A Man Forever Changed

Jerry Costello of The Christophers shares his thoughts on Los Angeles Dodger, Clayton Kershaw, who took an eye-opening trip to Zambia last year:

Travel is broadening, they say, often in ways that are quite unexpected. Just ask veterans of the Peace Corps, or the once-young men and women who were part of the Papal Volunteers for Latin America. These good people went off to foreign lands to help others, but more often than not came back to the United States with a new appreciation for all the gifts that are ours.

Those particular examples stretch back 50 years or so, but the phenomenon still goes on today. Take the case, for example, of Clayton Kershaw, the gifted young left-hander of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Most fans might recognize him as a pitcher for the L.A. Dodgers, but those who read a report a while back by Karen Crouse in The New York Times–as I did–know that Kershaw returned from a visit to the African nation of Zambia as a man forever changed.

“You come home,” he said, “and you see people striving to get more money, more cars, bigger houses and more possessions, thinking that will make them happier. You go to Zambia, it helps put things in perspective. You realize where happiness comes from, and it’s not from material goods.”

Kershaw can thank his wife, Ellen, for the trip. As a college student, she had been to Zambia before, and was taken by the plight of the orphans she met–victims, all of them, of the AIDS epidemic that has devastated the country. She made their cause her own, working with an organization called Arise Africa. She rarely stopped talking about returning to the country with Kershaw, who had been her childhood sweetheart and was now her husband.
“He knew how important it was to go to Zambia with me,” she told reporter Crouse. “Clayton had heard me talk about it so much that it was to the point he kind of couldn’t go any longer without seeing what lights a fire under me.”

Kershaw undertook the journey with some reservations; he wanted to be sure he’d be able to get in the daily workouts that went with his training regimen. No problem, as it turned out. And when he worked in his regular routine of throwing a baseball (to some of the men who were also on the trip), the scene became electric for Zambian audiences.

“They had never seen a baseball before,” Kershaw said. “The kids would see us throwing and they’d gather around. They thought it was great.” Ellen Kershaw thought it was great, too, but she saw beyond the excitement.
“I kind of saw the perfect picture of my and Clayton’s passions colliding,” she said.

Too, she remembers especially the way Kershaw responded to one of their young charges, a 3-year-old girl he held in his arms for almost an hour. She continued clinging to him when he rose to go–leaving him “overwhelmed,” she recalled. The Kershaws are determined to do more for all the orphans they met, and the countless others they didn’t. They’ll probably return to Zambia, too, in part because–as noted above–travel is broadening.

“It changes you,” the pitcher said. “And that’s good.”

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