By Amy Moritz
NEWS COLLEGES COLUMNIST
The little girl took his hand. She looked up at Eric DeHond and walked with him over to the soccer field, never taking her eyes off him. When they were finished with the drills for the day, she took his hand again and walked back.
The Canisius College junior tried to talk with her, but she didn’t understand English, so they bonded silently over soccer.
It was in those small moments that DeHond felt the biggest impact.
On his summer vacation, the Golden Griffins goalkeeper traveled with Athletes in Action to Africa. While in Zambia and Swaziland for three weeks in June he worked with other college soccer players, conducting youth clinics in the mornings, with orphanages or a youth team, followed by a gospel session.
And what impressed DeHond the most was the attitude, particularly of the children he met.
“Their positive attitude. Everyone talks about how conditions aren’t great there. They’re pretty bad. But the way they run out there with one sandal on and want to play soccer. They loved having us there. They embraced us. You couldn’t get them off of you sometimes, even when you needed them to.
“But they were so positive about everything. They weren’t down about their life situation. The kids were great. … I think it was just cool that they loved having someone there to be there for them and not just to give them stuff and go away.”
In the afternoons they would play games, usually against local academy teams. The competition level was pretty good, DeHond said, but the playing conditions weren’t the best. The dirt fields took a toll on DeHond’s foot and he came back to Buffalo with injured ligaments. He’s been sidelined during the Griffs’ early season.
DeHond, a native of Penfield who transferred to Canisius after his freshman year at Houghton, played in four games with three starts last year as a sophomore for the Griffs.
The injury was disappointing, but that doesn’t take away from the time he spent in Africa. Originally, DeHond contacted Athletes in Action, an evangelical Christian organization, to see if there were any activities he could connect with in the Buffalo area.
Nothing was going on in Buffalo, he was told. But there was this soccer trip to Africa. And he was welcome to join, provided of course he raised the necessary money.
“I’ve always had a desire to do some sports ministry and using soccer for that,” DeHond said. “I just felt like the Lord was calling me to go.”
But the leap of faith, so to speak, wasn’t just about deciding to take a trip to Africa. Nor was it a lesson in counting one’s blessings. For DeHond, much of the trip became a lesson in listening, trusting and adjusting.
“Everyone always says I learned to be grateful for what I have and it’s true, but I really think it was listening to God’s call and trusting in him. We had to raise a few thousand dollars to go on this trip and I had five months to do it. … I got all the money raised in two months. It was a learning experience in trusting even before I went.
“When you get there, it’s learning to be flexible with time, because they’re not very punctual. Then learning different cultures. We were in a city for one and out in the mountains for a different one, so it was just about adjusting. … It was an experience that was unbelievable and I would love to go back, really anywhere, but I think Africa is always going to have a place in my heart.”