Keeping in line with the University’s mission to ‘engage and transform the World,’ Belmont’s Women’s Basketball team recently traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to focus on mission work and service, rather than hoops and sightseeing. Because of a major contract in the city, Head Coach Cameron Newbauer and Betty Wiseman, founder of the Belmont women’s basketball and sports evangelism programs, were able to make the trip a reality through a partnership and sponsorships from Brentwood Baptist Church.
Wiseman has been a member of the church for 37 years and developed a close friendship with Ray and Sharon Fairchild after meeting on a sports evangelism trip in 2000. The Fairchilds were missionaries in Rio for more than 30 years, and Sharon agreed to voluntarily lead Belmont’s trip.
Coach Newbauer was eager for his team to learn more about themselves as they ministered to the people of Rio. “As a coach, it is important to show athletes that the value they possess as a human being is far greater and more powerful than any sport they play. Acts of service, such as on our Rio trip, help them see the impact they can have on others,” said Newbauer. “We had a number of individuals that challenged themselves with getting outside of their comfort zone and publicly sharing their faith.”
The week of missions began as the women visited schools in the area building relationships with the students. “I believe everyone would agree that the hardest two days of the trip was each time we left ‘the school on the hill.’ Saying goodbye to the children was so difficult. The happiness they showed while we were there was indescribable. It was just the power of God connecting us in a way that nothing else can, and I do know that our program shared moments with the children and people of Rio that we will never forget and are so grateful to have experienced,” said Newbauer.
But the team couldn’t leave without hitting the court. After finishing their service work, they competed against three Brazilian teams. When the women played against Municipal, their first opponent, a game highlight was the half-time gospel messages shared by Wiseman, whom the Brazilian people named “Betchi.” She gave her testimony as attendees prayed alongside her.
While traveling, the group visited a missionary training school for women where Sharon Fairchild constructed a prayer garden for visitors. The team spent quiet time in the garden, under a tree canopy of playing monkeys, and listened to a devotional from Wiseman before heading to their second game against Manguiera. A Belmont second-half run gave the Bruins a comfortable 15 point lead to finish out the game with a 73-59 win. Afterwards, players from each team exchanged apparel to commemorate.
The team’s final game, against All Basket, brought the trips’s largest crowd with more than 150 children from a local church in attendance. They cheered, did the wave and pumped up the team during timeouts and halftime leading to a final Belmont victory of 65-25. “Their energy during our game and the cheering they did at halftime, led by B-dub (Wiseman), was so beautiful to hear. The beat was to ‘We will rock you,’ yet they were yelling ‘Belmont…Belmont….Belmont.’ We had had a very emotional day and to look up and see all these children who came to support us and were so excited to share the game with us was indescribable,” said Newbauer.
Before leaving Nashville for the trip, the team adopted the Prayer of Jabez as their traveling verse. Chosen for its plea of protection, the scripture speaks to expansion and blessings and kept the group focused on maintaining open hearts and minds to impact the people they met and be changed themselves. Before departing from Rio, the team visited the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue and reflected on the week’s lessons.
Throughout the trip, Newbauer and the team kept their loved ones at home updated via their blog, Bruins on Mission. One of their final posts said, “Our team will never look at a basketball the same. For some it became a soccer ball, for others a precious gift from the Belmont Women’s Basketball team, but for all of us, a basketball is now the bridge that can cross any language barrier and break down walls. A basketball now means hope and love from our team.”