Bulldog athlete brings passion for soccer and faith to Africa

By on Aug. 5, 2013 in Men's Soccer

Bulldog athlete brings passion for soccer and faith to Africa

By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director

Walking in the footsteps of his head coach, Concordia junior men’s soccer player Brendan Buchanan took his love of soccer and his desire for adventure all over Africa throughout the month of July. The Bulldog keeper seized the opportunity to play soccer and share his faith abroad through a program called Athletes in Action, just as men’s soccer coach Jason Weides had a few years ago.

Like the many Concordia students who have traveled outside the US for mission trips, Buchanan witnessed many cultural differences, some that made his jaw drop. Armed with his faith and soccer skills the Broomfield, Colo., native set out to form a bond with the local people for three weeks.

“I had never done a trip like this before,” Buchanan said. “I decided to do it because I wanted to experience a new culture and I felt doing that through soccer and the gospel would be the perfect way to do it.”

What Buchanan found in his excursion in Bulembu, Swaziland and then in the cities of Lusaka and Livingstone in Zambia, were children who shared his love of soccer. Despite the lack of a first-class facility like Bulldog Stadium, the youths of Africa found creative ways to enjoy the game.

“We were playing on dirt fields with makeshift goals and it was really cool to experience soccer that way,” Buchanan said. “The people we played against don't need fancy equipment. It was really cool to play against the teams we did because they were playing simply for the joy of playing.  Everybody was so passionate about their soccer down there. Everywhere we went there were kids playing with their homemade balls on the streets, and it really reminded me of why I started playing soccer.”

There were many rewarding aspects of the trip. The chance to work with impressionable kids from orphanages stood near the top of the list for Buchanan. The physical education major primarily put on soccer clinics that included gospel sessions in which each of the soccer players shared their own stories with the children.

Through it all, Buchanan was impressed by the positive outlooks shared by the people he visited. Away from the world we know complete with cell phones, iPads, computers and gigantic high definition televisions, people live blissfully without all the gizmos that many Americans take for granted.

“I think the most important thing I took away from the trip was that you don't have to have a lot of material possessions to be happy,” Buchanan said. “The people we interacted with were always nice and happy, and many of them had old cloths and no shoes. But even with that they made the most of the situation, and it made me realize that if you have faith, you don't have to worry about what you don't have.”

For someone like Buchanan, who has lived his entire life in either Broomfield or Seward, the three weeks in Africa were a definite step outside his comfort zone. He may have felt somewhat like Weides did in 2009 when he traveled to Paraguay and Panama for a similar mission trip.

“It challenged me personally, because sharing my faith was something I'd never done before,” Weides told the Broomfield Enterprise for an article in April. “And it was a humbling experience. Working in really poverty stricken areas was something that helped me realize how blessed we are in this country. And it meant so much to bring some happiness to these people, at least for a moment.”

Weides’ reflection sounded eerily similar to the words Buchanan used upon his return from Africa. Both seemed to gain a greater perspective on life after being introduced to African nations where things like safe-to-drink tap water and clean pairs of shoes are more fairy tale than reality.

“My perspective on life has changed after this trip,” Buchanan said. “We always hear we have it really good in America, but you don't truly appreciate that until you go somewhere that is very poor. Seeing some of the stuff I saw in the towns and orphanages and such really made me realize how easy we have it here.”

This point proved true the first time Buchanan laid down for a night’s rest in Africa. While Buchanan is used to protecting a net, sleeping under one is entirely different. Then there were the signs of peril faced by Africans and the placement of cars driving on the streets.

“Another thing that struck me was kind of the environment of the city,” Buchanan said. “Almost every house or business had a wall around it with barbed wire or broken glass on top of it to keep people. And of course we drove on the left side of the road so it was a bit weird at first when we were driving around.”

While Buchanan provided soccer instruction and helped instill and strengthen the faith of African youths, he in turn also benefited. He learned lessons that will he carry as he moves on.

“Many of the people we played against didn't even have shoes or a real ball, but they were always playing,” Buchanan said. “It made me realize that if you are passionate about something like soccer, you will find a way to do what you are passionate about.”

After growing spiritually through the mission, Buchanan says he hopes for another opportunity to join in with Athletes in Action.

“I would like to go on another one,” Buchanan said. “I love the idea of combining faith and sports because you can connect with the kids better because you already have a bond through the sport.”