Are you a student-athlete? Are you interested in combining your faith with your athletic drive? The SEED Athlete program may be the path for you. Short for Sport Evangelism to Equip Disciples, SEED Athletes is a program through Hope that sponsors mission trips abroad for student-athletes. Groups of 10-15 students, along with a multiple coaches from different sports, travel to serve in an international location for two weeks over the summer. The mission of the program, according to the Hope Athletics website, is for students to “utilize their passion for sport to share the love of Christ with individuals around the world.”
The program, primarily organized by Assistant Athletic Director Caroline Dykstra, is fairly new to campus. “Our first SEED teams were launched in summer 2017,” said Dykstra. “We recognize that sports provide an opportunity for athletes to have a significant platform from which to influence others, so we created space for individuals to do this internationally.” Throughout its three years, SEED has partnered annually with the same organizations in Costa Rica, Zambia and Uganda, fostering close relationships with those groups. The collaboration has been beneficial on both sides. “They are always excited to welcome us back to their countries, but we are blessed with the lessons they teach us about the global church,” Dykstra said.
Though young, the program has become popular through wordof-mouth and the praise it has received from its participants. “The reason I decided to go on the trip was largely because older members of the track team told me it was an amazing experience and that I should do it,” said David McHugh (’22). SEED is also much more affordable than most other summer programs abroad, making it accessible to a wide range of students. “It’s extremely cheap compared to a lot of summer terms that Hope offers because the company Sawyer sponsors it, so that also made it really easy to commit to,” said McHugh. Senior Nick Holt also heard about the trip through others, and ended up going to Costa Rica the summer after his junior year. “I decided to go on the trip because I heard so many great things from fellow athletes. It was extremely affordable, and I wanted to see what a mission trip was all about since I’ve never been on one,” he said. For many participants, the experience is life-changing.
The exposure to different lifestyles, cultures and attitudes leaves a lasting impact. Not only do students gain the fresh viewpoint that comes with international travel, the religious aspect brings spiritual growth and learning. Mike Miller, a senior, travelled to Costa Rica through SEED. For him, the program felt like a calling. He talked about the close relationships the group built with children they visited at a school in San Juan. “The craziest part: there were nearly 600 kids at this school, and they only had one soccer ball. As soon as I got home, I told my parents we had to donate more because those kids were so welcoming and friendly. I’d do anything to go back to that school,” Miller said.
Visiting a country with different resources than the U.S. leaves many students with a new perspective. Miller recognized this again when noticing the condition of the housing he saw while traveling through the country with his group. “Driving through mountains and seeing people’s houses that were basically shacks made me appreciate what I had,” he said. “I learned a lot about perspective.” “This experience humbled me tremendously, and I realized how blessed I have been throughout my lifetime,” said Luke Beckhusen (’20), another participant in the program. He talked about how his experience with the children in Costa Rica showed him the happiness and gratefulness that could be found beyond material things. “The children in Costa Rica impacted my life so much more than I could ever impact theirs,” Beckhusen said. Despite these socioeconomic and cultural differences, SEED’s incorporation of sports with mission work helps to bridge the gap. “I think that some of the most impactful moments were seeing how many barriers were destroyed when a ball was involved. With the Costa Ricans, we barely knew each other’s languages but just involving a ball was all the communication we needed,” said senior Nick Holt. Finding this common language through sports helps the students connect with the children they serve, an experience that every interviewee found incredibly rewarding and moving. “The most impactful experience of my time in Costa Rica was seeing the joy on the children’s faces when we arrived to play sports games with them and make connections with them in such a short period of time,” said Beckhusen.
Miller had similar sentiments. He said, “We got so close to all the kids that when we left the second day, a lot were in tears and saying they’d miss us.” SEED’s strong religious aspects also give the participants a chance to grow in their faith. “Our worship sessions at night, devotionals in the morning, and conversations devotionals in the morning, and conversations with people on the base during the day made me aware of how much God is moving in people around the world, and that no matter where I go, we worship the same awesome God and are part of the same church and body of Christ,” said McHugh. On the surface, SEED Athletes is a great opportunity for students involved in athletics to serve the world and grow personally and in faith. At its core, the combination of sports with spirituality is what makes the program effective and unique.
They offer a connection that goes beyond language, age, living situation or poverty level. For more information on SEED Athletics, there will be a meeting held in the Schaap Auditorium of the BSC on Monday, Oct 28 at 7 p.m. At that time, applications will open for trips running in the summer of 2020. Students can find more stories from previous SEED Athletes at blogs.hope.edu/seed.