Lipscomb volleyball coach Brandon Rosenthal has never been to Brazil. He has never been on a mission trip either.
He knows his way around a volleyball court, but he isn’t shy in saying he isn’t sure what to expect from the experience. Wednesday night Rosenthal and his volleyball players arrived in Rio de Janeiro for an 11-day mission trip.
The volleyball players are joined by Matt Rehbein, director of institutional research at Lipscomb; Garner Goode, director of marketing for athletics; and Shannon O’Brien, assistant women’s soccer coach and women’s spiritual advisor.
“There is a tremendous amount of excitement,” Rosenthal said. “It is the first mission trip for a lot of the players and for six of them it will be their first time out of the country.
“I am thankful the university has opportunities like this. I am eternally grateful for the donations from family and friends. It shows what this program has really turned into.”
The nature of the trip is two-fold. The team members will be working with a local church in Rio. Rehbein has spent time in Porta Alegre, a mission area south of Rio. Rehbein spent nine years in Brazil working as a missionary.
“We will be working on a manual labor project doing some things like painting and the general upkeep of the church,” Rosenthal said. “It is unbelievable that there is poverty next to riches. We have seen a picture of a very expensive high rise building next to a favela. It just blew me away.”
Favelas are poverty-stricken areas inside urban areas of Brazil.
They will also be working with “Spreading Sports and Culture”, an organization formed by Rotary International.
“Volleyball is the vehicle,” Rosenthal said. “One of the reasons we wanted to go there was because we figured their culture would accept volleyball players.
“The group originally started out teaching skateboarding and has grown into other sports like volleyball. It is pretty neat. We will be working with kids. They are going to teach us the Capoeira that is basically known as fight dancing.”
The group has met every week for the past six weeks to discuss the trip. During one of the meetings they watched “The Shawshank Redemption”.
“The movie talks about the unknown and making good of a situation that is not great,” Rosenthal said. “I think we are going to see a lot of that in the favelas where that is all they know.”
Rosenthal’s No. 1 goal on the trip is to find time to get to know his players even better.
“We are already a team,” Rosenthal said. “We know all of the surface stuff. This is a close team, but I have urged them to get break down the walls and develop even deeper relationships as a team.”
Caitlin Dotson spent time last summer on a mission trip to Haiti. She knows that some of the time will be spent in the favelas, but she doesn’t know how it will compare with Haiti.
“I’m hoping for something equally as amazing as Haiti,” Dotson said. “It is going to be different because I am going to be with my teammates I already have a relationship with. I am really hoping that we can grow closer and reach each other on a new level.”
Dotson had planned to return to Haiti this year if the Brazil trip had not been finalized.
“I am not sure at all what to expect in Brazil,” Dotson said. “I have found that I really love mission work. I especially love working with kids. I like the idea of helping people and opening myself up to make an impact and allowing myself to be impacted as well.”
Dotson agrees with the belief that magic doesn’t happen unless you take yourself out of your comfort zone.
“Taking yourself out of your comfort zone and going somewhere else you are really forcing yourself to open up your eyes, your heart and your mind and experience something new,” Dotson said. “That is how you grow ultimately.”
Dotson is interested in seeing how much of an influence the players will have using volleyball as a mission tool.
I think it is going to be great using volleyball as a platform, something I haven’t done before,” Dotson said. “I am very excited to see what kind of impact we can have using athletics to further our ability to serve.”
Lauren Ford is making her first mission trip. It will also be her first venture outside of the country.
“I have no expectations going into it,” Ford said. “I really want t grow in my relationships with the team more than anything.
“I think we will grow a lot closer. On the court we can work together there. But if we really become the family that we want to be off the court doing this kind of mission work and serving someone else will bring is closer together.”
The trip has been in the planning stages for several years. In addition to the work at the church and with the volleyball clinics there will also be time for sight-seeing. One stop will be the legendary Christ the Redeemer stature that can be seen overlooking Rio as one of the prime stops.
“We are also going to hike the Sugarloaf Mountains,” Rosenthal said. “Through the Rotary program we will be planting trees there. To hike it is one thing, but we are going to leave our mark there.
“This trip is so big. I am still trying to wrap my arms around it. It is going to be phenomenal.”