CHARLESTON, S.C. - Awesome.
That was the word used to describe the Spring Break missions trip taken by CSU soccer players Kelly Hinkle, Lydia Frierson, Peyton Motley, and Jazmin Gonzalez.
The quartet joined Athletes in Action (AIA) for the trip to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico on March 3-10 as the Buccaneers joined student-athletes from North Carolina State, Wake Forest, and Ball State. Overall, a group of 24 people went on the trip sponsored by AIA.
"The four of us got so close," Frierson said about the trip. "For me, it was so incredible just watching and experiencing the community we formed with the other athletes. It was such a rich time just seeing the other athletes and other people on the trip have so much joy."
Everyone else echoed the sentiment with Gonzalez talking about how the trip started essentially on the flight from Atlanta to San Juan.
"On our second flight, we ran into some of the people from Ball State that we were going to work with on the trip," she said. "We were able to sit together on the plane and just talk and fellowship with each other."
Motley added, "When we landed, we met with the group from Wake Forest. There were 14 of them on the trip together which was a little overwhelming, but they were very nice. It was cool to see that everyone was so humbled by the Lord and that we all go through the same things regardless of what school or sport we play."
Changes of plans when the group landed in San Juan led to the athletes all participating in with the relief efforts due to Hurricane Maria. Collaborating with the Global Aid Network (GAIN), the CSU quartet all were in the mountains helping with the efforts over the first two days.
The opportunity to step outside their comfort zones was an adjustment for all four CSU athletes with Gonzalez taking charge early in the trip. As one of two Spanish-speaking athletes on the trip, she served multiple roles in helping the Bucs and all athletes on the trip with the language barriers.
"I was one of two on the trip that knew how to speak Spanish, so they chose me and our leaders to go through a classroom early on to go through computers and do assessments on people's houses," Gonzalez said. "We worked with FEMA and we were supposed to go through a packet with the homeowners. I thought everything would go through quickly, but we went through the first assessment in three hours and spent a lot of time making a connection with this woman and just sharing with her."
"This trip really did affect me," she continued. "I'm half-Puerto Rican and seeing everything different from the last time I was there when I was 10. There's just so much destruction and I felt like a lot of the people there could have been family to me. It was a positive for me to be there for them and help out in whatever way I could."
Gonzalez's growth and change was mentioned by both Hinkle and Frierson as the duo enjoyed watching their teammate shine throughout the trip. Gonzalez was also baptized on the trip, which was exciting to all her friends.
"I think that was the thing that I loved seeing the most," Hinkle said. "Just watching Jaz grow and seeing her get baptized while we were there was amazing."
Frierson chimed in, "Jaz was able to have more in-depth conversations with everyone we came across and I think that was one of the things that I loved seeing the most. She loved working with the relief efforts and I enjoyed seeing discipleship on the trip."
After spending the first two days working in the mountains, the group transitioned their focus to the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and sharing their own stories and the message of the gospel with the students on campus.
It was on campus that Hinkle shined as multiple people commented on her stepping outside of her comfort zone to start conversations throughout the week.
"I'm so proud of Kelly and how she really stepped out of her comfort zone this trip," Gonzalez said. "It was cool to see her step out and pray for people. We would just be walking down the beach or on campus and she was just talking to people and initiating conversations. Things just came to us and we all grew so much in one week."
"Kelly, it just looked like all the weight lifted off her," Frierson added. "She just had so much joy on this trip and it was incredible to see."
The trip was nothing like she expected according to Motley, but there was multiple moments that stood out to her throughout the trip.
"They told us before we got there that a bunch of the plans we had made were changed," she said. "Everything was a little less organized that was originally planned, but we were able to go out and do so much. In the mornings we'd get up and run on the track and then meet with everyone. At the beginning of the week we did relief work, while the end of the week we trained with the Short Term International (STINT) leaders who taught us how to interact with the community and meet people on campus."
