Originally Published: January 2012
It’s common for college athletes to build long-lasting relationships with their teammates and coaches—connections that last years after graduation. But for three members of the Purdue University women’s basketball program, a shared passion for FCA and international missions has drawn them even closer, helping them form spiritual bonds that will last into eternity.
It was perfect timing regarding their athletic schedule, just after the spring 2011 semester ended. Boilermaker guards Courtney Moses and Drey Mingo, along with forward KK Houser put to rest their school and athletic schedules and joined FCA Campus Director Marty Dittmar on a mission trip to the underdeveloped Haitian city of Coupon.
“Courtney, Drey and KK have a real ability to lift the spirits of people they meet,” said Dittmar, who also serves as Purdue’s athletic chaplain. “They’re committed athletes who are willing to make sacrifices to become better basketball players while helping make their teammates better in the process. But, what people don’t always know is that they also have a great joy in living their daily lives for a higher purpose.”
The three women flew to Haiti knowing they’d be serving in a community still trying to recover from the January 2010 earthquake that destroyed entire cities and left a million area residents homeless. Still, seeing the devastation was quite a shock.
“Spending a week there really changed my mindset,” said Moses, a 2011 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten sophomore from Sweetser, Ind. “Even after seeing the destruction on TV, it just doesn’t prepare you for what it’s really like there. As we drove from town to town, we’d go by these tent cities with thousands of tents set up like neighborhoods. It was really bad down there.”
Amidst the chaos, however, the group found a people truly satisfied and thankful for the blessings they did have—family, friends and a freedom to worship the Lord.
As the players labored alongside local residents, Christ used the common language of athletics to break down communication barriers between the American athletes and Haitian children. Soon, the athletes and locals found themselves dancing, singing and playing together. Yet, according to Mingo, the more important aspect was that the experience allowed them to see the natives’unyielding pursuit of Christ in spite of impoverished surroundings.
“I went to Haiti thinking that my volunteer work would be the most life-changing thing about the trip because I would be able to bless someone else, but the most influential part of the week was my interaction with the children,” said Mingo, one of the Boilermakers’ co-captains. “Although they have very little and have been through so much, the Haitian people are strong in their faith and gratitude. I went down there believing that I had so much to give and so much to teach when really the Haitian children gave me and taught me more than I could ever give them in return.”
The simple fact that some of her players gave up the first fruits of their summer vacation to reach out to others wasn’t surprising to Purdue Head Coach Sharon Versyp. After seeing them in daily action, she already knew they had hearts to serve others. Still, she was pleased to hear how the experience had changed them for the better after they had returned.
“I know it was a spiritual experience for Courtney, Drey and KK,” said Versyp, a former Miss Indiana Basketball and Boilermakers star. “After their return, they each spoke about how the experience was a strong reminder to not take life or blessings for granted. They gained a greater appreciation and understanding that material things don’t matter as long as you possess a great spirit and find joy in what you do have.”
That joy, Moses said, can be found in something as simple as the blessing of good health. It’s something she and her teammates learned for themselves a season ago, when Houser, who had been an occasional starter for the team the year before, tore her right ACL during Purdue’s first regular season game of the 2010-11 season.
Then, two weeks later, as Purdu e was preparing to depart for a Thanksgiving week tournament in Cancun, Mexico, Mingo fell severely ill with bacterial meningitis. The Boilermakers withdrew from the tournament and returned home to support their on-court leader, who was listed in critical condition. Due to the nature of the illness, each member of the team also had to undergo a round of precautionary treatment due to possible exposure.
“It was scary, especially when they said that Drey had a 50/50 chance of living,” Moses said. “To go through that with Drey and our teammates and then to be able to see her six months later, healthy, happy and interacting with the kids in Haiti, was just amazing. After the hardships that she and KK both went through last year, to get the opportunity to come together, grow in our faith and enhance our friendship in Haiti was picture perfect.”
Inspired after the mission trip, Mingo and Moses sat together on the return flight and began putting plans in place for a team Bible study, hoping to deepen the Boilermakers’ collective faith.
