Mountain of a Mission
Driving down the mountain and into the valley that first morning, the group was shocked by what they were seeing. It didn’t look like any part of the United States they had been to before.
The Asbury University women’s basketball team returned last week from a mission trip to the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation in Whiteriver, Ariz., where they partnered with a local church to perform community outreach opportunities.
The students, along with Asbury coaches and various family members, spent seven days working with White Mountain Apache Christian Church to minister to the local Apache community.
“One thing I didn’t expect was the level of poverty,” senior guard Ashlea Hollon said. “Having been to a third-world country, Haiti, I had decided before this trip that the poverty wouldn’t be as bad. But the poverty ended up being worse than first imagined.”
The living conditions on the reservation were an eye-opener for everyone in the group. It quickly became apparent that there was a need in the community.
“This trip gave us an opportunity to see how blessed we really are,” Asbury women’s basketball head coach Bart Flener said.
The group held a free three-day basketball camp for youth on the reservation ranging from ages 5 through 16. The camp offered the youth an opportunity to get out of the house and to take part in activities in a gym which ordinarily wouldn’t be available to them.
More than 100 youth attended the camp. Eagles players and coaches bonded with the campers while teaching various fundamentals for the game of basketball. On the last day of the camp, team members shared devotions with the youth.
“The opportunity to conduct a basketball camp on the reservation and present Christ to them was a big goal for our team,” Flener said. “I was really proud of our young women and how quickly they bonded with the kids.”
Before the trip, the team had purchased toys to distribute to children on the reservation. Midway through the week, they went on a bus ride through the community, stopping by houses as children joined the bus to sing songs and head to the park. After reaching the park, the team played games and handed out the gifts.
During the week, the group also provided a free “southern-style breakfast” as dinner to the local community one evening, and participated on a mountain sledding trip with the local youth on Saturday. On Sunday, the Asbury players and coaches taught all of the youth Sunday school classes at the Christian Church.
“We set out to have multiple interactions in the White Mountain Apache community,” Flener stated. “We prepared meals, taught Sunday school classes, delivered gifts in the local neighborhood, and we were able to do this on a daily basis.”
Hollon, a Christian Ministries major who plans to get involved with outreach ministry in Haiti following graduation, said the kids left a lasting impression on her.
“I enjoyed working with the kids the most: at the clinic, on the bus ride, and at the church,” she stated. “It was cool to see the different personalities of each kid, yet sad to know that many faced much and are traumatized by their circumstances.”
While on the reservation, Alchesay High School was gracious to allow the team to use their two gymnasiums for both the team camp and team practices while the Eagles prepared for their game at NCAA Division I member Utah State on Jan. 3. The 711-mile van ride through the Rocky Mountains to Logan, Utah, near the end of the trip certainly tested the team’s patience, but the Eagles managed a respectable 83-53 setback to the Aggies.
The following morning, departing the hotel at 4 a.m., sitting in airports and additional van rides resulted in the third 12-hour day of travel on the trip. But in the end, that didn’t matter.
“Lily didn’t care a whole lot about basketball,” Hollon reminisced about a girl she met at camp. “While everyone else was shooting balls, she was spinning and dancing on the floor. She was happy to be there whether it was for basketball or not.
“She colored me a picture, and it will be something that I treasure forever. Being able to award her with a medal at the end of the camp and giving her a source of accomplishment made all of the traveling and being away from home worth it.”