"I learned a lot about myself," Motley continued. "I have a hard time opening up to people, but this trip was a lot of intimate moments that put you on the spot sharing your testimony. I wanted to be out of my comfort zone and be pushed on my faith."
Motley's leadership and her ability to adapt to the situations was exciting to see for Frierson in particular.
"Watching Pey become the leader she is and seeing her step out of her comfort zone; it was so cool," Frierson said. "It was just really exciting to see everyone step out and grow the entire week we were there."
The trip as a whole was very fulfilling to Frierson, as well as a lesson in patience and stepping back to watch others shine.
"I feel so much rest and recharge in the Lord and being reminded that He is our strength," Frierson said. "The semester started off so hard for all four of us and the Lord was testing us throughout the entire process. It was challenging because the Christian life is uncomfortable and not always fun."
"Literally at one point I texted my parents that the other three on the trip were just growing in their faith like weeds," she continued. "The leaders told me to sit back and get recharged by the people around me. I love college ministry and I wanted to dive in this trip, but it was hard because I couldn't speak the language."
While there was some initial frustration early in the trip, the entire group came to a consensus that the turning point that helped jumpstart the remainder of the trip came on a particularly disappointing day that led to the group sitting together in a room.
"One of the days we were supposed to be doing training didn't work out and we weren't needed as much as we initially thought we were," Motley described. "We sat in a room and the leaders on the trip understood we were frustrated but wanted us to focus on the positive."
"We gathered in a group in a small room, all 30 of us, and someone began to play 'Reckless Love' by Cory Asbury on their phone," she continued. "As it continued to play, slowly everyone began singing and just worshipping. You could tell the Holy Spirit was with everyone in that moment and it was like we were supposed to be in that room."
Gonzalez agreed, "In the song it says, 'There's no shadow You won't light up/mountain You won't climb up/Coming after me'. It talks about the 99 and how the one leaves the rest to find the one person. That day we went up into the mountains and met this woman we ended up praying with and it was really eye-opening. God sent us that day to just see that one person and pray with them, which was just amazing."
Overall, the impact of the trip could not be understated with each of the four athletes bringing home their own perspective and ideas on what their next step will be.
For Hinkle, that hopefully means a return to Puerto Rico.
"I'm thinking about applying for the STINT team for next year in Puerto Rico," Hinkle said. "I'm applying this week and should know within a couple of days if I need to start raising support. I'm graduating in May and not sure what the next step is for me. I think there's a reason why it's been like that and I wouldn't have this opportunity if I already had a plan."
Frierson looks to continue her learning process as well as working in ministry at the collegiate level.
"I've accepted a position at the University of Maryland to be a volunteer assistant coach and doing part-time ministry work while also coaching a club team," Frierson laughed. "AIA has asked me about joining them on staff as well. I'm excited to be at the Big Ten level and interested to see what comes of that. I feel like I'm called to college ministry and look forward to learning from the leaders and continuing to implement everything I've learned."
Gonzalez and Motley, with one more year left at CSU, look to build off their experience and share what they've learned with their teammates while continuing their personal growth.
"Peyton and I were talking about it," Gonzalez said. "We met this girl, Katie, who will be coming to Charleston to study at MUSC and is looking for a roommate. We'd love her to come meet with the team and be a part of the Bible Studies we've been holding."
"Just for that opportunity to present itself is crazy," she continued. "She played soccer at Wake Forest and could help take on a mentorship figure for our team and really help us out."
Motley added, "We've also been thinking about The Ultimate Training Camp ministry this summer as well. There's places in the U.S. over the first two weeks of June that is also under AIA that are trained to wear you down physically and emotionally. Jaz and I have been talking about it a lot and are thinking about doing that and then going into our senior year with a different mentality."
Frierson had one final message she wanted to share about the trip.
"I love people and it was so great just getting to form those automatic bonds with everyone on the trip," she said. "Getting to be able to cheer for other people, I wish I had another Spring Break to go back. Working with the other athletes, it was so awesome!"