Clayton Kershaw and his wife Ellen laugh about the early stages of their relationship. They’d only really spoken while with their large friend group, but Clayton worked up the courage to ask her to “go out” with him.
“I said, uh … sure,” Ellen said. “And then we parted ways, and he went to lunch and I went into class, and that was the last time we talked for quite some time.”
“Yeah, worked out well,” Clayton joked.
The Kershaws appeared as guests last week on the “Table Forty” podcast with Matt and Leslee Holliday, and they shared their story and how God has used them and their platform in their 18 years together as a couple. They’ve been married for 10 years, and in that time, while Clayton has embarked on a Hall-of-Fame baseball career, they’ve also been making a huge difference for children around the globe.
Together, they operate Kershaw’s Challenge, a non-profit organization that serves vulnerable and at-risk children living in Los Angeles, Dallas, Zambia and the Dominican Republic. What started in 2011 as a relatively smaller mission of serving one girl in Zambia named Hope, grew into a multi-national service effort.
While Ellen’s heart was always set on serving internationally, Clayton would be the first to say that wasn’t always the case for him. And earlier on in their relationship, he and Ellen were trying to figure out how to mesh their love for each other with what they felt were separate callings from God.
“I think [God] had this in mind,” Clayton said. “My focus was obviously trying to play baseball and I hadn’t really thought about Africa, really in any sense. I didn’t feel like God had called me in any way to go over there. Ellen had that on her heart at an early age, and finally went over there in college, went over to Zambia.”
Then, just three weeks after they got married, Clayton joined Ellen on a trip to Zambia.
“That changed me,” he said. “That trip changed me, for sure. It put a lot of things into perspective about what joy truly is and where that comes from and what that looks like.”
One story in particular stands out to Ellen. Clayton brought his glove and a ball to play catch while he was there, and one time while he was throwing with an American on their team, they noticed a bunch of kids started coming over to watch.
“They’d never seen a baseball before,” Ellen said. “So before we know it, we have got dozens of kids lining this dirt road and they are cackling every single time Clayton throws a baseball. So he starts throwing balls to them and teaching them. They thought he was crazy. But then he put a glove on them and he was teaching them how to play baseball and they were just belly laughing at this.
“I just looked at that and I was like, ‘This is one of those beautiful pictures of our world and our passions colliding.’ I look at Kershaw’s Challenge and what Clayton’s able to do on the mound and what started as just a singular passion of just helping a girl in Zambia, and it’s grown to the Dominican Republic, Dallas and Los Angeles. Being able to raise so much money for these kids, I just look at it and I’m like, ‘This is God’s goodness. This was His plan all along.'”
What Kershaw’s Challenge looks like in each of its communities is different. In the states, it focuses on tangible projects like building baseball fields and helping fund specific organizations, Clayton said. In places like the Dominican Republic, they partner with organizations like International Justice Mission to fight against human trafficking.
In December, Kershaw wrote an op-ed for CNN.com on Human Rights Day describing how he and Ellen joined with IJM and other organizations to urge the Dominican Constitutional Court to declare child marriage unconstitutional.
Since 2013, in an effort to raise money for Kershaw’s Challenge, Kershaw has hosted a celebrity ping pong tournament called “Ping Pong 4 Purpose” that features high-profile celebrities.
IT’S HERE!!! Opening Day, Kershaw Day and the day we unveil our 2021 beneficiaries. Click here: https://t.co/FPEL2xY83y to meet our 2021 beneficiaries. #kershawschallenge #OpeningDay pic.twitter.com/kJqZt8a5Mm
— Kershaw's Challenge (@KershsChallenge) April 1, 2021
But in the everyday routine of his baseball career, Clayton knows reaching people he’s with every day is equally as important as reaching people across the world.
“Baseball’s cool,” he said. “Baseball’s cool like that. With the platform that you have, yeah it’s to reach different people that you haven’t ever spoken to, but the grasp that you can have in a locker room with 25 other guys that you’re with for 10 hours a day for eight straight months is pretty cool. They’ll see right through you over time if you just talk about it, so I think that’s pretty cool too.”
For him, it all goes back to those younger years, where not only did he make the decision to pursue Ellen, but also to really pursue a relationship with God.
“We were very fortunate to come from families that had great faiths as well,” Clayton said. “At the end of the day, I think for me in high school it was just like, wrapping your head around who Jesus was; that was the biggest thing. If Jesus really is who He says He is … and He really did rise from the dead, then that should change our lives. That should look drastically different than any other religion and any other thing in our world. We should be different than any other types of people in this world because of what we believe in Jesus.”
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