December 20, 2016
East Texas Baptist University's Softball Team traveled to Costa Rica December 10-17 to participate in the first-ever Tiger Athletic Mission Experience (TAME). These Tigers, some of which had never been on a mission trip, others out of the United States, or a few even on an airplane, overcame fear, anxiety, and the unknown to cultivate the Word of God and His hope through Christ while using their God-given athletic talents.
"You could see something changing in them throughout the week as they learned so much," ETBU Softball Coach Janae' Shirley said. "You could see they were starting to recognize and see God in everything that they were doing [in Costa Rica] and the different places they served."
Through the newly established TAME program, the team spent time distributing Bibles, doing construction, and serving at a school and home for children. The ETBU Softball team also had the opportunity to play two exhibition games against the Costa Rican National Team.
"For my teammates and I this mission trip was a huge step out of our comfort zone," senior KaitIyn Hollingshead said. "I believe that the people we were sharing Bibles with shared the same love for Jesus that we did, and that relationship with Christ is strong enough to overcome any barrier."
While in Costa Rica, the softball team's base of operations was with Youth with a Mission (YWAM) San Jose. The students lived on site and attended their college credit course of Christian Devotional Classics led by ETBU's Vice President for Spiritual Development Scott Bryant at this location. YWAM provided the support and guidance needed for these young people to serve in the area. The mission organization supported the efforts of the student-athletes through translators, worship, bible study, lodging, and meals.
"It was a moving worship time full of songs in Spanish and English, but regardless of the language, voice and hands were held high, worshipping the one and only Savior," ETBU junior Katelyn Cooper said. "It was an amazing time getting to talk and pray with the workers on the base from all over the world."
Coach Shirley shared that the YWAM guide explained to her how sports can open doors to share the love of Christ that are sometimes closed in Costa Rica. The support given by YWAM, the TAME program, donors, and leaders at ETBU equipped the softball team to share the love of Christ with all those they came in contact with.
"My faith was encouraged to hear these young ladies share the message of God's love through Jesus to Costa Ricans on their doorsteps, on the sidewalks, and in their living rooms," ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn, who accompanied the team on their trip, said. "Challenged to overcome the language barrier, our students used their Spanish scripts to guide their introduction, discuss the power of God's Word, deliver the Bible as a gift, and offer to pray for families they met along the way."
According to Jayme Perez, who had never been out of the country, this first-hand experience changed her view of the world. "It made me realize how blessed that I am to have grown up in a Christian environment and attend a Christian university, like ETBU. I am allowed to worship and be open about God." Perez was shocked that people didn't have access to Bibles and how grateful they were to receive one.
"We know that God's Word is a powerful tool, and we are so excited to have a small part of sharing it with the people in Costa Rica," Vice President for Spiritual Development Scott Bryant said. "We prayed over every Bible that was given out, and we know that God's Word does not return void."
Between playing the Costa Rican National team in softball, helping out at an orphanage, and being immersed in a new culture, the inaugural trip of ETBU's TAME program gave students the opportunity to evaluate both their spiritual and career directions.
"One of the most amazing things to watch was the bond that was formed between [junior] Maci [Brewer] and a kid named Caesar," junior McKayla Hendrix said. "They instantly clicked, anytime you looked he would be smiling up at her or holding her hand showing her different things around his home." Caesar has actually inspired Brewer, who plans to become a teacher to go into teaching students with special needs.
The team returned to the United States on December 17 and according to Hollingshead "left [Costa Rica] with changed hearts, a deeper passion for the Lord, and stronger relationships as a team."
Plans for the next TAME program mission trips are underway. This coming May, ETBU Men's Soccer plans to travel to Nicaragua and then in December 2017, the Tiger Bass Team and ETBU Baseball will adventure outside the U.S. to reach others for Christ through the TAME program. Individuals that wish to support these efforts or the ETBU Tiger Athletic Mission Experience program can contact Vice President for Athletics Ryan Erwin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 903.923.2228.