Foreword - The NAIA, the leader in character-driven intercollegiate athletics, creates an Association that is flexible for every member institution. That flexibility allows institutions to be autonomous to advance their institutional mission. The Indiana Wesleyan University mission is grounded in their faith, which is the reason for their trip to New Zealand.
Story by Kyle Schmidt, Indiana Wesleyan Sports Information
MARION, Ind. -- The Indiana Wesleyan University athletic department sent nearly 200 people to the other side of the world in an unprecedented trip named the 2013 Auckland, New Zealand Sports Ministry Blitz.
Representing the athletic department were 15 of the 16 teams plus staff. Director of Global Partners Dr. Jim Vermilya, Executive Vice President Dr. Keith Newman, and Dean of the Chapel Dr. Jim Lo also accompanied the team on this mission trip.
In 2010 a vision was put in place by Indiana Wesleyan Director of Athletics Mark DeMichael for Indiana Wesleyan athletics to go on a department wide mission trip. The purpose of the vision was to put the department mission statement, based on Philippians 2:1-11, into action. The massive trip was held July 28-August 6, 2013 and the hope of the Sports Ministry Blitz was to transform lives and to make contacts with community people for the local churches.
“I think for the 170 student-athletes that were on the trip saw a deeper understanding of what it is we are truly trying to do here in Indiana Wesleyan athletics,” said DeMichael. “They know our mission and we can talk about the mission but they lived the mission that week and they saw how God can use athletics to transform lives for Him.”
During the week Indiana Wesleyan student-athletes were able to work in public schools in Auckland.
“I have heard back from multiple public schools about our time there,” stated DeMichael. “The schools talked about what a big influence the teams that went there had on their kids. It created excitement and helped them see that playing sport is more than just playing and competing, that there are character and unity elements.”
Numerous students were able to work Physical Education classes at the schools or help run camps and clinics with Auckland youth. This was an area where Indiana Wesleyan student-athletes were presented an opportunity to use their athletic gifts for ministry.
“Our time had been spent mostly on the fields, and that is where the heart of our ministry was,” said men’s soccer junior Dylan Bronkema.
“Through developing relationships with the kids, we were able able to show them the love of Christ and give them a positive example of how it looks to be a Christian athlete and how that is different from the world. We had opportunities to share what being a Christian athlete means to us and how we play for a larger purpose than the love of the game. It has been amazing to be able to use the common bond of the love for soccer as a means to witness and share our mission with these kids.”
During the evening hours and over the weekend the student-athletes were spread all over the Auckland region working in the churches. This involved time with youth groups, community service, and working with different church activities in the community.
“The churches were very moved and touched and impacted by the ministry,” continued DeMichael. “A lot of the youth from those churches are posting on Facebook on how much they miss the IWU group already and how much they love them. The pastors have talked how our athletes totally invested themselves while they were there and that they had no inhibitions and just got in there and loved on people and that they served them with energy, enthusiasm and love. We have received great feedback from them.”
Richard Waugh, the National Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church in New Zealand, talked about how transformational it was for the churches.
DeMichael said, “Richard Waugh stated how many of his pastors spoke about the many contacts they made with potential community people that will be part of their church in the future. They are excited about the excitement and energy it created, but also the way specific lives were changed while we were there.”
Not only were Kiwi lives changed during the week long Sports Ministry Blitz, but so were the lives of many from Indiana Wesleyan.
“I’ve had a chance to go to Auckland two years in a row and I have developed a heart for the people that are there,” said Indiana Wesleyan baseball coach Chad Newhard. “We’ve had an amazing opportunity to invest in some of the churches and to see the churches grow and to invest in those people would be an excellent opportunity.”
“It was an incredible transformational experience for the guys in our baseball program,” continued Newhard. “We spent time developing relationships and it was good to see our guys step out and be bold for Christ. Our team grew closer together and we were able to be vulnerable with one another. We also had Dr. Lo, Dr. Vermilya, Mark DeMichael, and some of our coaches hit at our guys spiritually. They challenged them and it was a transformational experience.”
Cross country and track and field senior Jordan Hofer was also impacted during the Sports Ministry Blitz.
“This trip has transformed lives,” said Hofer. “We may not know exactly what a difference we have made in the lives of the Kiwis, but I know that our lives have been changed. I have learned what it means to be bold in my faith. This has been taught to me by the others on this trip with me. I have loved getting to know the people in my athletic department better and I believe that we will be more unified and more successful servant leaders.”
DeMichael knew that the Holy Spirit could accomplish great things on this trip but even he was amazed by the many reports he has heard from student-athletes, coaches, pastors, and the people of New Zealand.
“You pray for transformation, you pray for serving and making an impact in Auckland, you pray that your people’s lives are changed while you are there,” said DeMichael. “But to see so many lives changed is hard to imagine. Right at the beginning of the week when a person in Aotea Square committed his life to Christ for the first time with Jeff Clark through the 50 people that went forward Sunday night at the Connect Rally to commit their lives to Christ. To see Fijians, Tongans, Samoans, and Kiwis all up front and seeing our kids within five seconds going up there to be with them and have their hands on them and praying with them. I’m not sure I could have hoped for it to go any better than it did.”
One hope that DeMichael shared before the Sports Ministry Blitz was that the trip would not be a one-time thing for Indiana Wesleyan athletics. His hope was for any number of teams to build such relationships during the trip that individual teams would go back to Auckland on their own mission trip.
“I know several coaches have already expressed that they want to go back to Auckland and do their own trip or to partner with another team," DeMichael stated. “So I’m really excited about those possible opportunities. Reverend Waugh and several of the pastors have already talked about the desire to not only have individual teams come back but even asked if we would do the big blitz again. So I know they also want the relationship to continue as well.”
One such team that has already expressed a desire to do their own mission trip in Auckland was the baseball team.
“I think there were some incredible avenues that were opened for baseball while we there,” said Newhard. “We are going to have an opportunity to possibly invest in a country that is in the middle of a grassroots baseball effort. It is a developing sport in their country and that is very exciting to me and I think it was exciting for our players as well. Going back would be a great opportunity for us.”
Another positive of the week was the continued build of unity throughout the athletic department.
“Over the course of the week more athletes from different teams started interacting with each other and it became less about the individual teams and more about them mixing,” said DeMichael. “That was an encouragement because department unity was one of our goals and I think that will create a more unified ministry for our athletic department back here on campus and in Marion and Grant County.”
With the Sports Ministry Blitz now in the rearview mirror, that unified ministry will be focused on local service in Marion and Grant County.
“We want to put together an intentional and organized community outreach program from Indiana Wesleyan athletics to really flood Marion,” stated DeMichael. “All of our teams have been doing some type of community service for a long time but it’s time for us to have an intentional and organized department outreach to our local community. This is a mission field too and 350 people can really help a community in many different ways.”