I recently came back from an annual outreach trip to a few local villages in Nigeria. This year, Our team consisted of more than 70 people: 38 Americans who came with us, and almost 40 people from our Nigerian team. The group was made up of medical professionals, volunteers and missionaries who were eager to serve this community. Over the course of 10 days, we went to three different villages, tirelessly serving people who were in great need. In a week’s time, we were able to accomplish 162 surgeries and treat 1,812 patients struggling with things like lymphoma, hernias, cataracts and other debilitating conditions.
This is the 29th year we’ve done this trip to serve the people of Nigeria. Last year, by the grace of God, we were finally able to complete a longtime vision to build a medical center in the village where my father grew up: Isuikwato, a southern part of Nigeria.
We’ve held many fundraisers and connected with individuals who have donated time, resources, medical equipment and money to see this dream become a reality. And this year, one of our major donors was able to come on the trip and experience just how his donations have been put to use. For them, it was really meaningful to be a part of it all.
There were some really severe cases of people in dire need of medical attention, many who have gone without for years and years. On the way over to Africa, I was on the phone with my mom and we were talking about just why we do this outreach, and how foreign this seems to many. But what people don’t understand is that this is the secret to our blessings. Think about the verses in Isaiah 58:6-8:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”
This is true fasting. Fasting is not having people see you starving yourself and denying yourself things, it’s taking care of the orphans and the widows — those in need. These verses go on to say when we do this, we will be like a well-watered garden whose streams never fail! Real blessings come when we give of ourselves to serve others.
This is the aim for this trip each year. We first serve the people physically, so we can also serve them spiritually. As my dad says, “We use the medicine as bait.” This is how we can get people to come and hear the Gospel message.
The amount of poverty and need we saw was incredible. But while these individuals were in so much distress, sickness and sadness, they also had so much joy for life. With the treatments they were able to receive, they had a newfound hope and interest in why we were there to serve them. Sometimes the work is so long, hard and frustrating that we’re tempted to forget why we’re there in the first place. But seeing people physically and spiritually healed — that’s why we come.
One of the men in our group has been coming for about five years now. Richard Bottoms is an Arizona State Trooper who used to be a security guard for the Cardinals. Every year, Richard brings soccer balls with Bible verses on them to hand out to the kids in the villages. When a child is able to recite a verse, they get to keep the ball.
Another one of the volunteers, Etinosa, one day showed me a photo of her and eight others from the village. She told me these were all the people she sat with the day prior who all had given their lives to Christ. That day she said she heard God whisper to her, He showed her these people and as she began talking to them, they placed their trust in Christ as their Savior. I was amazed!
Just before she told me that story, I had been praying, “God, I’m tired, it’s hot, but show me what you want me to do today.” Later on, I saw a teenage boy sitting not far from me, so I sat down next to him. We introduced ourselves to each other and started talking about sports, nothing deep. Then another kid came over, and his name was Daniel. I asked the boys if they had heard the story of Daniel and the lion’s den. They hadn’t. So I opened up my Bible and started reading the story of Daniel and how he honored God with everything he had. As I did so, another young girl came over to listen, then another. Soon, there were eight people with me as we read the Word of God together.
This is just one example of how God made Himself known during this trip. He did so, not only to the local people in these Nigerian villages, but to me as well. This trip spiritually strengthens me. In the midst of all the physical and mental training that goes into a career in the NFL, I need this spiritual charge to get me ready for the upcoming season. Seeking and saving the lost, sacrificially living out the Gospel instead of focusing on what I can gain, and how I can be more successful — that’s what I want my focus to be.
Go. Serve. Give. Then God can truly reward you with all the blessings He has for you. This is the kind of loving, sacrificial God we serve.
— Sam Acho, Chicago Bears linebacker
The Increase, part of the Sports Spectrum Network, is a community of Christian pro athletes sharing their personal stories of the decrease of self and the increase of Christ (John 3:30). Visit TheIncrease.com for more stories and videos.