Developing an Intercultural Project in Knoxville
By Marie Scott, Senior honors student majoring in Biological Sciences
Four years ago, when deciding to be a part of the Chancellor’s Honors Program, some friends told me that the major benefit is early class registration. I knew being in the honors program would require some extra effort, but I figured it would be worth it, especially if it allowed me to beat the hundreds of other students wanting to register for the same classes. Now, looking back at the past four years, it’s funny to think that the thing I was looking forward to most about CHP ended up being a small benefit in comparison to other things. Don’t get me wrong, it has been quite the blessing to not have to stress about signing up for the necessary classes, but CHP has so much more to offer. I have received a more enlightening education due to smaller class sizes and received so much support from fellow honors students and faculty. However, my most notable experience as part of the Chancellor’s Honors Program comes from the Ready for the World requirement, an intercultural or international experience.
Lots of students choose to study abroad for this, but I decided to do something right here in Knoxville, TN. With encouragement from the CHP and support from Calvary Baptist Church, I became the founder/director of the Montgomery Village Soccer Ministry. I’ve played soccer since I was five years old and love being around children, so when the church pastor shared his idea to start a soccer ministry in Montgomery Village I was ready and willing to help.
Montgomery Village is a government-subsidized, low-income apartment complex in South Knoxville. The thing that makes this place unique is that it is home to a large population of Burundian refugees. These families were placed here between 2000 and 2010 due to violent civil unrest in Burundi. The purpose of the soccer ministry is to provide a familiar activity for children to participate in while opening the doors to share the Gospel.
While the children don’t always get along with their teammates, it is a good experience for them to learn about teamwork, sportsmanship, encouragement, and other character virtues.
Over the past four years, the ministry has grown from twenty children to over seventy. We have a four-week season in the fall and spring with practices, games, devotions, and snacks every Saturday morning. As director, I was responsible for coordinating with the Baptist Center and Boys and Girls Club in Montgomery Village as well as gathering volunteers and assigning duties to everyone.
The sponsoring church provide jerseys, socks, and shin guards for every player, as well as shoes and shorts for individuals who don’t have their own. Volunteers set up and line the fields each week, go door to door and get the children, register the players, help get them dressed, coach, referee, lead devotions, prepare and serve snack, and help clean up. Usually, we have two K-2 teams and grades 3-5 teams, but numbers fluctuate each week. Each team has a couple of coaches and spends the first part of the morning practicing and bonding with their teammates. Then, following devotions, the teams in each age group scrimmage each other. After the games are over, the players return their equipment so a volunteer can wash the jerseys and socks for the next week. Players get a snack and “Character Counts” awards are presented to one player on each team.
While the children don’t always get along with their teammates, it is a good experience for them to learn about teamwork, sportsmanship, encouragement, and other character virtues. While this ministry has been a wonderful experience for the children, it has also been a valuable experience for me. It has taught me how to be a better leader and improved my people skills. Most importantly, it has opened my eyes to the world around me.
Early on, there were times when it was overwhelmingly difficult to control the children. No matter what you said, some simply would not listen. Their behavior was appalling: lying, stealing, and cheating was second nature to a majority of the Burundians. It wasn’t until this past year that I finally learned why some of the children behaved this way. This kind of behavior is what they grew up seeing; it’s what they’ve learned. Growing up in a country like Burundi where civil unrest has been occurring since the 1960s, the parents of these children may have had to lie, steal, and cheat in order to survive. If they saw food somewhere, they got as much as they could because they didn’t know where their next meal would come from. If they knew about a job, they wouldn’t tell others in fear that someone else would steal the job from them. Learning about this gave me more compassion for these children and caused me to ponder what it would be like to grow up in a country like Burundi.
This experience has been a huge blessing in my life the past four years and has helped transform my view of the world and view of the people around me. At first, I had no idea what to expect. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to connect with the children because I couldn’t relate to their past experiences. However, it didn’t take long to see that these children were eager for love and attention, and my fear of not being able to connect quickly faded away. Over the years, I have grown especially close to some of the children and even spend time weekly with one of the young girls that began playing when this ministry was first started. None of this would have been possible without the encouragement from the CHP and support of my local church. The CHP has motivated me to get out of my comfort zone and explore the world around me, even if my exploration only leads me ten minutes away from campus. Who knows? Maybe you, too, can discover a whole new world right in your own backyard.