As a team, many of the Purdue players share a faith in Christ and, in order to encourage and sharpen each other, they began meeting throughout the summer and continued to meet as their season got underway.
“It’s not just one or two people; they all participate, and they take turns leading the group,” Versyp said. “These young ladies have been through a lot in their lives and have become a very tight-knit group through adversity. That’s due in part to our team-building, but also because of the weekly Bible studies. It shows the maturity of our team that they did this on their own to create the positive environment they wanted for themselves and for each other.”
More than half of Versyp’s players also regularly attend Purdue’s Monday night FCA Huddle, which attracts 60-75 athletes from virtually every sport that Purdue offers.
“Being in FCA has allowed me to meet other athletes and believers who are dealing with the same kind of issues I face like balancing school, sports and everything that goes on,” Moses said. “I’ve met some of my best friends through FCA, and I’m blessed with a solid supporting cast of friends who push me toward Christ every day.”
The ministry has earned respect from many of the Boilermaker players, coaches and administrators, which has opened doors for God to do incredible things within the university’s athletic program as a whole.
According to Central Indiana FCA Area Director Chris Coddington, during his time on staff, Purdue has given FCA the ability to host chapels and Bible studies for coaches and teams, and has allowed ministry staff to attend practices with a number of sports. It’s access that isn’t granted at every university, so Dittmar and Coddington don’t take it lightly.
“Purdue has opened the door to Marty [Dittmar] and FCA in unimaginable ways,” Coddington said. “It’s amazing. The godly athlwetes who are at Purdue are a true testament to the coaches who allow Marty to be a part of their team and to the athletic department that supports him in his efforts. Overall, it’s all due to God’s placing them all together on the West Lafayette campus.”
Dittmar, who has led mission trips with Purdue studentathletes for more than 18 years, connected with international outreach organization Double Harvest for two separate trips in May. Looking back, he said that as he’s seen student-athletes grow stronger in their Christian faith, it has almost always translated to a stronger focus and work ethic. This, in turn, allows them to fulfill the calling God has given them as Purdue athletes.
“I constantly hear from coaches, administrators and fans that they appreciate what we do with our student-athletes,” Dittmar said. “Most people here at Purdue understand the importance of working with the ‘whole person,’ which includes meeting the mental, emotional and spiritual needs of our athletes. We encourage our FCA participants to see what they are doing at Purdue as a calling to honor God by being the best that they can be for His glory. When this understanding finds root in them, it affects their lives, choices, attitudes and actions.”
With the vast temptations facing today’s student-athletes, Moses said her involvement with FCA and the opportunity to plug into a local church have not only allowed her to grow in Christ, but also to see her God-given talents as a platform to share His love with fans, fellow students and even strangers.
“Not everybody who comes into this world is given the exact same gifts, and God wants us to honor Him with the ones we’re given,” she said. “All of the accolades I’ve received will fade, and they’re nothing compared to a relationship with Jesus Christ and His love. I don’t want to practice hard just to win some award or score a certain number of points. I want to get better so that, if there is a time I’m in the spotlight, I’ll be even better equipped and prepared to share Christ with the people around me.”
According to Moses, this mindset has been the result of God’s work in her life through FCA and particularly the mission trip to Haiti. And, while the trip itself produced similar results in the entire group of student-athlete participants by providing them an opportunity to serve others, Dittmar said he’s equally—if not more—excited to see how God has worked in their lives and how He will continue to shape them into strong men and women of faith.
“This is where real change takes place,” he said. “The opportunity to work with Purdue students and help them know Him and make Him known is a great delight to my wife, Brenda, and me. When I get the chance to work through issues with our athletes and then see them respond in biblical ways, it fires me up. FCA at Purdue has grown because so many of our athletes are not ashamed to take a stand, and they desire to walk worthy of the gospel. They have a genuine excitement to learn the Word of God and live it.”
Photos courtesy of Courtney Moses and Purdue Athletics Communication