With all 30 rostered players together as a team for ten months(or more) each year, guys tend to go all different directions for the precious amount of offseason time each athlete gets in the winter months.
For the international players, this time is usually reserved for a trip home while others take vacations or even get married. However, one FC Dallas player went through a life-changing experience during the 2013-2014 offseason as Homegrown forward Jonathan Top traveled to Uganda in central Africa to participate in a week-long mission trip.
"My friend Courtney is the granddaughter of Kenneth Copeland and she’s been starting a tour called Reaction tour and she invited me to go," said Top. "I felt called and it was time to do it. She asked me to go and it just felt right."
On December 26, the Fort Worth-native hopped on a plane for the 8,500 mile journey from DFW to the Ugandan capital, Kampala. From there, it was on to Namugongo, a city approximately ten miles north of Kampala where Top and the Reaction team held a week-long camp for approximately 500 kids aged anwhere from 10 to 18 years old.
"We talk to them about Christ and about the word, so it was a five day camp for kids that were able to go," said Top. "You go in the morning and start praise and worship around 8:00AM in the morning and then around 10:00AM they were released to go to activities including soccer, basketball, volleyball or if they didn’t want to do sports there was a music class where they learn how to sing and use instruments. There was dance also, so something for everyone."
As you would expect, the FCD Homegrown forward helped to lead the games on the soccer field where he said close to 300 kids came every day.
"In the afternoon, they played tournament play where everyone comes down to the soccer field to watch them play official games," said Top. "So it’s exciting for the kids to have people around watching them play and make it seem as official as possible."
While there was no-doubt plenty of things about the beautiful game that Top was able to impart to the kids, the foward who turns 21 on Sunday said the experience was a life-changing one for him as he traveled well outside of his comfort zone.
"The first couple days are hard. You think you’ll go on a mission trip and the kids will just be there with their arms open, but there’s some barriers and walls you have to tear down before you really get them to listen to you and what you have to say, not just view it as another group of missionaries coming through trying to help, but not really doing anything. There are some things you have to overcome but with the power of Christ anything is possible."
Top mentioned that celebrating new years in Uganda was an experience he will never forget.
"That was the best celebration for new years that I’ve ever been a part of. They counted down like everyone else, but the way they celebrated with love was just amazing to see how happy they were with what they have," said Top. "To see that they’re just so excited to be alive another year, have another year, another chance to make things better for themselves and their families."
After the week-long camp was over, Top was able to go back to Kampala where he attended the church of the pastor who helped to set up the camp and took an african safari before heading back to DFW. In talking to Top, you can certainly see a changed person and one who comes into 2014 with a new-found perspective on life and a deeper connection to his religious beliefs.
"You learn so much on those trips. To anyone out there who has been having a thought if they should do something like this, you should," Top said about his time in Africa. "It’s something that I would recommend everyone to do at least once in their life to really get a perspective on what your life really is and to really treasure things."
"You feel so much more fortunate for everything you have. We take things for granted a lot and it does change a lot about you and the way you view things in the world."