This summer, Global Outreach teams from The Master’s College scattered to the far reaches of the globe—Argentina to India and everywhere in between—where they encouraged the local churches, shared the gospel, and ministered to the sick and needy. And, one by one they returned to the United States with stories of God’s grace and faithfulness to every tribe and nation.
But six students remained behind in Los Angeles, where they waited for the world to come to them in the form of four Special Olympics teams from Malawi, the Philippines, the Faroe Islands and El Salvador.
This year, Los Angeles is hosting the Special Olympics World Games, which started on Saturday, July 25 and end on Sunday, Aug. 2. TMC’s Special Olympics GO Team played an instrumental role in welcoming more than 130 athletes to the Santa Clarita Valley in the week preceding the games. Santa Clarita acted as one of many Southern California host towns, where visiting athletes could spend several days resting, enjoying activities and acclimating to a new culture before going on to compete in the Games.
The athletes stayed in TMC’s residence halls on July 22-24. Throughout the week, they played games and worked out with Athletic Department staff and students, attended a Western-themed carnival at Haven House Church in Placerita Canyon, marched in a parade through the local mall and were greeted by various local dignitaries, including Santa Clarita Mayor Marsha McLean.
Though TMC has a history of partnering with special needs ministries, this is the first time that the College or a GO team has participated in a special needs event of this magnitude. Special Olympics first contacted TMC in December 2013 about hosting athletes. Dr. Lisa LaGeorge, the director of Global Outreach, was excited about the idea and saw it as the perfect opportunity to encourage students in Christlikeness.
“We want to see our students love God and love people,” she said.
As members of Team Special Olympics, Chris Sue, Kailey Richardson, Haley Veilleux, Whitney Gomillion, Annie Ownbey and Rikk Shimizu exemplified just that.
They worked tirelessly, often behind the scenes, to make sure that the visiting athletes were comfortable on campus, that they had everything they needed, that they enjoyed themselves and that activities ran smoothly. The team members are filling various volunteer roles during the games themselves this week.
During the opening ceremony in the Music Recital Hall on Wednesday, July 22, the California State Assembly recognized the College as a whole and the team members individually for their efforts.
Ownbey, one of the team leaders, said that her interest in special needs ministry grew during a missions trip to Russia in summer 2014. When she returned, Dr. LaGeorge approached her about the Special Olympics opportunity.
“I’ve always loved special needs,” she said. “I’ve always loved working with them. And so, I was more than willing to do it.”
It all comes back to TMC’s firm belief that every person is fearfully and wonderfully made by the God whose image they bear.
“If you look at the Bible, God has specifically designed each person in His image, and so for us it’s a way of honoring how God has made everyone with specific talents, with specific abilities that they can use to benefit the church,” Ownbey said. “Throughout the Bible God continually talks about how the lowly will humble the wise, and we specifically need that in the church…to really keep ourselves humble and show that God loves everyone no matter what they’re like or what they look like or act like.”
Vice President of Student Life Joe Keller echoed that idea during his remarks at the opening ceremony.
“We truly believe that…every person has been designed in His image, and that he has been bestowed upon (with) unique gifts and abilities,” he said. “…Many of our students have been planning for over a year to come alongside and to care for you, to serve you, and to really celebrate the unique giftedness and abilities that you possess, both inside and outside your event. So please, enjoy your time here. It’s a great opportunity to serve. And, welcome to The Master’s College.”
For more information about the Special Olympics and a schedule of competitions, visit LA2015.org. Pictures and updates from the athletes’ time at The Master’s College are available on Facebook.