In May of this year, my husband Jeff had the opportunity to help Mark Wolbert, our Missions Director, lead a team of folks from the University of Kentucky on a mission trip to Ethiopia. (You can read more about their trip here and here.) They spent a week with the head football coach and his wife, the athletic director and his wife, the assistant athletic director and two members of the Wildcats football team. They visited the poorest of the poor living at the garbage dump in the capital city of Addis Ababa, where they delivered food and coal, shirts, soccer balls and footballs. They painted the walls of a latrine that had just been built at a local church. They visited a village where they delivered shoes to children whose footwear was in desperate need of replacing.
Pretty amazing to see these guys – successful in college athletics and used to a lot of perks – serving and loving on those who have virtually nothing.
The athletic director plans to send athletes to Ethiopia in 2012 on a similar trip. What a great way to give these young kids a taste of life for so many millions of people in this third world country and a view of the world so different than what they know. It’s an awesome commitment on the part of the school to teach life lessons beyond the football field or basketball court.
Fast forward to two weeks ago. Mark and Jeff were given tickets to fly out to the UK/Univ. of Georgia game being played in Athens, GA. The guys flew from Seattle to Kentucky and spent the night in Lexington. Friday morning was a team walk-through for the game the next day. Mark and Jeff were introduced to the football team and presented with UK shirts and jackets and a plaque, thanking them for hosting the group in Ethiopia. They got a tour of the UK campus and athletic facility.
They wore sport coats and dress shirts (appropriate travel attire) and drove through the Kentucky countryside to the airport. Kentucky looks a little different than the Pacific Northwest – or Ethiopia for that matter!
They boarded a charter jet and flew to Atlanta. There was LOTS of food. Football player amounts.
They were met by a fleet of buses…
which took them the next morning from their hotel to Sanford Stadium at the Univ. of Georgia. They had a police escort – lights flashing. So bizarre.
My text to Jeff: Wow, VIP status.
Jeff to me: I will try to stay humble.
The guys had been given game-day gear to wear as well as sideline photographer and all-access passes.
They headed to the underground parking at the stadium.
Sure, come on into the locker room!
Here’s the semi that carried Kentucky’s equipment…
Here is Georgia’s mascot. Does he look like he’s got his game face on?
Danny T, a linebacker, was one of the guys who went to Ethiopia with Mark and Jeff. He has hopes of a promising career in the NFL.
Stuart H, offensive guard, also went to Ethiopia last May. He is a big guy. Like 6’4” 295 lbs big.
This stadium holds 92,000 and this was an especially big game for the Georgia Bulldogs – a win would mean they’d secure the SEC Eastern Division title. There were a LOT of people in those stands. Predominantly red and white.
I can’t really imagine what it felt like to be standing on the sidelines with the players and coaches in a game this big.
Surreal is what Jeff said.
Can you hear the crowd noise?
Kentucky Head Coach Joker Phillips…
Mark with Assistant Athletic Director Jason Schlafer…
Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart…
The Bulldogs won but Kentucky played a great game – one of their best of the season.
Then, after the game was over, they headed back to the locker room with the team where the team chaplain lead in a prayer…
They got a little box of something to eat for the bus ride to the airport…
The guys may not have played any football but they did their best to eat like they did.
They loaded onto the buses and headed to the airport – where each of the four buses was met with a charter jet bound for Kentucky again.
Jeff and Mark are SO grateful they got to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Many thanks to the University of Kentucky Athletic Department for making it possible! We look forward to partnering with them for future trips to Ethiopia.