Union’s Bryant knows there’s more to life than basketball
Wednesday, Mar 9, 2011
By Bill Sorrell
JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--Abandoned by his parents and left on the streets of El Progreso, Honduras, when he was seven months old, Gabriel was taken into an orphanage founded by Catholic nun Sor Teresita Gonzalez.
Kayla Bryant cuts a piece of the net after Union University won the 2010 NAIA women's basketball national championship.
- Photo by Morris Abernathy
Now 14, Gabriel is an excellent soccer player with a great voice and a million-dollar smile and is one of the most popular students at his technological high school.
The Copprome orphanage would also become home for a boy with mental challenges because his mother tried to drown him when he was a baby. It is home for another boy who suffers from a blood disease and was found on the streets at age 3 begging for food. It is home for a teenage girl whose family members sexually abused her and sold her into sex trafficking when she was a child.
“All of them are brave kids,” said Union University senior Kayla Bryant, who heard stories first-hand when she spent July 2010 at Copprome polishing Spanish, her minor, and ministering, a major part of her life.
A shooting guard for the No. 1-ranked Lady Bulldogs, Bryant went to Uganda in August 2010 with Union’s team, visiting five orphanages in 10 days.
This summer Bryant, a member of Wartrace Baptist Church in Wartrace, Tenn., plans to be an intern with the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home in Franklin. One day she wants to open a children’s home in her hometown of Shelbyville.
“That could take a good five to 10 years, learning the system, getting the money and grants from the government. I feel like that is what God wants me to do and the need is present,” said Bryant, who will graduate in May with a major in social work.
“My passion is children and I feel like my goal in that is to spread love to them, especially to the ones who do not think they are loved.”
While not confident in her Spanish, Bryant went to Honduras anyway. Though she soon got homesick and didn’t know anyone there, she was confident that she was doing God’s will.
“I told myself God sent me and He knows what He is doing,” she said.
As she saw the poverty of Honduras first hand she began to lose the insulation of a sheltered American. A continent away and a month later she would see poverty again.
There wouldn’t be as many resources in Uganda as Honduras. Mosquitoes would be more abundant and toilets harder to find. The Union women played with village children and gave away school supplies.
Children would run with their bus yelling “muzungu,” translated “white people,” in Lugunda, one of the nation’s official languages.
The children adored them, Bryant said.
“Some of the villages we went to had never seen white people,” she said. “The smallest ones were scared. Most of the kids thought we were celebrities.”
Union teammate Kayla Hudson watched Bryant as she loved on the children unconditionally.
“No matter what they look like, what they are wearing, how dirty they are, she interacted with the kids,” Hudson said. “The way they attached to her was incredible to watch. For me I saw Christ in that and His love through her.”
That didn’t surprise Union women’s basketball coach Mark Campbell.
“She always has a great heart,” Campbell said of Bryant. “She is willing to do what she has to do. She is not one of those who is intimidated by situations. She dives in and tries to lead. She is really responsible when it comes to meeting other people’s needs.”
Coaching Union to NAIA national championships in 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2010 and to the second-most wins over the last five years of any women’s program in the NAIA and NCAA (behind the University of Connecticut), Campbell has made a huge impact on Bryant.
“He has helped me mature spiritually and shown me what is important and how I can use basketball to help God speak through me,” she said.
First published in Tennessee's Baptist & Reflector.
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