June 2, 2023
East Texas Baptist University Women’s Basketball traveled to Northern Ireland for the sixteenth Tiger Athletic Mission Experience (TAME) trip for the University. The student-athletes and coaches partnered with the International Sports Federation (ISF) and served alongside the Salt Factory Sports group in Belfast, Ireland, from May 14-24, 2023.
Upon arrival in Northern Ireland, the team made their way to Belfast Bible College, the place they would call home for the trip. As the first day ended, the ETBU contingent visited with the Salt Factory Sports team about how they could best serve the local communities throughout the trip.
Day two began at William Foote Memorial Primary School, where the Tigers played castle ball, bucket ball, and American football with the students. The day concluded with the Tigers taking in the sights of Belfast Castle and Cave Hill Country Park. The group hiked to the top of the hill to enjoy the scenery of Belfast below. Before settling in for the night, the Tigers learned more about the history of Northern Ireland as they prepared for their mission work for the remainder of the week.
On Wednesday, the team held basketball clinics at Harmony Hill School and Holy Trinity School in Belfast, teaching students various skills and playing games. ETBU senior psychology major Erin Berry shared how interactions with the students resonated with the team.
“One kid said to me, ‘Once you find something you love, it becomes dangerous to stop learning,’” Berry said. “The more I have let those words sink in, the more meaningful they have become. As Christians, we must obey His will for our lives by taking time to connect with Him through truth and His word.”
After touring the Ulster Museum in Belfast and enjoying a pregame meal provided by their host church, ETBU traveled to Lisburn to face the Phoenix Rockets. Following the game, the two squads joined together in fellowship.
The team spent Thursday touring the monastery of Saint Mo-Choi of Nendrum, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity where Saint Patrick is buried, and the Inch Abbey. At the Cathedral, ETBU junior worship studies major Abigail Taylor played the piano and led the team in worship.
“Being able to worship together in this place was an indescribable experience,” Taylor said. “It was a humbling and precious time for me to be able to worship in such a beautiful cathedral on the other side of the world. The presence of the Holy Spirit was felt like never before.”
On Friday, the team split into groups and went to three schools to participate in various camps and clinics.
“In the moments we got to spend with the kids each morning, we let the joy of Christ shine through us in everything we were doing,” ETBU senior elementary education major Michaela James said.
The team led a basketball camp on Saturday with children from the community. After the camp, the Tigers were joined by campers and their families for lunch, providing ETBU student-athletes an opportunity to interact further and share how the Lord has impacted their lives.
The Tigers traveled south to Dublin to face the Ireland Women’s Under 20 National team and enjoyed interacting with the team in a luncheon following the game.
“Playing against some of Ireland’s best players in our age division has been an incredible experience and is an opportunity I will never forget,” ETBU freshman psychology major Tiffany Bickford said.
On Sunday, the team went to Lagan Valley Vineyard church to participate in worship. Then, they ventured to Saint George’s Market to enjoy the culture and explore food, clothing, and jewelry vendors from Belfast. Next, they traveled to St. Anne’s Cathedral for evening worship and prayer.
The Tigers partnered with Lagan Valley Vineyard Church in prison ministry to share the love of Christ with prisoners and their families in Northern Ireland. ETBU student-athletes and coaches visited with members of the ministry and helped clean and organize a new facility the organization will be moving into.
The Tigers came away with a victory over the Dublin Lions in the final game of the trip. Senior ETBU mathematics education major Mollie Dittmar reflected on the conversations among the teams post-game.
“It was so much fun talking with the girls and comparing the similarities and differences from our lifestyles,” Dittmar said. “My prayer is that through our words and actions, the love of Christ was on full display. The Lord moved in my heart and the hearts of others throughout our team on this trip. This was an incredible experience, and I am so thankful for this opportunity.”
The women’s basketball team and staff expected lives to be shaped on the trip, but the Lord did more than impact those of Northern Ireland.
“We began our trip thinking about the lives of people in Northern Ireland that would be changed, but found quickly how this experience transformed us from the inside out,” ETBU Women’s Basketball Head Coach Blake Arbogast said. “To watch our team serve and share the Gospel in a country divided by hatred based on what street they live on, the school they attend, or even what side of a wall they live on, was very powerful. We are grateful for the work that our partner, Salt Factory Sports, does to further God’s Kingdom through sports ministry in Northern Ireland. We are grateful to the individuals that worked tirelessly to make this trip possible through prayer and donations to allow our group to travel to one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.”