Matt Reitsma and Jacob Pardonnet knew that football wasn’t a popular sport among the kids they encountered in the village they visited during a recent mission trip to India.

Participating in Hope College’s Sports Evangelism to Equip Disciples (SEED) program presented the Hope College seniors with a unique opportunity: showing others how to play the sport they have been enjoyed since they were small children. 

“It was cool to teach them American football,” said Reitsma, a senior offensive tackle from Lowell, Michigan (Lowell HS) said. “A lot of the kids and adults had never seen a football before. It was something new to them.”   

In May, Reitsma and Pardonnet traveled to India with other Hope College athletes as part of the SEED program. The pair spent each afternoon running a sports camp in one of the villages. 

Introducing them to football, however, provided them with the biggest thrill. 

“I just love working with kids so I knew that I was going to get the chance to work with a game that I love and introduce that to a lot of kids who never really heard of it much less experienced it or played it before,” said Pardonnet, a senior defensive back from Brighton, Michigan (Brighton HS). “It was unreal. Not only did they not know the sport, they couldn’t even wrap their heads around the shape of the ball. 

“They didn’t understand why it was pointed on two ends, or why it was odd shaped. Just to teach them the basics of this is where you put your hands to throw it and this is how you catch it.” 

Reitsma added, “Having that football station with them was pretty awesome. I knew football wasn’t a sport there, but I’ve been playing since I can remember and it’s such a big thing in our culture and our everyday life. I didn’t expect them to know a lot about football, but it was relatable in how much they enjoyed it.” 

After the first day, Pardonnet witnessed a memorable scene. 

“The next morning two 12-year-old boys were playing catch in the courtyard by themselves,” he said. “One day of teaching these kids and they were already practicing on their own. It was something pretty special.” 

The mission of the SEED program is to equip Hope College student-athletes to serve as disciples who share the Good News of Jesus Christ through sport. 

A group of student-athletes and coaches from multiple sports spent two weeks in India as part of the trip. Other groups went to Costa Rica and Zambia. They are more trips planned in the summer of 2018. 

Reitsma and Pardonnet attended an informational meeting about the trip and became intrigued about the opportunity. 

“We found that it was affordable and really interesting to us,” Reitsma said. “Because of football we couldn’t go to the other one in August, so we went in May.” 

“It was an amazing opportunity from a financial standpoint and spiritual standpoint,” Pardonnet said. “I’ve never been outside of the Midwest, let alone the country, so to basically jump from Michigan and the Holland area to literally the other side of the planet was a huge leap.” 

In addition to the sports camps, the group brought 100 clean Sawyer water filters. They helped set them up while educating villagers on how to use them. 

“It’s a source of clean water for the rest of their lives if they take care of it correctly,” Reitsma said. 

Worship services were held every night in different parts of the village and they helped in passing out audio bibles in their native languages. Many of them didn’t have physical bibles due to various reasons. 

While the language barrier was difficult to overcome at times, some of the people could understand English. 

It was Reitsma’s second mission trip. As a sophomore in high school he traveled to the Dominican Republic, where he helped with construction at a local school. 

“We interacted with the people there, but not as much as on the SEED trip,” he said. “There was a lot more interaction with the entire village.” 

Although Reitsma didn’t know what to expect upon arriving in India, he said the experiences impacted him on a personal level. 

“I didn’t research it a lot, but just getting to know the culture there and experiencing the people and how they lived were just amazing to me to experience their different ways of life,” he said. “The kindness and generosity they showed was amazing, and just seeing how they can live with the simplest of things that we take for granted and just how they have joy in everything they do.” 

Pardonnet said he gained a better understanding of himself on the trip, while creating new friendships. 

“An unforeseen gift was getting to know all those athletes that I’ve never met or didn’t know and grow close with them,” he said. “I have some pretty good friends out of that trip now. It was another cool plus side and as soon as we landed I was grateful for where I live and where I came from. I gained a different perspective of the world.”