Mission trip to Nigeria a life-chager for Morrow
KANNAPOLIs — When Kayla Morrow returns to Lenoir-Rhyne for her senior volleyball season, she’ll be a team captain.
She’ll also return to Hickory with a changed outlook on life after a July mission trip to Oko, Kwara State, Nigeria.
When Morrow’s church in Kannapolis, Jackson Park Baptist, made plans to send a 14-person gospel-spreading team to Africa’s most populous nation, Morrow was interested.
When she found out an integral part of the mission trip would be conducting youth sports camps, Morrow, who has a pretty impressive vertical, jumped out of her chair.
“It was a long process, but I think as soon as I heard about the trip I wanted to go,” Morrow said. “Then when they said we’d be giving sports camps for the kids, it was no longer just wanting to go — I had to go.”
The 5-foot-10 Morrow was a terrific volleyball player at South Rowan, but she also was good in softball and basketball and competed in some track meets. The three planned camps were for basketball, volleyball and track, so she was qualified to help out with any of them.
Of course, she had to get to Nigeria first, and even after taking all the pills and getting all the shots, getting to Oko still took some doing. It was a 14-day commitment, but four days — two each way — were used up in exhausting travel.
“We drove to Delaware, spent the night at a church, and then traveled on to New York,” Morrow explained. Then we made the flight from New York to Paris, and after a layover in Paris, we flew on to Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.”
From Abuja, in central Nigeria, the degree of travel difficulty grew. The team traveled southwest by bus on the final six-hour leg of the trip to Oko.
Making the mission trip possible was Thomas Adewumi International College in Oko.
“We were very fortunate we were able to stay in dorms at the college and have our meals prepared by a chef,” Morrow said. “At the college, we had electricity and running water, things the people in the villages don’t have. They lived in shacks made of wood or tin.”
The team’s mission was with those villagers, and the sports camps took shape. There were 200 youngsters, boys and girls, ages 12 to 17. They brought boundless energy to the cement courts at the college.
“They put me in charge of the volleyball camp, and they let the children choose the camp they were interested in,” Morrow said. “I was surprised 40 of them picked volleyball.”
Morrow doesn’t have to fake passion for volleyball. It’s the sport she loves most, and she excels at it.
She was one of the top two blockers for Lenoir-Rhyne as a junior and was fourth on the team in kills.
“The kids I was working with had seen volleyball on TV, but they had never really played it before,” Morrow said. “It was a chance to teach them some basic skills, and it was exciting for me that they had fun learning. The kids were awesome. Some of them had acrobatic skills that amazed me. They could do crazy flips.”
Morrow was able to connect with her pupils through her sport, and that opened doors for her to talk about her Christian beliefs.
Nigeria is a large country — almost twice the size of California. It has a mostly Islamic north and a mostly Christian south. Oko is in the south.
While English is Nigeria’s official language, English isn’t frequently spoken in the rural villages.
Translators and interpreters were on hand to aid communication.
“The only problem was they spoke a British English instead of American English,” Morrow said. “A few times, I said a word and there were blank stares and giggles.”
Morrow’s message was simple.
“I just told them Jesus Christ loved them and that the people who had come from America loved them,” Morrow said. “You just try to plant a small seed, maybe 20 minutes at a time. Then you hope that seed will grow.”
Morrow’s days were filled with Bible study, devotions and songs — and volleyball. There were trips to an orphanage, a medical center and a museum, and education was a two-way street. Morrow made some discoveries about Nigerian culture.
Because of Jackson Park Baptist fundraising and the support of the Thomas Adewumi International College, the trip cost Morrow only $1,400.
She figures it was a bargain. Actually, she figures the experience was priceless.
“We met so many people that didn’t have a lot, but they were smiling and friendly and accepting,” Morrow said. “It opens your eyes.”
Morrow didn’t make any 5,500-mile trips to Africa, but she moved around a lot at Lenoir-Rhyne before finding a home at middle blocker in 2012. She’s certain she’s the shortest middle in the SAC, but she uses her vertical jump and her quickness to handle taller opponents.
She’s also been strong in the classroom. Despite the time demands of volleyball, she will earn a degree on time in May. After that, it’ll be physical therapy school or physician’s assistant school. She hopes her future also will include a return to Oko.
“I don’t think this was a one-time thing,” Morrow said. “We connected with so many people. It was life-changing for all of us.”
As weary as Morrow is, she obviously would do it all over again.
“I went to Oko with the goal of teaching the game I love and being a blessing to those children,” she said. “Now I realize those children were a blessing to me.”