by Eva Dean Folkert
One of the biggest fans of Hope College women’s soccer lives in Ethiopia. And some of the biggest fans of 12-year-old Sam Shebabaw reside at Hope. Never mind that they are separated by an ocean and a continent. Never mind that they are different in gender and social class and culture. Never mind any of that. Because, you see, they don’t mind any of that. Sam Shebabaw of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the Flying Dutch, of Holland, Michigan, are undeniably bound together — by soccer and by hope.
Since much of the ethos surrounding the Hope women’s soccer emphasizes servanthood — not just toward teammates but also to those beyond their immediate reach — the team has supported various charities domestically and abroad for many years. For the past six years though, the Flying Dutch have focused all of their resources on Sam, a child under the care of YZM USA, an Ethiopian non-profit, non-government organization providing comprehensive care for orphaned and vulnerable children in multiple communities in and around the capital city of Addis Ababa.
“It shows how amazing God is to connect a small village in Ethiopia to small Hope College in West Michigan.”
Becoming connected with Sam Shebabaw started in 2012 when Madison Buursma ‘15, currently a Ph.D. candidate in nursing at Michigan State, was a member of the Flying Dutch team. Maddie told head coach Leigh Sears about her family’s involvement with YZM USA. Her father, Tim Buursma ’87, is on their advisory board, and the Buursmas adopted their son and brother, also named Sam, through that agency in 2011.
Shortly thereafter then, the Flying Dutch chose to support one charity — YZM USA — for the foreseeable future. “The team decided we would sponsor the youngest kid that we could and keep supporting him or her until the age of 18,” says Sears. As a consequence, every player on every Hope women’s soccer team has donated toward Sam’s annual support since he was six; for food, clothes, hygiene supplies, and his education, including a school uniform.
But Morgan Buursma — sister to Maddie and Sam Buursma, daughter of Tim and Dawn Buursma, and a senior player for the Flying Dutch — is quick to point out that the total money the teams sends to YZM USA doesn’t go to Sam alone. “There’s over 1500 kids in this organization and about 500 aren’t sponsored. So, donations get distributed throughout, but Sam is our main guy there,” she says.
Morgan has been to Ethiopia twice with her dad who travels regularly to the African nation. Each time she has met Sam Shebabaw, a message of God’s global reach hits home. She becomes keenly aware of how a God who is so great can provide so much for so many, even though the amount seems so small. For only a dollar a day, she says, Sam receives necessities of life — the tangibles and the intangible. “He feels so cool because he gets sponsored by a soccer team,” explains Morgan. “And it’s fun because when we go there, Leigh gives us a bunch of old soccer balls and uniforms to hand out to all the kids. Sam has his own little soccer hat and jersey. He just loves that.”
Throughout the Flying Dutch soccer team, the Sam Shebabaw effect has rippled. A few players decided to sponsor other children on their own through YZM USA. “My family is obviously really connected, and it’s a big part in our life,” says Morgan, whose hometown is Grandville, “but it’s been neat because more players have been impacted, too, and they have asked me to check in on their kids when I go.”
Each time she has met Sam Shebabaw, a message of God’s global reach hits home.
Morgan’s proclivity to make a difference, to give back, to be a force for caring good is as much as part of her academic major (nursing) as it is her field position (defender). In each, others look to her for strong assistance and support. A defender must “do the dirty work. No glory. No stats,” comments Sears. But for Morgan, quietly helping others is simply what she’s always wanted to do — on the field and off. “I’ve done a lot of clinicals and have been in situations firsthand where I’m helping someone who can’t help themselves,” she recalls. “It can be hard and a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding.”
In her captain, Sears sees a young woman who plays and learns with a great deal of perspective and effort. That’s a winning combination for life, no matter the sport or major. “She’s a good student taking difficult classes. She’s a great kid from a great family. She works really hard and leads by that example,” the coach says.
So, Sam Shebabaw of Ethiopia wears his jersey and delights that women soccer players in America are some of his biggest fans. He writes to the team twice a year, and the Flying Dutch write back. Half a world away from each other, they’ve been brought closer together by hope.
“This is just another experience God has provided me to open up my eyes to what’s really going on in the world, to what’s important and what’s not,” Morgan says. “It shows how amazing God is to connect a small village in Ethiopia to small Hope College in West Michigan. He’s so good the way He provides so well for us all.”