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Liberty Field Hockey Serves in Uganda

August 6, 2013
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Members of the field hockey program with students from Hidden Treasure Primary School in Uganda.

Back in 2010, as Jodi Murphy was in the process of applying to become the first head coach in the history of the Lady Flames field hockey program, the Lord gave her a vision to one day take a team from Liberty to Uganda on a mission trip. That vision recently became a reality as 19 members of the field hockey program spent two weeks in the East African nation, utilizing the sport as an avenue to share Christ's love and the message of the Gospel.

"When I first began praying about taking members of the team over to Uganda, I kept being reminded of Matthew 9:37 where Jesus tells the disciples that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few," commented Murphy. "I prayed that the Lord would raise up many of the girls on the team to embark on this journey and be a laborer for the Kingdom of God. The Lord answered my prayer and graciously provided 19 members of our program to serve. Despite not having everyone go on the trip, each girl on the team took part in the fundraising and prayer efforts to get our group over on Ugandan soil.  So it was, in fact, a full team effort."

Joining the team was a group from the organization Charlene's Project in Northern Ireland. Charlene's Project is a nonprofit organization which was started by the sister of current Lady Flame Natalie Barr and incoming freshmen Serena and Bethany Barr, before she passed away in October of 2010.

For Murphy, it was her fifth time traveling to Uganda. The third-year head coach is the founder of Pathfinder Hockey, which seeks "to use field hockey as a means to help young people around the world and within the United States find the path that leads to good health, positive change and hope." While in Uganda, Pathfinder and Charlene's Project partnered with a local, Lynchburg organization Sports Outreach Institute, which has an office in Kampala, and Youth Sport Uganda.

Below is a brief recap of the trip and some of the projects in which the team took part and locations to which it traveled, as well as some thoughts from several members of the team. A photo gallery of the trip is included at the bottom of this page. 

Lugogo National Hockey Stadium – Field Hockey Clinics (June 29, 30 and July 6)
Upon arrival in the capital city of Kampala on Thursday, June 27, the group spent a day getting to know each other and preparing for the next two weeks. The following day the eager group of nearly 40 people traveled across the city to the Lugogo sports complex, which is home to the Lugogo National Hockey Stadium. The group spent a total of three days at Lugogo, two of which were spent with over 400 elementary age children, teaching them field hockey fundamentals and playing numerous other games and activities with them. The team returned to Lugogo a week later for a third day at the complex. The team organized a small field hockey tournament with high school boys and girls and also distributed field hockey equipment and clothing to those in attendance. 

Sophomore Erin Bartley talked about one of her favorite memories from Lugogo: "For me, the highlight of our time on the turf was definitely the secondary school clinic. I love high school age kids, so I was really excited when I learned that we were holding a clinic for secondary school students. Teaching and playing the sport with the girls on my team that I coached was a really great platform that I could use to form relationships and eventually share Jesus with them. At the end of the day, I gathered my team together and told them some things I think they might never have heard before. Christianity is taught in schools, a lot of the kids are raised in Christian households and those kids have far more reverence for God than just about any average American high schooler, but I don't think anyone had ever told those girls that Jesus Christ wants a personal relationship with each one of them, so I told them. I was able to let them know that Jesus weeps when they weep and laughs when they laugh; that He wants to do life with them and that He is desperate for them. I could tell they were listening intently and I think it really hit home with a lot of them. Afterward as we were saying goodbyes before leaving the field, a girl from my team, Sharon, came up to me and asked how she could start a relationship with Jesus! It was the coolest thing ever. I prayed with her and only by God's timing and perfect work did I have a Bible with me that I gave to her. I will probably never see or hear from Sharon ever again, but I know I can prayerfully trust that God will move and change her heart to become one of obedience, love and life-long fellowship with Him."

Kahara Primary School (July 1-3)
On Monday, following the second day of instruction at Lugogo, the group loaded up into two buses and made the seven-hour journey into Western Uganda to the village of Kahara and the Kahara Primary School. The school, which is still under construction, is being built thanks to funds provided by Charlene's Project. During its time in Kahara, the group interacted with the students in their classrooms, sang songs, played field hockey and other sports, and distributed clothing, shoes and other items. Before leaving to return to Kampala, the team was split into smaller groups and was given an opportunity to visit several of the homes in the village. This time allowed for members of the group to interact with different families and catch a glimpse of what living in a Ugandan village is like.

"The time we spent in Kahara was probably my favorite part of the trip," shared senior Jordan Richardson. "From the warm welcome of dancing celebrations and waving tree branches, all the way until the day we left when the children chased after our bus, the Kahara community shared a special love with us that was unmistakable. While all the time we spent there was so impactful, I feel as if the time that we spent inside the homes of some of the village families is a memory that will never fade. It is one thing to drive by and see the mud huts and know they are houses, but it is something completely different when you are invited inside by the men and women who built those mud huts and realize how little these people truly live with. Yet even when it seems like they have so little, they were still willing to give all that they had, sending us back with boxes full of fruit that they grew themselves. They wanted to bless us and trusted that God would provide food for them in other ways. That's a special kind of love and generosity that we don't often see here in America. It's one thing I will never forget."

Good News Soccer Club and Visiting a Bead Project (July 4)
Upon returning from Kahara, several members of the group had an opportunity to take part in a devotional time and soccer training session with the Good News soccer club. The club competes against other clubs in Kampala and neighboring communities and utilizes the contests as a means to share the Gospel message with its competitors. Later that same day, the entire group traveled to a slum on the outskirts of the city to visit a bead-making project. The project involves women in the community rolling strips of paper into beads and using them to make beautiful pieces of jewelry. The team was given an opportunity to witness how the beads were made and purchase some of the jewelry.  A week later the entire Liberty group returned to once again have devotions with the Good News team and take part in another training session.

