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The McKay's and Baker Help AIA in Africa

August 19, 2008  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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The McKay's pose with a few new friends from the Soweto Academy in the town of Kibera. The McKay's and Tyler Baker spent eight days in Kenya with Athletes in Action.

The McKay's pose with a few new friends from the Soweto Academy in the town of Kibera. The McKay's and Tyler Baker spent eight days in Kenya with Athletes in Action.

Worlds Apart: McKay and AIA Help Bring Basketball and the Gospel to Africa
Vincent Briedis is an assistant athletics communications director for Liberty University who covers men's basketball. Photos courtesy of Julie McKay.
Tragedy is something no one wants to wake up to in the morning headlines. It is not something that is readily embraced over morning coffee. A world of baseball fans uneasily rang in the New Year in 1973 with the news that Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente had perished in an aviation accident, while en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. A slew of beloved musicians from Buddy Holly and Ricky Nelson to Ritchie Valens, have all had their lives cut short due to catastrophe. The list goes on and on.

For the college basketball world, the Big South Conference and a town nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia, tragedy was miraculously averted when the van transporting Liberty head men's basketball coach Ritchie McKay and three other collegiate coaches slammed into an embankment over a ditch, leading down toward a river at 50 miles per hour. McKay and the other coaches were in Kenya bringing the Gospel and basketball through a missions trip with Athletes in Action (AIA), earlier this month.

Tyler Baker (left) and Ritchie McKay (right) spent eight days in Kenya with Athletes in Action this summer.

A former bodyguard, who serves on staff with AIA, was driving the quartet of coaches around the town of Kibera when he attempted a maneuver that was highly risky, in order to get the coaches from one place to another as quickly as possible. The move sent the automobile onto two wheels, nearly flipping the van. In the midst of a round-a-bout, the car righted itself at a high-rate of speed, promptly slamming into the embankment.

"We should have been seriously injured or even died," said McKay. "It was truly by the grace of God that we walked away injury-free, and without incident, even when 50 Kenyans bum-rushed our vehicle."

Encumbered by inches, their lives spared, the quartet of coaches pressed on with their mission. It was the grace McKay spoke of that enveloped the entire experience for him, his wife, Julie, and their daughter, Ellie. Liberty redshirt junior Tyler Baker also made the trip.

"What a blessing it was to be part of a trip like this with AIA," reflected McKay. "There were so many lessons to be learned and I really commend AIA, Eric and April Nelson for the organization of this venture."

AIA prepared basketball coaching clinics in and around Nairobi in Kenya for the nation's coaches. "Surrounding areas, like Uganda, are starving for basketball," commented McKay. "It was really neat to see the thirst for more basketball knowledge and to be able to share our faith with those people was simply awesome. We were fortunate to see a number of individuals we encountered come to know Christ."

Julie McKay at the Soweto Academy in Kibera
AIA sent a team of 23 members for eight days to a region that dubiously owns the world's largest slum, a place where 2.3 million people live in the radius of only a couple miles. "One of the greatest privileges I have ever experienced was to see my wife and daughter pouring themselves into the young people of Kibera," reflected McKay. "It was so humbling to see such poverty, yet joyful spirits. We had a chance to serve those people, and what a blessing and privilege it was."

McKay's wife, Julie, and their daughter, Ellie, spent the week working at the Soweto Academy in Kibera. For McKay's wife and daughter, the experience was equally meaningful.

Ritchie McKay (right) and Tyler Baker show kids the correct shooting technique at the Soweto Academy.
"It had been my desire for our family to participate in a trip much like the one to Kenya which AIA invited us on," said Julie McKay. "The time we spent serving the precious children at the Soweto Academy in Kibera was the greatest week of my life. We went to Nairobi with the desire to be a blessing to others, but left feeling as though the blessing was indeed ours. The joy and hope our friends at Soweto showed us amidst such adverse circumstances, loss and poverty was an invaluable reminder to us of our Father's heart and concern for His people. We fell in love with those children and look forward to one day returning."

