Newly drafted Washington Redskins receiver Malcolm Kelly returned this week from his first trip to Liberia as an official promoter of the Christian charity Mercy Ships.
Kelly, who had endorsed the global medical charity in February before going professional, concluded his weeklong trip on Thursday.
During the trip, he visited the crew onboard Mercy Shipsí¢â'¬â"¢ flagship, the Africa Mercy í¢â'¬" the worldí¢â'¬â"¢s largest non-governmental hospital ship. He also toured parts of the country still recovering from more than a decade of civil war and held a press conference.
í¢â'¬Å"Everywhere we went, people ran up to me to shake my hand and hug me, saying í¢â'¬ËœThank you! Thank you!í¢â'¬â"¢ I was a hero, but not because Ií¢â'¬â"¢m a football player; it was because I was wearing a Mercy Ships Crew shirt,í¢â'¬Â? Kelly reflected.
í¢â'¬Å"I doní¢â'¬â"¢t think Ií¢â'¬â"¢ve ever been more humbled and honored than to be considered a part of the Mercy Ships team,í¢â'¬Â? he said.
During his visit, Kelly stayed onboard the Africa Mercy, observing surgeries and visiting dozens of patients on the recovery wards.
Liberian officials, including the countryí¢â'¬â"¢s president, praised the young Christian athlete.
í¢â'¬Å"More than anything, our youth need someone to look up to who has excelled, not only in athletics, but in life,í¢â'¬Â? said Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who met with Malcolm and his father Moses Kelly, according to Mercy Ships.
í¢â'¬Å"Malcolmí¢â'¬â"¢s willingness to come here to Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves, builds on the natural kinship between Americans and Liberians,í¢â'¬Â? she said. í¢â'¬Å"Having a young African-American athlete who has achieved so much in life at such a young age reach out to our young people in this way is priceless. We need more of that. Our young people need that kind of encouragement at this critical time in our nationí¢â'¬â"¢s history.í¢â'¬Â?
In addition to official business, Kelly spent an afternoon working out with members of the 2008 Liberian Olympic team and other Liberian athletes.
He offered the help of his personal trainer, world-renowned sports performance coach Chip Smith from Competitive Edge Sports, to provide two coaching sessions for Liberian trainers and athletes to encourage Liberian sports initiatives.
Liberiaí¢â'¬â"¢s educational and sports initiatives were neglected during the 14-year civil war and the nation is now struggling to make improvements to even the most basic health and living standards.
í¢â'¬Å"We are a developing nation and what we are lacking is trained trainers. Mr. Kelly bringing his personal training coach for our benefit is a wonderful opportunity,í¢â'¬Â? said Liberiaí¢â'¬â"¢s Deputy Minister for Sports Marbue Richards. í¢â'¬Å"The fact that Chip Smith is world renowned and is willing to share his training techniques for free is very valuable because we want to produce more competitive athletes.í¢â'¬Â?
Kelly had first heard about Mercy Ships through his roommate as well as teammate while attending the University of Oklahoma. After hearing out the charity and its mission, Kelly and his family accepted it as their personal cause that God wanted them to endorse.
That led to Februaryí¢â'¬â"¢s press conference where Kelly announced that before he catches a single football as a professional athlete, he wanted to endorse the Christian charity, which offers life-changing surgeries to the most desperate and hopeless in Africa.
Kelly is the first professional athlete to endorse Mercy Ships.
í¢â'¬Å"Ií¢â'¬â"¢m honored and humbled to play a small part in this effort to bring both hope and healing to the people of Liberia,í¢â'¬Â? Kelly said. í¢â'¬Å"As I have come to know the history and spirit of the Liberian people through Mercy Ships, I feel a real connection to the country. I admire the way they are rebuilding their future and I want to do everything I can to help. My folks always taught me that giving is better than receiving í¢â'¬Â¦ unless of course it is on the football field.í¢â'¬Â?
Mercy Ships is a global charity that has operated hospital ships in developing nations since 1978. A crew of both professional medical and non-medical volunteers serves all people without regard for race, gender, or religion. Mercy Ships has performed more than 1.5 million services worth $600 million and has directly changed the lives of more than 1.7 million people. This is the fourth time a Mercy ship has visited Liberia.