In two weeks Kenyon Coleman is going to embark on a mission to the African nations of Burundi and Uganda. He has a modest goal for his 13-day trip and that's to simply plant a seed.
Coleman, the defensive end now entering his sixth pro season and second with the Jets, met Dr. Juan Lopez a year ago. They immediately struck a spiritual bond and Lopez, pastor and president of Tribal Praise Ministries, talked of his visits to Asia, India and Africa. Lopez wanted to know if Coleman would be interested in traveling with him to Africa.
"I thought it was a good idea but thought it would never happen," Coleman told *newyorkjets.com *today. "Then I said let me ask Eric [Mangini], and I was fortunate enough that Eric gave me permission to go."
The Jets have allowed Coleman to adjust his off-season workout schedule, so he and his wife, Katie, can go on a meaningful journey with a group of seven including Lopez and Dr. Clyde Rivers. They are raising funds so about 150 Burundi schools will get tin roof covers and a new hospital wing will be built in Uganda.
"Basically we're raising $36,000 to go in over there and actually build a wing at a hospital," Coleman said. "Over here in the United States, there is no way you'd be able to do that with $36,000. Then in Uganda, they need roofs on top of the schools. I think we are trying to raise $12,000 for that and try to bless them with that and also some sports equipment like soccer balls and stuff like that."
Burundi and Uganda are two of the world's poorest countries. In 2006, Burundi started rebuilding following a 13-year civil war. And Uganda, a country known for its human rights abuses in the Seventies and Eighties when an estimated half million people were killed in state-sponsored violence, has experienced some stability and growth under President Yoweri Museveni.
"I've never been on a mission trip, so this is not my comfort zone," Coleman said. "I read somewhere that if you can buy a book and have the education to read that book, then you're rich according to the world's standards.
"Obviously there is a need here in America, but this is a different need. People over there die from things like diarrhea, dehydration — stuff that we can take care of with over-the-counter medicine over here. This is just an amazing opportunity to really see how blessed we are."
A man of deep faith, Coleman met his wife while at UCLA. But it wasn't until she heard him speak of his relationship with God that they connected on another level. Then after 3½ months (including a two-week engagement), they were married. Now they're ready to travel to another world and share — both religiously and financially — with people they've never met.
"I'm thankful to be in the position to be in here in America — I couldn't go over to bless them if I wasn't in the situation," Coleman said. "If stuff goes wrong, they have to get on their knees. With many of us, we have all these other options. You are going over there saying you're going to contribute, but what they're going to contribute into my life is going to be more profound."
April means off-season workout time in the NFL, so Coleman had his doubts when he broached this proposal with Mangini. But Mangini took his coaching hat off for a minute and talked to Kenyon man-to-man.
"His first reaction was he wanted to be educated about Uganda and Burundi and wanted to make sure I wasn't going over there ignorantly and I would be safe," Coleman said. "But I don't know if a lot of people know this but Eric Mangini is very generous and does a lot of charity work. He was very positive and offered help."
They agreed that Coleman could go, on the condition that he would make up any missed workouts. Then Mangini offered his support.
"This is a good example of who Kenyon and his wife are," Mangini said from the league meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., this evening. "I didn't have to be sold on it at all. I just wanted to understand what they were doing. I think it's a great thing, the fact that they're going to be able to help as many people as they're going to be able to help. I can't imagine the effect they'll have on the kids there when they get the roofs on their schools."
"They're setting up a little care package and we're going to give out jerseys to the President of Uganda [Museveni] and the President of Burundi [Pierre Nkurunziza]," Coleman said. "Just the fact that I'm going is evident of [Mangini's] heart. If he didn't say yes, I wouldn't go. I'm just thankful that he allowed me to go and that he understands what it is to give to others."
Since Coleman, who will leave home April 15, is going to meet such influential people, he said it's "not your typical mission trip."
"It's a trip that you get excited about what you know God is going to do in your heart but you embrace the mystery and you embrace the unknown," he said.
Coleman will plant the seed of hope when he visits countries that have seen their share of despair and destruction. He also knows some natives are highly skeptical of those who come once, make a contribution and then don't return.
"That seed needs watering to grow," he said. "I intend on going back."