Baker, who is entering his fourth year with the Liberty program, also felt impacted by the trip. "I had never been on a missions trip before," commented Baker. "Our team was truly put together by God to accomplish what was needed to be done there. We had coaches, high school kids and college kids, and we all had our own role."

The role Baker played was a versatile one, spending half his time at the coaches' clinic and the other half in Kibera, serving its people at the Soweto Academy with Julie and Ellie McKay.

"We really worked on humanity projects," stated Baker. "We built basketball hoops, gave out shoes and encouraged kids by just picking them up and showing Christ's love to them. God gave me this experience to bring a lot of things into perspective and to mold what I want to do in future missions work. I can't put into words the emotions I felt, except that I felt God. I learned so much from the people I was serving, from their attitudes and their appreciation for little things. It brings it all into perspective."

The town of Kibera
The trip also gave Baker a little different perspective on a coach he already greatly admired.

"Growing up in Albuquerque, I observed how the media attacked Coach McKay's faith while he was at New Mexico, seeing how they questioned his sincerity. Then, having the chance to play for him here, I saw how genuine a man he is," said Baker. "On this trip I was blessed to see another side of him. I saw him as a father, as a husband and how he interacted with people outside of basketball. He is greatly respected for being a coach, but he is very humble about it. My respect continues to grow and I wouldn't want to play for anybody else but him. I really have an appreciation for how he handles himself and to see God work in him."

McKay witnessed God working in Baker as well.

Kibera, the world's largest slum.
"It was another blessing to watch Tyler Baker and literally see before my eyes a young man transform and mature in Christ," commented McKay. "I was so proud of him, and if I were either of his parents and watched him on this trip, I would be witnessing a man becoming a great leader for the body."

Trips like these are not a new thing for McKay. He has served 11-straight years on the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Ministry team, but this was a unique and special experience for the McKay family.

"If anyone has the chance to visit Nairobi, Kenya, they would never take for granted the many blessings and privileges we are afforded here in the U.S.," said McKay. "I have been on trips before with teams, but I have never had an experience like this. I was honored to represent Liberty University and help advance the gospel. We are very fortunate to be a part of a great institution with great leadership, and we are excited about carrying on the vision Dr. Falwell started so many years ago, whether we are stateside or overseas."

The group took the final day of the trip to partake in what seems to be a rite of passage for anyone visiting Africa, going on a safari. For McKay, a man who is not a big fan of being around animals, the safari was an interesting experience.

Ellie McKay (center back row) sits in a classroom at the Soweto Academy.
"Granger is my first and only pet," commented McKay on his dog, named after Danny Granger, who played for him at New Mexico and is a current member of the Indiana Pacers. "Needless to say, I am not a huge fan of animals, but we saw 15 different types on that safari. We saw lions, water bucks, giraffes, hyenas, buffalos and we even saw a baboon climb on to our van and try to enter, in a desperate search for food. We had members of the team eat ostrich and alligator, so I was going nowhere near animals."

When it was time to head home, many little nuances of living in America where greatly appreciated by McKay on his return home.

"The experience was an amazing one," said McKay. "But I'll never again take for granted a hot shower, a traffic signal, respectful drivers and the ability to brush your teeth with tap water instead of using distilled or bottled water. I will never take for granted a smoothie or Chick-fil-A sweet tea and waffle fries."

Ritchie McKay with a young girl at the Soweto Academy in Kibera.
A trip that could have ended in disaster, instead concluded with the continuing effort of building the Kingdom of God. It was an experience that not only benefited those who were served, but one that positively affected the servers as well.

"This trip was the best experience of my life," reflected McKay. "I thank the Lord for the opportunity to be a part of His work in Africa, and it reminds me again that Christ came to this earth not to be served, but to serve. He asks the same of us and as I reflect on this trip, this experience, I know this world would be a better place if we would imitate and walk with the character of Jesus Christ."

Tyler Baker with new friends at the Soweto Academy in Kibera.

Kibera, the world's largest slum.