Volleyball spends summer serving the Lord near and far
By Jake Knabel, Director of Athletic Communications
SEWARD, Neb. – A program that produced the most scholar-athletes of any NAIA volleyball team last season is doing big things this summer that do not necessarily involve studying textbooks or spiking volleyballs. Where can you find Bulldog volleyball players this summer? Near and far, just about everywhere really. They’re making a difference, spreading the word of God and strengthening their own faith.
At least 10 of head coach Scott Mattera’s student-athletes have been involved in mission work or related service throughout this summer. It’s a number that shocked Mattera and provided further evidence of the special nature of the Bulldog volleyball program.
“I knew our girls were mission and service oriented but I honestly had no idea that this many of them were going on such exotic trips to live out their faith,” Mattera said. “I’d love to take some credit for it or claim that the program helped organize it, but this is just something these girls had in their hearts to do on their own. The one thing I will say for the program is how proud I am that we attract these types of young ladies to come play for us. Being Christ Centered and roles models are huge parts of our core values.”
Each of these faith-infused Bulldog athletes came away with powerful experiences from the road. Broken down by location, here are their stories.
Focused on developing friendships and spiritual relationships in a small Alaskan village, Amanda Abbott and Katie Peterson joined a mission team from Seward’s St. John Lutheran Church for an adventure that spanned from June 20-28. Peterson, who also went with teammate Kayla James to Belize earlier in the summer, found plenty of reward in connecting with the locals through Bible school and basketball camp.
What Peterson observed in both of her trips were groups of people with incredibly strong faith in God.
“I keep telling people that I think I was impacted much more than the people we were aiming to help,” Peterson said. “It was truly an amazing and unexplainable experience and I think it is safe to say that I live my life differently after I have gone on these trips.”
Amanda and Katie even witnessed unfortunate circumstances occur during their stay when a member of the community died. Both were invited to the funeral and dinner, providing an experience that Abbott says she will never forget.
“The people up in Akiachak are amazing,” Abbott said. “Since it was my second summer going with St. John, the most rewarding part was building on the relationships I had made last year. I have made many friends up there, and I love playing and hanging out with all the kids, all while sharing the love of Jesus. Each relationship built is an opportunity to share the Gospel!”
Abbott even received a Yuppiik (native language) name “Panik,” which means sister. Says Abbott, “the people of Akiachak have truly changed my life, and I have been so blessed with the opportunity to go there twice to build and maintain those relationships.”
“It is a life changing experience,” senior Kayla James would go on to say after completing a mission trip in Belize that provided public health education. Among the highlights, the biology major took part in teaching children about healthy eating, hydration, exercise and routine daily tasks such as brushing teeth and washing hands. James was also involved in teaching women in some villages about how to check for breast cancer.
“The trip was amazing,” James said. “Being able to help the women know how to examine themselves for breast cancer was very rewarding. We taught them how to teach others so the knowledge would keep spreading. I learned how much I loved children. Playing with the children during their recesses or after school was probably one of my favorite things. They loved the attention.”
James traveled with Dr. Joseph Gubanyi, professor of biology and chair of the natural sciences department, along with seven Concordia students, including teammate Katie Peterson. They all had a chance to sing songs, read Bible verses and observe the clinic set up in a church where some of Belize’s sick and poverty-stricken were treated. The trip covered the areas of Orange Walk, San Ignacio and Belize City from May 26 to June 3.
“To be able to help the sick people was also very rewarding,” James said. “This might have been the saddest day. We really saw some of Belize’s poverty when we saw the sick. I will never forget this day, nor any day during our journey in Belize.”
Junior Kayla Sombke, an early childhood education major, went with a group of five other Concordia students to Ghana, Africa, May 11-31 as part of a school outreach mission trip. As Sombke says, the mission was designed to build relationships and emphasize the message of Christ to students, faculty and staff at St. Paul’s and Trinity Lutheran Schools. Sombke and others involved attended daily morning chapel before being broken into groups for music and crafts. There was also time for side activities like visiting Kakum National Park and experiencing the local culture.
Sombke even had the chance to impact children who she said struggled to believe in Christ. This was an opportunity for the Indianapolis native to truly make a difference. In turn, there was plenty of reward for Sombke, whose passion lies in education.
“I was able to use and gain new teaching skills,” Sombke said. “I was able to share the love, grace and forgiveness of Christ with the students of Ghana. Their way and ease of life was refreshing. It filled my heart with joy. When people travel to Africa, there does not need to be a physical result of work, such as building a house or a well. Building relationships is the most important thing that you can do when traveling and doing mission work in Africa.”
