April 23, 2002
The life of the average college student these days is hectic. The demands of today's student-athlete are equally as trying, if not more. But it seems that just when spring fever sets in and nobody seems to want to do anything at all ... spring break arrives. Ahhh, a week away from the daily grind, a week to just rest and relax. Most college students head to a far away destination for some fun while others go home to their families. However, Florida State football players Michael Boulware and Paul Irons did neither this year. They used the week to serve others.
The pair and 14 others from Morningstar International Church traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, March 9-15. As the Tallahassee Missions Team, the group set out to help start a Champions for Christ ministry with the His People Christian Church of Johannesburg.
"It was already set in Johannesburg, South Africa that they wanted to start a Champions for Christ ministry and they needed a team for it and we were the team," Irons said. "They already had what they were going to do set up and we just had to step in and be the manpower."
While Michael and Paul were interested in the trip upon hearing of it, there were some issues that had to be considered. Neither had made any plans for spring break, but this wasn't your typical vacation. For Irons, traveling to a foreign land was not new. He had been to Japan before. For Boulware, however, it was a different story.
"Back in the fall, (former softball Seminole) Serita Brooks always joked with me about going out of the country," Boulware said. "I've always been real scared about it. She told me that I needed to trust that God would take care of me and she kind of changed my perspective. I guess God was just setting me up to go. Soon after that, the mission trip was brought up and it just so happened that it was during our spring break. I made sure it didn't interfere with my schoolwork, or interfere with football and that my coaches and parents were okay with it. Once I found out that there was no problem with going, it was whether if I wanted to go or not and I decided that it was what God had for me, so therefore I went."
After securing sponsorships to fund the trip, the mission team participants had to go to informational meetings about what they needed like a passport and other personal items. Otherwise, all they had to do was show up with their written testimony.
The group departed Tallahassee on Friday, March 8th and 15 hours later, they arrived in South Africa. Boulware and Irons, who were exhausted from football practice and staying up late the night before packing for the trip, slept on the plane, which proved to be a good thing, because they checked into the hotel and then got to work immediately.
Not only did Michael and Paul have to prepare for the week physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
"I think the whole trip was ordained by God, especially for me and the way it worked, because I was scared to leave and God took care of that," Boulware said. "Obviously, we had to speak and at the time when I first got here (to FSU), I didn't like to speak. But this year, we've spoke at plenty of high schools and churches. It was perfect timing. God prepared me the whole year to go on this trip. I cleared my mind completely. I was up for anything God had for me. I didn't go in with any expectations, I just wanted to go and receive whatever God had for me. Everything was great. It was just awesome. I went over there with a clear focus."
"I knew going over there, I had my work cut out for me," Irons said. "I had to just meditate and ask God what he had for me to do there and what I needed to do. I knew I was going to talk to high school kids, but I didn't know what I needed to tell them. God just put something on my heart, every time I spoke to somebody. Maybe it was about excelling in what you strive for as far as striving for greatness or trusting fully in God. I spoke about striving for greatness in every way."
The mission team began each day with prayer early in the morning and then they'd separate and speak at different locations. The schedules were scattered during the day, but at night they would meet at the church as a group.
Some of the places members of the group ministered at were the Kingsmead Girls High School, Hiz Kidz, the YWCA, the National School of Arts, the Trinity House High School, the Parktown Boys High School and the Khanyisweni Orphanage. In most cases, they would speak at assemblies, but then there would be some one-on-one time. All the groups that they spoke to were invited to the Youth Night outreach that was on Thursday of the week. It was a fun event where they young people played games and ate pizza. Afterwards everybody went into the church and the members of the mission team gave their testimonies.
"We just got them plugged in with Champions and got them signed up for like a mentorship program," Irons said. "We're like a team and we told them to let these people get into your life and help them coach you to live the way you are supposed to live."
Although the days were jam-packed with activity, no two days were alike. Each day presented a new experience, a new challenge.
"It didn't even feel like work," Irons said. "Sometimes people think that Christians don't have fun, but I think we have more fun, because there's no repercussions or any kind of regrets. Going to South Africa was just great, especially being one on one with the high school kids. They showed us a little rugby, we showed them a little football. They were serving us as we were serving them."
"I think I grew spiritually, like being able to speak to high schoolers on the spot without any notice or preparation," Boulware said. "The thing that challenged me the most was going to the college campus and speaking to people one on one. Really talking to people that challenged me big time. I've never been able to do stuff like that. To be able to go out of the country and see other people and God's other creations. That was big for me."
So by weeks end, Boulware and Irons were really like any other college kid going on spring break. They traveled to a far away destination. They had some time to relax. They had some fun. And they spent time with people who became like family.
"How many people can say they went to South Africa for spring break?" Boulware said. "Don't get me wrong, while we were down there, we worked, but at the same time, we got to see the country and we had fun. I counted it as a blessing to do that. It was so much more than just going and doing things. It was about building relationships. Those people are like family now."
"It was worth it," Irons said. "It was far more rewarding for me than going out and partying. That's only going to be fun for a second. This is for eternity."