Lady Flames defender Hannah Jones had this to say about the time spent with the Good News team and at the bead-making project: "When we went and played soccer with the Good News boys, it was certainly a breath of fresh air. The mix of emotions that I felt in Uganda was insane. There was constantly a sadness looming that was hard to evade. When we got to play some soccer with a team of young men who wore Christ on their sleeves, it was inspiring. As Liberty University Field Hockey, we aim to shine for our Savior. He is the reason we play, and to see a team in Uganda with the very same purpose was exciting. The body of Christ extends all over the globe and to see that first-hand was an encouragement. After we headed into the slums to visit the bead project, I think most of us would say that the group left with a dejected spirit. Thankfully, we know the light that can shine even in the darkest places and in the worst slums and through the bead project it is evident that Jesus is shining in those places."

St. Jude's Primary School (July 5)
The trip's second week began with a visit to St. Jude's Primary School in Kampala. The team was afforded the opportunity to visit several different classrooms and interact with some of the over 900 students that attend the school. After sharing lunch with the teachers and staff of the school, the group spent part of the afternoon playing field hockey and other sports. Following the sports activities, the group gathered for a final assembly with the students. The assembly time included testimonies from several students, singing, dancing and a Bible skit performed by the Liberty team.

Liberty defender Helen Doolittle shared her thoughts about the time at St. Jude's: "My highlight at St. Jude's, and one of my highlights of the whole trip, was getting to spend time with this beautiful, so pure in heart, 11 year-old girl named Aweko. The previous weekend Aweko attended the hockey clinic we ran and for some reason she attached herself to me. The night after the clinic she was just on my heart, and it sounds silly now, but I remember asking God that if there's any way, please let me see this girl again. Well, He answered and it was a joyous time! She showed me her classroom, her quite impressive school notebooks and told me more about her life. Hearing her story, and the other few pupils that shared their testimony to the group during the assembly, is what impacted me the most that day. They were all heartbreaking. Aweko did not live with her immediate family. Her mother died in childbirth, and while her Dad and siblings lived in the village, Aweko went to live with her aunt, as she was the one granted the opportunity to go to school. Like the others, she had dreams and hopes of a future (I believe she wanted to become a teacher), but also knew the reality of that happening. Her days consisted of waking up early to do dishes, walking to and from school and continuing to do household work in the evening. From what I was able to understand from her tone of voice, I don't think she had the best home life. Despite this, she was so caring, full of love and seeking a friend. I am truly grateful that God used me for a short time to be that friend. She will always have a piece of my heart!"

Hidden Treasure Primary School (July 8 and 9)
Following another day on the turf at Lugogo and a visit to a village church and school in Luwero, the team spent two days at Hidden Treasure Primary School. Hidden Treasure was the first school built by Charlene's Project. The team was warmly received by the students and staff and treated to a program of singing and dancing. Just like it did in Kahara, the team split into smaller groups and interacted with the students in their classrooms. After lunch, the group organized field hockey drills and other sports activities for the students. The second day at Hidden Treasure went similarly to the first, with the group interacting with the students in the classroom and through sports activities.

Lady Flames sophomore Erin Dombach on her time at Hidden Treasure: "One of the major highlights for me while visiting Hidden Treasure was definitely watching the presentation that the students had prepared for us. It was so humbling to see how truly grateful the people were for our visit and getting to experience that through viewing the songs and dances they performed really was something I will always remember. Overall, I think the thankfulness the students and especially the staff at Hidden Treasure showed us had the greatest impact on me. The teachers were so appreciative of everything we did, whether big or small, that it gave me a new appreciation for how much I have to be thankful for, and it challenged me to express my thankfulness to the extent that the people there did." 

The last couple days of the trip were highlighted by a trip to the Kiwoko Hospital and a craft market to purchase some souvenirs. The trip truly left an impact on every member of the group and is an experience that will never be forgotten.

"It's hard to name one thing that impacted me the most," commented Bartley. "I can say, however, that the Ugandan people have forever left their mark on my heart. There is very little money, food and resources in Uganda, yet these people are the richest I have ever encountered. In their eyes, they have more than enough. They have family, life and the ultimate joy of knowing Christ, and for those things, they never cease to praise and thank God."

"Overall, if I had to pick what impacted me the most, I would have to pick the joy that the Ugandan people always had," stated Richardson. "No matter where we went or how little the people had, they were just so full of joy, because they had a family, and a community, and the Lord, and that's all they needed."

"What stuck with me and stood out in my mind is the raw, passionate and undeniable love the Ugandan people have for Jesus Christ," added Jones. "We went into that nation on a mission trip, but I came home more moved and inspired by those people than I ever could have imagined."

Murphy plans to continue the work of Pathfinder and Liberty field hockey in Uganda. "I do believe that the Lord is continuing to pave a way for Pathfinder Hockey and Liberty Field Hockey to continue serving in Uganda," stated Murphy. "Uganda is not a place you visit and leave unchanged. Uganda will be etched in your heart forever and you will come home a different person—with a  deeper appreciation for love, spiritual joy and what is ‘comfortable'."

Murphy continued, "The vision that I have going forward in Uganda through Pathfinder is to continue to partner with such organizations as Charlene's Project, Sports Outreach Institute and Youth Sport Uganda. Each of these entities allowed us to serve in unique ways. Field hockey was a fraction of what we did to expand the kingdom and share Jesus' love with others. We spent several hours in the classroom, slum projects, hospitals, churches and the playing fields. Watching the team empower the Ugandan children through education was one of the areas that struck me the most. Education is so vital in the life of a Ugandan child. The support and encouragement our group was able to bring the Ugandans was really special."