by Bob San
SUN PRESS Newspapers
A group of 21 former Maple Grove High School student-athletes recently travelled to Kenya for a memorable mission trip.
Twelve of the group went as part of a group called Better Men’s Club (BMC) a faith-based leadership group for students-athletes. Charlie Thomsen, a 2013 Maple Grove graduate and three-year hockey letterwinner, was the person who got the mission trip in motion.
“Last winter in my senior year of high school I was going through a difficult time. Then I received contact information to a local pastor who played hockey and was willing to talk to anyone who needed it,” Thomsen explained. “After a couple weeks of letting the email sit in my inbox, I decided to give him a call. I met with Maple Grove Covenant Church Pastor Chad Erlenborn, which really opened the doors to learning more about my faith, values, morals, mission, purpose, and leadership skills.”
Thomsen, who is an incoming sophomore with a 3.85 GPA in the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management double majoring in entrepreneurial management and marketing with a minor in leadership, continued to meet with Erlenborn. Following one meeting, Erlenborn encouraged Thomsen to invite a couple friends to join who would benefit from the discussions.
“As I saw them enjoy what we were doing, I assumed others would too, so we began inviting more to join us,” Thomsen said. “By the time summer rolled around, we had nearly 30 student-athletes from the Maple Grove-Osseo area meeting weekly with us as we learned from the leadership program titled Habitudes.”
Through this group the former Crimson were exposed to some amazing opportunities and guests.
“One special guest was a pastor from Nairobi, Kenya named Oscar Muriu,” Thomsen said. “Oscar was so impressed with the dynamics of the group that he invited us to come visit his congregation this summer and help install a similar group with his Kenyan student-athletes.”
That’s how the trip to Kenya came to be. The Maple Grove contingent was in Kenya from June 6 to 18, with some travelers arriving or leaving earlier depending on personal/work schedules.
The former Crimson who were on the trip were Thomsen, Tommy Pedretti (soccer), a current student at the U of M; Josh Augustine (hockey captain), a current student at Hope College; Jake Palmer (football), a current student at North Dakota State University; Jake Wieneke (football, basketball, and track), a current student at South Dakota State University playing football; Joe Gilbert (junior gold hockey), a current student at NDSU; Joe Franta (hockey and baseball), leaving the St. John’s baseball program to study at the U of M; Chris Freemark (hockey captain, studying at Minnesota State University at Mankato; John Dreher (lacrosse captain), a student at the U of M; and Ben Osborn (baseball), leaving the St. Johns baseball program to study at the U of M.
Thomsen was there for almost two weeks. He and his team members worked with a primary school and orphanage in Uzima, (a town outside of the capital Nairobi), shared their personal faith journey and the mission of the Better Men’s Club with high school students, played soccer and rugby with the locals, and learned about Kenya daily life and cultures when they lived in Kenyan homes.
Augustine said he can speak for the volunteers by saying that one of the biggest highlights of the mission was working with the children attending the Uzima Primary School, a school located in the slum of Dandora for about 150 kids from kindergarten to third grade.
“The most memorable times spent at Uzima was during recess where we were given the opportunity to play, hang out, and laugh with the kids,” Augustine said. “Hours and hours were spent, playing tag, soccer, tickle fights, thumb wars, and secret handshakes. I truly with I could put into words the feeling I received from watching these kids smile. I am sure it goes without saying that these are kids that have virtually nothing. For some of them, the pictures we took with them and then showed them was the first time they had ever seen themselves. So being able to bring so much joy to someone who doesn’t always have a lot to smile about was an experience that will last me a lifetime. Most of us would leave each day with our faces actually hurting from all the smiling that took place. I truly believe that for the five or six hours each day we spent there, Uzima Primary school was the happiest place in all of Kenya.”
Asked what the whole experience was like, Thomsen said: “I have found it very difficult putting the trip into words when others ask how it went. I think I can speak for the group by saying that we were truly blessed to have this opportunity at such a young age. Eye-opening, rewarding, intense, breathtaking, exhausting, jaw-dropping… they all describe the trip. Being able to live in actual Kenyan homes, eat traditional foods, and fully dive into their culture was truly an amazing experience. Although, in our eyes, they are materially poor, they are both relationally and spiritually rich—and you can never take that away from them.”
Thomsen found it hard to pick one or two experiences or adventures that stood out from this trip.
“Each day had their own unique experiences,” he said. “Spending time at Uzima was definitely the most rewarding day of service. Spending time with my host family is unforgettable. I also really enjoyed connecting with high school athletes by playing actual games of soccer and rugby. We had crowds of hundreds come to watch us,”
Augustine, however, will never forget the day he and four other volunteers visited a single mom in the local slum. The woman, who works 16 hours a day to raise two kids, welcomed the volunteers into her single-room home. The volunteers sat and listened as the woman told them that she shares a communal bathroom with about 20 other local residents, works often times through the night trying to pay for her rent and her children’s school bills.
“The level of sacrifice she makes so that her children can make it out of the slums was a feeling that broke my heart on the spot,” Augustine recalled. “As most of us were on the verge of tears, she began to smile and tell us about how, with the help of the church (Nairobi Chapel), she has been able to receive an education for her children, while also gaining a degree for herself in design and sowing to allow her to make and sell her own goods.”
After meeting with the remarkable woman, Augustine was blown away by the genuine happiness in those who don’t have much and realized how thankful he should be for what he has.
“After that meeting in that small room I realized I will never have the right to “want” something ever again,” he said, “I have a roof over my head, food in my fridge, and safety when I sleep at night. These are the very same things that millions of people around the world, just like this woman, struggle and struggle for each and every day.”
Having experienced a rewarding and unforgettable mission, Thomsen hopes other young people can get the opportunity to serve and learn as he did.
“As long as Maple Grove Covenant Church is in partnership with Nairobi Chapel, I expect this to be an annual trip for BMC members graduating high school,” he said. “Very few people get the opportunity we had and I hope that as many as possible can experience what we did. It was truly a blessing.”
To learn more about the mission, go to mgcckenya.blogspot.com.
Contact Bob San at [email protected]