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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Echo

Football joins with Mission of Hope

Team serves in Dominican Republic

There is power in God’s people joining him where he is.

This is something that junior Dakohta Sonnichsen, a receiver on the Taylor football team, felt was impressed upon his heart this past J-term as he traveled alongside 51 fellow players and eight coaches to the Dominican Republic.

There, he and his team were excited for the opportunity to collaborate and serve with an organization called Mission of Hope.

Gage Holder (’23), who recently transitioned to a graduate assistant position for the team, led the initiative for the trip. He orchestrated the connection with Mission of Hope, and this was the first time that Taylor football has partnered with them.

According to their website, Mission of Hope began in 1998 after founders Brad and Vanessa Johnson felt led to move to Haiti for full-time ministry after experiencing a tangible need there while on a short-term mission trip. Since then, the organization has expanded to encompass both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Mission of Hope seeks to equip local churches for gospel transformation with a specific emphasis on the areas of church advancement, nutrition, education and medical care.

“They bring people in, and then they send them out to local churches to fulfill the needs that (the churches) are desiring,” senior safety Seth Griswold said.

 The football team was provided with a devotional to lead them in their preparation for the trip as well as an opportunity for reflection during and after.

In looking back on the experience, Sonnichsen was encouraged to have witnessed the evident joy in the lives of those he encountered.

“I learned so much more than I taught,” he said.

Throughout the week they were there, the team was separated into different groups. They would come together for an early breakfast in the morning and then take buses to their assigned locations central to the town of Jarabacoa, where they were staying.

Sonnichsen’s group was working near a church 15 minutes away. They participated in something they came to call “strategic ministry time,” which involved walking throughout the town and simply striking up conversations with those they came across. Local translators helped make connections where language barriers existed.

“We would just start conversation, try to get to know them for who they were,” Sonnichsen said. “And if we had a segue into talking about Jesus and God then we would, but if we didn’t, just getting to know them was part of the plan. Just to spread love.”

Before going on the trip, Griswold had imagined many of these conversations would be with nonbelievers. However, the team also engaged with believers, which was encouraging.

Many locals invited them into their homes.

“One lady said, ‘Christ would let you in, so why would I not let you in?’” Griswold said.

A few of the days, the men in this group would work on projects for the church — some of them painting and others cleaning the area around the church.

Senior linebacker HoJun Yun had never served on a mission trip before and, at first, was nervous about participating in street evangelism.

“I thought it was just going to be some big, scary, daunting task,” Yun said. “But it actually was not bad at all, and it was just really nice to sit down with the people in the village and the towns and just talk to them about life and ask them questions, and what made it really easy was that everyone in the DR just seemed so hospitable.”

While some of the team was out interacting with the locals, the other group stayed back to serve at a local school where most of the students were elementary and middle school age.

Together, the players and students would paint, put on Bible story skits and play basketball, soccer, tag and other beloved games.

“They had this one game with these sticks that they dropped, and you had to run and go grab it,” Griswold said. “It was pretty cool.”

In the afternoon, the whole team would come together to play at recess with the kids for two to four hours before they left for the evening.

The trip was impactful on many levels for all who went — but especially for 11 of the players who felt led one of the days to take the step toward declaring their faith with baptism.

One night, a meeting that was expected to last a little more than an hour ended up being five and a half hours of players sharing their testimonies.

“I think that was the time for everyone to be super vulnerable with each other in a way that guys don’t really do and to talk about all the ways that the Lord has worked in their lives,” Yun said.

Yun, Griswold and Sonnichsen agreed that this time was beneficial in paving the way toward increased trust and accountability amongst the team upon coming back to the United States, something that emphasizes both the value of recounting the Lord’s faithfulness and of serving together with other Christians.

At his church the first Sunday following the trip, Sonnichsen felt the Lord affirm the importance of leaning into God’s calling through the charge found in Nehemiah 4:20: “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”

“No matter where I want to go, his plan is better,” Sonnichsen said.

Ultimately, partnering with Mission of Hope led the team to experience the fulfillment that can come from a posture of availability for the kingdom. 

Not only does God meet his people where they are, but he also delights in furthering his purposes through their willingness to be used for him.