Jets' Coleman recalls 'life-changing' African trip Print
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Thursday, 31 July 2008 12:10
NFL Headline News

 HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -Kenyon Coleman peered out of his car window during his trip to Africa and saw the angry faces staring back.
That's when the New York Jets defensive end got scared.
``Honestly, I was thinking, 'Whoa, if I can make it out of here, this is going to make a good story,''' Coleman told The Associated Press between practices Thursday at training camp.
Coleman went on a 13-day mission to Africa in April and was on his way to meet Burundi's president, Pierre Nkurunziza, when his four-car caravan stopped in a small village to pick up another passenger.
Dozens of curious onlookers tried to see who was in the cars when a few armed men in camouflage fatigues jumped out and surrounded the vehicles to protect the passengers.
``Some of the people in Burundi don't like the president and they thought he was in the car,'' Coleman recalled. ``They were looking at us, and it wasn't like, 'Hey, I want to shake your hand.' We came to find out later that there's been like six attempts on the president's life.''
The caravan was soon on the move again, thankfully for Coleman, without incident.
``That was a moment I waited until I got home to tell my wife about,'' he said, smiling.
Coleman, coming off the best season of his six-year NFL career, has been involved with various charities since entering the league out of UCLA in 2002. A friend suggested going on a mission trip, an idea Coleman embraced but not without some trepidation.
``I just took a step of faith,'' Coleman said. ``You have to take like 800 shots, and Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world and they're going through a civil war right now, so there was just a lot of uncertainty.''
Along with his wife Katie's best friend, Juan Lopez, the president of Tribal Praise Ministries, Coleman developed an itinerary that included stops in Burundi, Uganda and Kenya.
``It was life-changing, man,'' Coleman said. ``It just gives you a perspective on life. I went over there expecting to see people down and out in poverty. They were in poverty, but they weren't down and out. They were full of joy.''
Coleman raised about $60,000 and used the money to finance a children's wing in a hospital in Uganda and to fix roofs and provide supplies for about 155 schools in Burundi. He also created a web site, www.kenyonsdream.com, to raise awareness of the conditions in Africa. In a video posted on his site, Coleman is seen giving inspirational speeches, singing with children and watching them dance.
``It's a trip that sparked a lot of great things in me,'' Coleman said. ``It was more than I expected and it was amazing.''
Among the other highlights was meeting Janet Museveni, the wife of Uganda president Yoweri Museveni, and an unusual encounter with Nkurunziza.
``We had suits on, thinking we were going to this really nice building and we pull into a field and you just see avocado plants and you're like, 'What are we doing?''' Coleman said. ``Then, we saw the president in a jumpsuit like a mechanic would wear and he's got a blade and a hoe and he's just going at it. All of the sudden, and I'm not even kidding you, we were surrounded by about 12,000 people.''
Coleman is hoping to get Museveni and Nkurunziza to the Meadowlands one Sunday during the season so they could see him in action on the football field.
``Just to show how small your world is, over there, the people don't even know what football is,'' he said. ``They looked at me and were like, 'Are you a goalie?' They were thinking of soccer.''
There are a few Jets fans in Africa now, courtesy of some gifts from coach Eric Mangini.
``He was surprised when I told him I wanted to go,'' Coleman said. ``He just reminded me of the dangers, but he was gung-ho and gave me two jerseys to give to the first lady and the president and gave me a box full of T-shirts.''
Coleman was touched by many things during the trip, but recalled one moment in particular. After he met Nkurunziza, Coleman saw a woman in the huge crowd holding up her child.
``All of the sudden, the baby reached out for my hand and I reached out and the baby squeezed my finger,'' said Coleman, who has two children. ``It felt like the dam broke in my heart and I was just like, 'God is good, man.'''
Coleman's story has piqued the interest of many of his Jets teammates, some who are thinking of following in the defensive end's footsteps.
``Whether you're in Africa and digging holes to find water or you're out here on the football field, life is about having a relationship with God,'' said Coleman, who's planning more missions to Africa. ``That's what I learned to another level when I went over there. It was just awesome, man, so powerful.''
 

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