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Wheaton Football Mission Trip Recap

This blog post was written by our trip leader and CEO, Jeff Ford.

For the third year in a row, Man Up has partnered with Wheaton College (IL) to bring members of their football team to Uganda on a mission trip. Intead of partying for Spring Break, these young men chose to spend meaningful engagement with our partners and the people they serve.

Wheaton Football Ministry Partners (WFMP) was started when I was a senior in college, back in 2000. Since then Coach Peltz, who heads the initiative, has partnered with dozens of former Wheaton players in Spring Break missions work.

This trip was unique because in addition to the 17 Wheaton players, coaches, and staff, there were 8 players/coaches from the Morningside College football team, the reigning NAIA National Champs, based out of Iowa. Each player was responsible for raising his trip cost.

The fellas got in early Sunday morning (4 AM) on a Turkish Airlines flight, which made for a very tiring first day. If you think it’s a struggle for a college kid to stay awake during a sermon normally, imagine doing it on jet lag and no sleep! But they persevered, and on Sunday evening, were able to hear testimonies from the men enrolled in our Authentic Masculinity Program (AMP), despite all of them struggling like crazy to keep their eyelids from closing.

Monday was a treat. We were able to take all of the Primary 1 – Primary 7 children at Bethel Junior School to the YWAM facility just outside Jinja. The hundreds of square yards of open grass to run and play is something most of those kids have never experienced before. The emphasis of this trip was “relationships, not tasks,” and this was an opportunity for our guys to pour into these kids on a day where there weren’t many scheduled activities except to PLAY!

The kids got to do an obstacle course that included a mini zipline, and everyone had a great time. Maybe most importantly, I was able to share with all 200 kids how much improvement I had seen in their behavior over the last 8 years. There was very little fighting, hitting, pulling on arms, or jumping on backs, something that was the norm even 4 years ago. This is a testament to the Gospel at work in the lives of these kids, as well as the teachers and administrators who are making emulating Jesus a priority.

Our drive out to the village the next day was a rainy one, but worth it once we made it to Bulangira and heard the testimonies of the men. Unlike Sunday evening when it was hard to hear the AMP guys speak because of the rain on the tin church roof, as well as the sleepy eyes of the college guys, all ears were on deck as the men from Bulangira shared. Shephered by Pastor Geofery, these guys were simply on fire! The impact of AMP in the lives of these men is incredible, and the testimonies were inspiring. We should truly praise the Lord for all He is doing through the Man Up program!

Not only that, but we counted up and there are 135 children represented in the 25 men enrolled in the Bulangira Cohort. Two men have 16 children! Think of the impact of these guys loving their wives and providing for their children. Man Up is extremely proud to be a conduit of Jesus in helping these men live out authentic masculinity.

Unfortunately we lost the soccer match to the locals. When I noted to Pastor Geofery, “These guys seem better than last year’s team,” he replied, “Oh yes, these guys are much better.” So they brought out the ringers, and though we were more athletic, we definitely showed a lack of ball-handling skills (and considering half our team was probably 230 lbs or more and hadn’t played soccer since grade school, I guess we can live with it).

All 26 of us were able to fit into Sam and Mercy’s guest house quite comfortably. For the next two days, the team split into two, with half the group going to Pastor George’s in Kibuku to help lay a cement floor for his church; the other half stayed in Pallisa at Kerith’s Children’s Home to help prepare one of the buildings in which they used to have chickens, converting it to a living quarters.

One of the issues at Kerith’s is that as the children get older, there is a need for separate living quarters. So the guys were able to clean out the old rooms and start plastering walls and filling in gaps with bricks.

The work at George’s – laying the floor – was man’s work. But again, we stressed relationship with the locals. If someone grabbed your ear or a child wanted to play, that took precedence. The relationship was more important than the task. This concept was a hard one to abide by, but as the week went on, the young men were getting it.

On our way back out of Pallisa on Friday, we spent time visiting some projects of the men in Bulangira.

  • We visited a cooperative goat-farming project by some of the men who had graduated last year.
  • We saw a rice farm of a man who had probably quadrupled his efforts after going through the lesson, “Man as Worker,” in AMP.
  • We met one man and his entire family (he kept the kids home from school because he knew we were coming!) who was rearing pigs with the loan he received from Man Up – a very profitable endeavor for the diligent!
  • Another man enhanced his bee-keeping business with the loan received from Man Up, and now has a vision to have two hives in every tree on his property. Again, a very profitable endeavor!

Trekking through rural Uganda with these players to visit the Cohort participants to see how they had taken advantage of AMP to better their position with their families no doubt left an indelible mark in the minds of these young men.

Which leads me to another critical component of this trip. These college football players grew as men this week. If Man Up is all about seeing men embrace authentic masculinity so that we have Less Orphans in the world, then we must view this week’s trip as a smashing success.

Each night several guys would share their testimonies. And lest you think these are surface-level, the fellas shared raw, unfiltered stories of their struggles and experiences:

  • Several shared of their addictions to pornography and how they’re fighting it;
  • Others talked about loneliness and depression;
  • Others had been affected by suicide, anxiety, eating disorders, and even sexual abuse;
  • One young man shared how he was in the car when another vehicle opened fire, killing his best friend and paralyzing his brother.

One of the Wheaton faculty who came turned to me at one point and said, “Most people on the planet have never had the opportunity to confess some of their deepest struggles in a safe environment like this.” I couldn’t agree more. I believe every man on this trip grew in authentic masculinity because of it, and for that we simply give God praise, for He deserves it.

With all of the coronavirus talk, it made for an interesting trip. The men all learned that upon returning home, they’d be packing up and going home for the rest of the semester to do distance learning. In a way, this was their send-off tour.

We don’t know what a day will bring forth and how this COVID-19 ordeal will play out, but I am reminded of a Psalm I recently read:

“Trouble and anguish have overtaken
me, yet your commandments are my delights.” - Psalm 119:143

I often tell people that as long as I’m right vertically, it doesn’t matter what happens to me horizontally. The horizontal may give us uncertainty and trouble, but when we focus on Jesus and His truth for us, we can not only survive, but delight in our present circumstances.

My prayer for the young men on this trip, for our partners, our staff, our Board, and anyone associated with the Man Up and Go ministry, is that Jesus might be our delight.