The SPU women’s basketball team members play with kids in the Dominican Republic

First, there was the uncertainty: Would all the hard work that members of the Seattle Pacific women’s basketball team had done to finance their service trip to the Dominican Republic be blown away by the devastating Hurricane Irma?

Then, there was the trepidation: After receiving the go-ahead to make the trip, what would they find when they got to Santiago? With all the weather uncertainties, what were they getting themselves into?

NCAA rules state that teams may take an international trip that combines athletics, culture, and in many cases, service, once every four years. Women’s basketball head coach Julie Heisey, now entering her 13th season with SPU, said she had considered the idea for about five years, but was deterred by the cost.

Last fall, she reconnected with Audrey Partin, one of her former players from Trevecca Nazarene University, where Heisey coached from 1996 to 2005. Partin is now involved with Go Ministries.

Go Ministries is a nonprofit organization that partners with local leaders to strengthen churches, address humanitarian needs, and run sports outreach programs in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mongolia, and urban America. Heisey began planning a trip with the organization. Each player was responsible for raising $1,000 toward expenses. With these funds and numerous donations, the team raised a total of $52,000 — more than enough to cover costs.

Getting ready for the trip meant more than raising money and packing suitcases. The Falcons would be in a different culture, and that required preparation, too.

Go Ministries provided videos of communities the Falcons would be visiting and ways they would serve. In addition, every player read a book titled Kisses From Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption.

The book is author Katie Davis’ story of how, as an 18-year-old from Brentwood, Tennessee, she went to Uganda on a short mission trip.

She wound up moving to Uganda, where she still lives. Reading Davis’ story prepared the team to serve others, even if they were out of their comfort zone, Heisey says.

The Falcons left Seattle on Friday, September 9. Because Hurricane Irma disrupted so much travel to the region, the team didn’t know until the day before whether they would be able to depart.

“So many things have fallen into place to make this trip happen … I can’t help but believe that God has divinely interceded and that we are exactly where he wants us to be,” assistant coach and former SPU star player Suzanna Ohlsen ’15 wrote in a journal entry. “If we had planned on being just a few miles north of Santiago, the trip already would have been canceled.”

Once the team arrived, trepidation gave way to satisfaction and exhaustion as the Falcon players and coaches dove into their work, painting walls at a new health clinic, leading basketball clinics for young children, and playing three basketball games with local players.

Team members wrote about the lessons they learned in adjusting to cultural differences, even for a short time.

Senior Jordan McPhee wrote that she learned a lot about being adaptable from visiting a place with a more laid-back approach to clock time than is common in the U.S.

A highlight of the trip was leading basketball clinics with children.

“I had little boys coming up to me and asking to play one-on-one. That was beyond awesome,” senior Rachel Shim wrote. “Making those kids laugh and smile was the highlight of my day, because I knew I was spreading God’s love in the best way that I could.”

Shim and the team also got to experience some of the ways Go Ministries interacts with the local community, particularly in Sunday morning church routines. “Starting the morning with Sunday school was so cool because we got to see the ways Go Ministries provides for the community they’re in,” she wrote. “The church service after that was such an awesome experience. I loved so much how we all share the same God, who loves us all equally.”

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