A family vacation usually consists of fun filled excursions, relaxation, and self-indulgence. But Arizona Cardinal’s kicker, Jay Feely and his wife Rebecca decided to do something a little different this summer. They took their two oldest children, Lexi (11) and Jace (9) to Haiti. Not to indulge, but to serve with Mission of Hope.
The Feelys exchanged a life of luxury for the meager accommodations they shared with rats, mice, and tarantulas. Living in an open-air cabin and guarding themselves from contracting diseases common to the region, such as cholera, typhoid, and malaria, the Feelys spent one week being an expression of compassion
If you take a look at Jay and Rebecca’s history and their love for helping others, it’s clear why they would choose to go to Haiti instead of Hawaii. They have a God-given passion for people in need, which leads them to care for others rather than just for themselves. They also want to instill this same kind of compassion for others into the hearts of their children. Thus, the Haiti trip presented a great opportunity to expose them to how a large portion of the world lives or should I say, “survives” each day.
“I think as parents our (job) is to raise responsible children. How easy it is, especially in the NFL and professional athletics in general, to have kids who have everything they need and more. Me telling my kids there are starving children in Haiti or Africa goes in one ear and out the other. But for us to provide them with the experience where they lived side by side with kids who had nothing and yet were happy, shocked them and made them realize just how much we have here and all we take for granted.” Says Rebecca.
Initially, there was some apprehension with taking their children to this third world country. Yet, after spending several days scouting out the trip in February, Jay returned with a strong belief that even though it wouldn’t be easy for the kids, they would experience great growth as a result.
Offering Hands of Healing and Hope
The Feely family participated in a number of service projects while in Haiti. They did everything from painting a house in a village, to putting on soccer camps, to dispensing medication.
Rebecca joined a mobile medical clinic to triage an orphanage. She was moved by the resolve these young children showed even though they were suffering from parasites, worms, scabies and other diseases. She spent hours handing out anti-parasitics and anti-fungal medication. Then she offered what many of the children longed for most, but for the majority of their lives, went completely without; Hugs. Risking contracting a number of communicable diseases, she held them close and gave them comfort.
Rebecca recalls, “(There was) a lot of malnutrition and evidence of (it) and it was really sad. I would just break down crying. It really shakes you inside to see that (this) is their reality. Many times I would sit outside with Jay and say I just want to change this country. What can we do? We need to do more.”
For three days, Jay and his brother, John, put on soccer camps for the village children. The sight of a mere ball brought children running from all over. The kids didn’t care if they were only half dressed or missing a shoe, they were just happy to have someone there who was willing to take time to play with them.
Jay and John coached hundreds of youths and at the end of each soccer camp they handed out bottles of water. As fights ensued over the “liquid gold”, the scarcity of this basic need became yet another reality that gripped this American family’s heart.
“At the end of the three day soccer camps, they handed out one (t-shirt) to each kid and those kids were in heaven…like it was the best thing they’d ever gotten. One little boy took his shirt, ran out into the field and jumped as high as he could, waiving it as if to say, ‘This is the greatest day ever!’ It was so cute. There were so many moments like that.” Rebecca remembers.
Jay adds, “You can be overwhelmed by the poverty in Haiti, but I was inspired by the opportunity to have a great impact on individual’s lives.”
The Feelys’ trip to Haiti was life changing for the children as well.
Lexi recalls, “It took a few days to get used to being in Haiti. It was a lot different than what we are used to. (But) after a few days, it felt like home and I knew in my heart we were doing the right thing, loving on those kids.”
For Jace, the challenging experience helped him to look at life from a different perspective. “Being in Haiti made me realize how much we have (and) how much we don’t need. They were so thankful for everything they had. It made me appreciate things a lot more. I will never forget Haiti.”
Jay and Rebecca were right when they sensed the trip would cause their children to grow in ways they would not have otherwise. But perhaps what they didn’t realize was how their first hand witnessing of the Haitian people’s plight would lead to such a deep emotional attachment and a call to return.
Jay says, “Haiti is the poorest country in the world. They lack infrastructure and a competent government. We spoke a different language but the language of love is universal. I left a piece of my heart in Haiti but it will draw me back year after year to help these people survive.”
This missions trip to Haiti provided and experience the Feelys will never forget. Although it was difficult for them to leave because of their desire to help even more, they left with a greater desire to be a blessing to those in need.
Jay and Rebecca also have a heart to share their mission experience with other players and their families. So, for those of you pro athletes and wives who have an interest in accompanying the Feelys on their next missions trip or if you just want to learn more about the opportunity, please contact them through their twitter accounts: @Jayfeely or @Rebeccafeely.
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. Acts 20:35-36 (NIV)
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