June 25, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Georgia Tech showed last season that if you put 11 Georgia Tech football players together in the same place and give them a mission that great things can happen.
Throw in the incentive of doing it to help a destitute family and you’ve got a unit that’s unstoppable, regardless of the location.
From May 3-8, 11 members of the football team (Zach Allen, brothers Lance and Lawrence Austin, Harrison Butker, KeShun Freeman, Lynn Griffin, Roberto Honojosa, Tre’ Jackson, Tyler Marcordes, D.J. White, and Mitchell Williams), were part of a unit of 17 Georgia Tech student-athletes that went to the Dominican Republic on a service mission representing the campus’ chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Joining the football contingent were Keith Brown, Campus Director of FCA, Kele Eveland, Georgia Tech Special Assistant to the Head Coaches and former GT Volleyball star, three track and field athletes (Grant Hicks, Perron Jones and Rachel Thorne), two members of the swimming and diving team (Kira de Bruyn, Madison Young), one current women’s basketball player (Katarina Vuckovic) and one former player (Shayla Bivins).
It was the group’s second sponsored mission to the Dominican. The first was back in December.
“It was a totally different trip in the sense of what we did, obviously a different group of athletes, but we went back to the Dominican,” said Brown. “This time, instead of going out into this bario like we did last time, we went into a different community and hooked up with this group called YWAM (Youth With Mission) and they helped us be a part of building a house.”
These are business trips and are only for people that are truly committed to service. That’s something Brown makes quite clear in his “sales pitch.”
“I try to make it worse than it really is when I present the trip,” said Brown, with a laugh. “For example, Coach Johnson allowed me to address the football team back in the spring and I told them, `This is a trip where we’re going to a third-world country to serve the people there. It is not a vacation. You will not have a nice place to sleep. You won’t be eating fancy food. You don’t need to take anything nice. You don’t need to take any nice clothes because you’re going to have nowhere to wear them. You need to go with the mindset to serve. If that’s not your mindset then this probably isn’t going to be the trip for you.'”
It sounded like a great opportunity for the Tech student-athletes, especially the footballers, who were only two weeks removed from Spring Practice. They all showed they were very coachable, rolling up their sleeves and going to work.
“Those guys essentially took the one week they had to rest, relax, go home, do whatever, they took that week and went down there to serve,” Brown said. “They went with the right mindset and it didn’t matter what happens. They just served and rolled with the punches.
“Our Tech athletes worked together for three days,” he added. “We built a house for a family and were able to have a cool ceremony at the end and hand the family the keys to the house. It was a really cool experience.”
Their experiences were noted by the student-athletes.
“We had each one of them the night before we left, do a `Thank You’ note to their coaches, to the ones that kind of help support this and make it happen,” Brown said. (Note: The excerpts from these testimonials that appear are without attribution).
Of course, any cool part came after getting acclimated to the culture shock each athlete feels when first arriving on site.
The student-athletes were as grateful for participating in this life-altering event as the Aquino family, a husband and wife, their two children and their grandmother, who were selected by YWAM as the recipients of the house.
“It is really hard to express what this trip meant to me in one letter,” said defensive back D.J. White. “Over the past five days myself and the rest of the FCA team has grown in more ways than one; from the importance of valuing what you have, to the love associated with being in involved in a real open community, everything about this trip is a symbol of growth.”
Several student-athletes remarked about how they’ll remember the mission in their everyday dealings around campus and beyond school days.
“We came here as a team to serve others and hopefully make a lasting impact on the lives of the people here,” wrote linebacker Tyler Marcordes. “In the process of engaging with the Dominican people, through the building of the house and playing with the kids, I came to the realization that these people were impacting my own life. The happiness they all had with having next to nothing was so inspiring. There are so many things I’m taking back with me. It will have a lasting impact on my life.”
“I just wanted to say thank you for the opportunity to take this trip,” said safety Lynn Griffin. “It truly blessed and changed me in more ways than I expected and imagined. But with what I learned I want to make a change that is beyond talking.”
Brown knows that the next service mission will be in December and will be back to the Dominican. Beyond that, however, he isn’t sure.
“Both trips were phenomenal but they were very different in what we did and what it really looked like,” he said. “So we’ll just pray through and see where God leads us. He may open up a door for something different to happen or we may go back and build another home.”
Regardless of the mission, Brown knows he can count on the student-athletes stepping up and rising to any challenge.
“These two trips have been incredible in the sense of how the athletes responded,” he said. “They’ve just been incredible.”
“The goal is that every athlete has the opportunity to do this during their four years at Tech,” he added. “The ones who have gone before, they want to go back and I’m going to have to figure out a way to make that happen separately or do something because funding really won’t handle them going back for a second time. But it’s really cool because every one of them, the minute they get back, the first thing they’re asking is, `When can I go back?'”