by Greg Gorham, Sports Information Director
A group of seven players spent their spring break traveling to India, helping those who work to deliver women and children out of human trafficking.
Even in the middle of the off-season, the time around spring break is busy for most college football programs. Players are getting important time in the weight room, coaches are on the recruiting trail, as the team prepares for what awaits them in the fall. The start of spring practices can set the tone for the rest of the season.
Trinity International head coach Kirk Wherritt has gone about setting a different kind of tone around the Trojan program. During the break, Wherritt and seven players traveled to northern India in partnership with Bright Hope, ministering to local churches and the groups working to rescue children from human trafficking.
The team spent time in a region of India where the majority of human trafficking occurs in the country. Overall, there are 13.9 million people trafficked, mostly from state to state inside of India, and 80 percent of these people are women and girls. The Trojans spent time working in a safe house where some of the girls who have been rescued are staying. TIU players not only did some physical work – painting the girls’ school and worship room – but they offered spiritual help as well, sharing their testimonies with the girls and praying for their continued safety and growth.
“The girls and the Anti-Human Trafficking team were greatly encouraged by the TIU team,” said Christy Davis, Family Engagement & Events Manager for Bright Hope. Davis joined the team on their trip, after working with the football program on a fundraising campaign throughout the 2013 season. “They helped [the girls] see that there are godly men; the staff spoke highly of the spiritual depth of the men, the laughter and joy that they spread, and the encouragement that they are not doing this work alone, but have support from brothers in Christ in the USA.”
The Trojans also spoke at various events around the region, as all seven players along with Coach Wherritt shared their testimony at one time or another. The team spoke at a youth rally at a local church, where they not only helped spread awareness of the human trafficking epidemic, but challenged the young Christian men attending to deepen their walk with Christ. Outside of their work with the local Christian churches, the team also spoke at a local university. The TIU players talked about the issue of human trafficking to a mostly Hindu audience, raising awareness of the problem with students and faculty who can potentially turn the tide in their hometowns.
The program’s partnership with Bright Hope began before the start of the 2013 season, when the organization met with the team in the preseason. The objective of the meeting was to raise awareness of Bright Hope’s mission, but the team soon decided to get more involved. A campaign was started to raise $30,000 by the end of the season – the amount equivalent to the cost of rescuing 10 girls over the Trojans’ 10-game schedule.
The result of the trip, Wherritt believes, has made an impact on not only the girls and women that Bright Hope has delivered out of human trafficking rings around India, but also on he and his players as well. Coach Wherritt feels like he has seen a difference in the seven players who made the journey. “Being there, you can’t help but mature.” Simply witnessing the scene of the area’s ‘red light’ district while making their way to the home of a woman who had been rescued had an effect on the team. “To see what you see,” Wherritt said, “one of the guys asked, ‘are we all okay?’, and I said I’m not okay. You can’t see that and be okay.”
The experience has led to a call for action, as the team will continue working with Bright Hope in India. “You get around the girls, you can’t help but feel like you want to protect them, and help to get more girls out of it. There are not a lot of voices for them. If we won’t be a voice over here, then, there aren’t many people that will. We need to actively do something, we need to get involved, we need to join the cause in a greater way than we already have.”
The team is already planning on another visit to India in the spring of 2015, with players who did not make the first trip already expressing interest in travelling next year.
“I think it’ll be really hard to not follow up. The girls brought us a lot of joy, but I think we were able to bring them some joy and some hope, knowing that people on the other side of the world care about them. Some people who haven’t received much love in their lives, to see that others who don’t even know them, care about them. I think brought some hope. To follow up with that will be pretty important.”
While fundraising with Bright Hope and preparing for their trip, Trinity International enjoyed its most successful season on the field in nine years. TIU got out to a 4-1 start, and was nationally ranked for portions of the season before finishing with a 5-5 record, their first time with a .500 record since 2004. The Trojans are working to improve even more in 2014, competing in a tough Mid-States conference that included five nationally-ranked programs last year, including the NAIA national champions.
The difference between Trinity International and most of the rest of the programs in the MSFA, however, is the purpose behind their work. “We want to be a great team, so we can do things like this; so we can have a platform,” Wherritt said. “If we are just a great team and we don’t do things like this, helping girls that are being trafficked, if we don’t do that, then I think we’re wasting it. If you’re given something, what will you do with it? Most of us, myself included, don’t do much at all with it. I want our guys to see that, I’m going to use football for the platform. It’s the ministry God gave me, and it’s my foot in the door to do things like this.”
Wherritt hopes to continue to build a successful program with these re-aligned priorities, seeing their work off the field as more important than what happens on it. It’s a message he wants to drive home for any potential future Trojans he meets with while recruiting. “”I would hope whoever we tell the story about will see that there are things worth getting in the game for, and trying to make an impact, sacrificing money, time and energy for. There certainly have been times where it was challenging, but we can live until we’re 80 and never risk anything, and be very comfortable; but that’s not a way to live, I think. I hope [our work] says that there are things in life that are worth sacrificing for, and hopefully we’re not afraid to take those risks.”
To learn more about Bright Hope’s Anti-Human Trafficking Initiative, as well as their other projects around the world, visit BrightHope.org.
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