Senior Jami Nekoliczak recently returned from a mission trip to St. Raphael’s Church in Haiti. Along with members of her home church in Greeley, Neb., Nekoliczak helped in the construction of a new school and taught Bible school to children during the afternoons. The mission work in Haiti, which lasted from July 10-16, was the second such trip for the behavior science major, who also went to Gautemala following her freshman year at Concordia.
“Out of this opportunity I was hoping to get a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ, and I was also wanting to help people like we did in Guatemala,” Nekoliczak said. “As I have returned home I have realized once again that you go to help others on mission trips, but when coming back to the U.S. you realize you are the one who has received the help.”
What made this adventure even more special for Nekoliczak was the fact that her father Tom also came along. Says Nekoliczak, “I have been praying for an opportunity to go on another one. God answered by giving my home church a calling to go on this mission trip, so when I heard about it I knew I had to take it! I was lucky enough to take my dad along on this mission trip. It was an opportunity I am so thankful we could do together.”
A little girl named Dana left a lasting impression upon senior Carli Smith, who traveled with Peace Lutheran Church of Arvada, Colo., to Tijuana, Mexico, in late June for a mission at Rancho De Sus Ninos. Smith met Dana, an orphan, at Rancho and spent an entire day with her, taking part in arts and crafts before moving on to hair and nails.
“She was such an amazing little girl and she made such an impact on my life by meeting her and attempting to talk in Spanish with her,” Smith said. “I just loved being on this mission trip and getting the chance to pray and share the Word of God with these children and families and I would definitely recommend going to Rancho De Sus Ninos. I would go back there in a heartbeat.”
Other activities included “water ministry,” involving door-to-door offerings of prayer and free water, prior to “trailer ministry” in which locals were invited to participate in games, skits and music
“The families and children loved it and we were able to share the word of God with them as well, which was the most important part about it all,” Smith said. “This was by far my favorite activity we did on the trip because it was just amazing to see all the children and families come out to listen to us about God's word and God's love for them all and play games with us.”
Sure there are many foreign nations to traverse when serving others, but Alayna Kavanaugh has made her impact right in her hometown of Lincoln. The biology/pre-medicine major is working with Americorps at two area elementary/middle schools to promote healthy lifestyles. Many of the children Kavanaugh works with have been dealt difficult circumstances such as rough home lives or poverty. Kavanaugh says she acts as a ‘big sis’ for these area youth, providing them a role model to look up to.
“This job is unbelievably rewarding,” Kavanaugh said. “Many of these kids have very, very rough home lives. They often need someone to talk to. I have loved forming relationships with these kids and earning their respect and trust. I really want to make a difference in their lives and believe I have a little bit.”
Kavanaugh says one of the most rewarding parts of her work so far was being able to teach the children about the food groups and how to eat healthy. Many were unaware of the different types of food groups.
“I would recommend trying it out for sure,” Kavanaugh said of the experience. “It is definitely not the easiest job I've done, but it’s very rewarding in many different ways. I have learned so many things this summer from this and feel like I have grown up and grown as a person.”
Nahtahwaush and White Earth Reservations, northern Minnesota
A veteran of the Nahtahwaush and White Earth Indian reservations, senior-to-be Michala Maurer has now been on the same mission trip eight different times with her high school youth group from St. John’s Lutheran Church of her hometown Columbus, Neb. The latest vacation Bible school ran from June 23-27 and involved infants and adults alike from the reservations.
The mission, also attended by Concordia alum Rev. Brad Birtell, involved the reading of Bible stories, arts and crafts time for the children, refreshment breaks of cookies and juice and gifts for the area youth. Maurer says the children have emphatically embraced these spiritual sessions and made a big impact upon her career path.
“This trip is what really inspired me to want to become a teacher,” Maurer said. “I want to have a Christ-centered impact on children every day and be able to share the love the Savior has for them along with me. I love helping children learn and getting to become close to them within a matter of days. It is amazing to me how much the children will share with me and let me into their lives.”
The impressive work done by Concordia volleyball players does not end with just returning athletes. Incoming freshmen Courtney Jurgens and Alaina Ruszkowski also got into the act this summer. Jurgens went with her church to help uplift poor communities in Arkansas from June 8-14. Meanwhile, Ruszkowski just finished a mission trip with her local youth group to Taylorsville, N.C. (July 12-20).
22 July 2014
Jami Nekoliczak: Haiti
Carli Smith: Tijuana, Mexico
Kayla Sombke: Ghana, Africa
Michala Maurer: Nahtahwaush and White Earth Reservations, northern Minnesota