Thirteen Boilermakers spend a week trying to make bricks.
Seems like there should be a punch line, right?
Instead, that sentence summarizes a week-long missions trip Purdue's FCA group took this month to the impoverished country of Haiti. The team, led by university athletic chaplain Marty Dittmar, included eight current student-athletes, three from the football program.
In all, Dittmar told B/R he has organized "probably more than 30" trips to Haiti. His teams serve at Double Harvest, a huge farming complex that provides employment, education, and medical services for the natives.
The first time Dittmar visited was sixteen years ago, when a missionary friend invited him to bring a group down and put in a basketball court for the school. "We did it and dedicated it as Keady Court Two," he recounted. "It still has Purdue etched in the cement!"
Junior Boilermaker tight end Kyle Adams was making his second trip to the island nation. "I absolutely love going to Haiti because it challenges my faith and allows me to serve the Lord, while helping others who really, really need it," he said.
"The hardest part of the trip is seeing the absolute poverty that Haiti faces," Adams continued. "Especially how skinny and malnourished the kids are. They're so happy and fun, but you know many of them have nothing. It's hard to want to help everyone, but not be able to."
The Purdue team spent most of their time building inexpensive bricks for Haitians' homes with a combination of dirt, sand, and a little cement. Work days started with chapel at 6:40 am, and the brick making usually lasted until 4:00 in the afternoon.
The group also participated in other service projects, including painting the Double Harvest clinic and helping dig a 250-foot ditch for Internet cable.
According to Dittmar, there are two main reasons he continues to take groups down to Haiti, sometimes several times a year. "First, we have a passion to bring the Good News of Christ to Haitian people. We do this by our actions and by our words. The students working hard to better the lives of the people is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that our words are sincere. Then the athletes have the opportunity to share their faith in Christ both in one-on-one situations and in chapel times, where they speak and are translated into Creole. It is an awesome opportunity.
"Secondly, I personally have a passion for our athletes. The student-athletes who go on these trips never come back the same. You can't go to Haiti and not be touched by what you see. I love watching what God does in and through our student athletes during the trip to Haiti: they become better people and better athletes!"
Adams agreed: "In a place as impoverished as Haiti, your faith becomes very real." He added that he hopes his experiences the past two years in Haiti will carry over in his everyday life on campus.
"A mission trip puts everything in perspective and really helps to show what is important," Adams told me. "We have so much in the United States and there are so many distractions, but the rawness of Haiti has shown me that I need to put my faith and family, in that order, above all else."
Dittmar has seen dozens of co-laborers come back with similarly changed outlooks. "Our student athletes come to realize that they are blessed people in this country. We all take our blessings for granted and a trip like this is a major eye-opener that what we have is very unique in this world. As one student told me, 'Being in Haiti makes you realize that even our poor in the USA are blessed in comparison to the lives of the average Haitian. I think I need to be more thankful!' A grateful heart is a heart that is liberated from slavery to 'things' that really don't satisfy. The young people learn this very quickly on the Haiti trip."
While the financial needs of the Haitians are obvious, the Purdue team was greatly encouraged by the faith of many they encountered. "Our student athletes come to realize that though the Haitian people are poor in material things, there are many of them that are rich in things that last for eternity. The Christian Haitians that our students interact with help our students see the importance of [their] own personal faith in Christ and that is all they really need," Dittmar concluded.
Adams was also touched by the courage and devotion of the native believers. "There are many great Christians in Haiti, and they are taking a stand for what is right," he said. "This year, some people in a primarily voodoo town accepted Christ into their life in spite of the persecution they will probably face, and [their bravery] really moved me."
Adams is committed to giving not only his time, but his resources, to make a difference in Haiti. "Helping Haiti is not something I want to do once a year on a mission trip, but something I try to continually do through monetary donations and prayer," he said.
The personal highlight of his 2009 visit was seeing a young boy named Lider that he financially sponsors (along with friend and fellow FCA member Nate Mills). The two Purdue students were thrilled to reconnect with Lider after a year and see how much he had grown and developed.
"Lider is more mature, more confident, and is getting closer to accepting Christ into his life, which is awesome to see," an excited Adams reported. "He and his family were so grateful for the opportunity to go to school and Nate and I were very proud of him for all the progress he has made. The coolest thing is to see God at work in these people's lives and to see how God is turning the town of Coupon (where we went) and the country of Haiti around."
When Boilermaker fans see Kyle Adams and his other FCA teammates on the field at Ross-Ade this fall, will they notice the effects of another life-changing trip to one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere?
"Faith and football is a tough but beneficial balance," the tight end summarized. "There are a lot of negative influences around a football team, but my faith helps to keep me grounded and keep the right priorities. [It] helps me to get through the tough times in football with my sanity intact, and it helps me to get through the good times while staying humble."
After his latest experience on the mission field, Adams has a renewed commitment to "dedicating the way I play to God and pushing myself to be a strong example of a Christian player to my teammates."
In the Haitian Creole translation of the Bible, Matthew 25:40 looks like this: "Wa a va reponn yo: Sa m'ap di nou la a, se vre wi: chak fwa nou te fè sa pou yonn nan pi piti pami frè m' yo, se pou mwen nou te fè li."
In English, it reads this way: "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.'"
In Haiti, West Lafayette, and everywhere between, Matthew 25:40 now looks like Marty Dittmar, Kyle Adams, and a dozen other Purdue students—committed to serving and making an eternal difference for their King.
photo courtesy of Kyle Adams, used with permission