the word out there."
"We would literally go out to a neighborhood and walk up and down the dirt street and kids would come out of every house, every corner," says Lenard. "We did that one evening and we had 200 kids in a space less than half the size of our soccer field."
The team toured Liberia for 10 days, getting to know the people of a war-torn country where 85 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line.
"After the soccer game, I traded jerseys with a girl and she put on my jersey all sweaty, just talking to her about her dreams, she's only 16," says Hall. "Her dream is to come to America and playing soccer here. They want what we have. I just didn't realize how scarce it is for a female athlete and female soccer players in general, and that the girls share our dreams and want those things too."
Memories from a trip that will last a lifetime.
Soccer is part of the greatness of sports. It so easily crosses socio-economic and cultural lines.
And — in some cases — it unites those who otherwise would never come together.
Recently, a group of young women from Dallas Baptist University learned that lesson first-hand on a mission trip to Liberia.