Mar 31, 2009

Saunders, Baker spread the word in Africa

by Allison Bedwell

As the Liberty men’s basketball team ends another season, it is a good time to reflect back on the people who make every game worth going to. But just because the games are over, the cheering does not need to stop. Fans can continue to take pride in their team.

Whether in season or out, the Flames have a passion to win others to Christ. For some of the team members, this meant traveling to Africa prior to the 2008-2009 season.

“I had never been to Africa, and the country and people have always interested me,” freshman point guard Jesse Sanders said.

Sanders decided to put interest into action at the beginning of last summer. After spending three days preparing for the trip in Xenia, Ohio with a group of other college basketball players from across the country, he endured 28 hours of travel before finally reaching his African destination.

“The theme of our trip was to live for an audience of one,” Sanders said.

This was clearly accomplished each day of the trip as Sanders and the rest of the mission team spent time leading basketball clinics and playing with children in orphanages.

“I can’t describe the conditions these kids live in. Yet, many of them were so joyful and happy to be alive,” Sanders said. “They were starving for affection. The hardest part of every day was having to say goodbye. They would ask, ‘Are you coming back to play with me?’ It was so hard seeing what those kids go through day in and day out.”

The ministry did not stop with the African children. While competing against African national teams from Togo, Mali, Senegal and Guinea, the group was able to share God’s word with each of them.
Sanders described the difference between playing basketball in America and playing basketball in Africa.

“It was a very fast and wild style of basketball, but it was a lot of fun,” Sanders said.

More than that, however, Sanders discussed how God was implemented into each of the games he played.

“At half time of every game, we would share the gospel message with the fans, and one player would give his testimony,” Sanders said.
“Then, after the game, we would have the team we had played come over to where we were staying and have dinner. We would just talk with them and witness to them.”

Sanders’ was not the only Flame who traveled to Africa last summer. Coach Ritchie McKay and junior forward Tyler Baker served in Kibera shortly after Sanders trip ended.

Baker and McKay taught, “basketball clinics for players in Nairobi and delivered medical supplies, shoes and clothes to many individuals throughout Kibera,” according to Baker.

During the trip, Baker met a 12-year-old boy named Sharif who enjoyed playing soccer. “We got to talking for a while one day, and he told me how his mother had died. He was basically being raised by his 14-year-old brother. I couldn’t believe the courage he showed by his determination to succeed. I ended up buying him a soccer ball,” Baker said. “The last day we were there, I remember giving it to him and watching him walk down the crowded street with that ball under his arm and his head held so high. He was now one of the only kids in that part of the slum who actually had a real ball.”

Contact Allison Bedwell at


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