Matt Barkley's Christmas Break


With the college football post-season door closed, USC QB Matt Barkley used his holiday break to take advantage of a different kind of opportunity.  

For 11 days, he hung up his cleats, rolled up his sleeves and ventured to Nigeria with his family (parents Les and Bev, brother Sam and sister Lainy) and some friends (girlfriend Brittany Langdon, Lainy's friend Taylor Bonds and Trojan punter Kyle Negrete) to visit orphans, widows, villagers and prisoners in the central Nigerian city of Jos.  

While there, they did construction work and shared daily fellowship.  They brought with them 1,200 pounds of much-needed supplies, hygiene kits, sports equipment, toys and Christmas gifts, all donated by numerous friends of the group. 

The trip was coordinated through Go Nigeria, an organization that provides assistance to Nigerians living in extreme poverty.

Barkley and his group documented this incredible trip in photos and video.
If you scroll down, you can view a slide show, as well as a video that Barkley himself produced, which expresses his devout faith and feeling for all that he experienced on this journey.

Below that, you can read a Q&A to learn more about his trip.

Highlights from Nigeria Trip 2010 from Matt Barkley on Vimeo.

Q.) What was the genesis of this trip?
Matt Barkley...

Two years ago after graduating high school early, I did a similar trip when I went to South Africa over Christmas break, so I had some experience doing this.  This past summer, when USC got sanctioned by the NCAA, we thought a great way to go do something as a family over the holidays was another such trip. 

My mom had reconnected with a high school friend, Peter Fretheim, who is a missionary in Nigeria, and so my parents put together this trip through an organization called Go Nigeria, the non-profit which Peter and his wife, Miriam, founded.  Go Nigeria helps hundreds of street children, orphans, widows, victims of leprosy and the poor by providing clothing,  medical care, jobs and more than 500,000 meals annually. It provides hope for the forgotten people in that society.

Q.) What did you do when you got to Jos?

It took us 31 hours to get there. We went from Los Angeles to Houston to Frankfurt to Abuja, Nigeria's capital, and then had a 4-hour drive to Jos.

Once we got there, they put us right to work.  The first day, we went to Transition House, where 40 teenaged orphan boys live.  While there, we met Abraham, a 14-year-old boy whose parents had died and whose uncle has tried to burn him alive. Due to the scaring from his burns, Abraham could barely talk and he was unable to close his mouth.  It was encouraging to me, though, how he and all of the boys were so joyful and strong-minded despite what they had gone through.

We went to different locations.  The orphanage at Transition House, a Widow's House where the women are taught a tailor's trade, a home for handicapped men who spend their time making wheelchairs for the poor, a men's prison, a boarding school for children of Nigerian missionaries.   

At each place, we hosted a Christmas party, feeding them a bowl of flavored rice, some goat meat and a soda.  We passed out gifts and supplies and gave words of encouragement.  We also brought along costumes and performed a Christmas story at each place and had them act it out with us.

The four of us guys would spend every day from 9 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon working.  We built a water tower, dug trenches for the water pipes, put in some soccer goals and tether ball poles and we even held some sports camps.  The girls each had a classroom where they taught Bible stories, sang songs and did crafts. 

Q.) You went to an area that has had some tension among its people.

Going in, we were aware of the violence that was prevalent in the area.  Jos is in the center of Nigeria, sort of the dividing line between the Muslims in the north and the Christians in the south.  So tensions exist, but we knew that.  Because we were told it was unsafe, we didn't venture out beyond where we stayed or where we were serving.  We had a driver who took us everywhere.  The places we stayed were walled and gated.  I never felt scared or threatened.

One day we visted the village of Dagon Na Hauwa, where 400 men, women and children were massacred last March by Muslim extremists.  We walked with more than 100 children who survived the massacre to visit the mass grave and it was humbling to realize how these children went through such a traumatic event and are still able to laugh and be joyful.  It made you thankful for the freedom and safety we have in America.

Another day, I asked some kids my age what was the hardest thing about being a Christian in Nigeria.  They said that once they decided to become Christian, they became labeled and thus were a target.  They live under constant threat and never knew when they might die.  It was encouraging to me to see people stand up for their beliefs, whatever they might be, in spite of those threats. 

Q.) What did you learn about the Nigerian people you met?

It was eye-opening to see how intent the Nigerians were about everyday interactions.  I saw their faith and joy and gratitude in the littlest things.  We'd be with them in a hut with dirt on the floor, no beds, and skinny goats in the back and barely any wheat growing in the fields, and yet they were so thankful to be alive.  

It helped me realize I need to do a better job of seeing value in everything that comes in my path and be thankful for the littlest things.  It's hard to keep that attitude when you come back to a society like ours that is more privileged and entitled.

Life is so simple for the Nigerian people we met.  God is their source of strength and power to accomplish things.  They don't have technology.  They rely on God. 

For instance, us bringing them a meal was viewed as a gift from God.  It's also a reality that their life can be taken from them just like that, snap, so it's a joy for them being alive every day.  It showed me that we should take time to enjoy life and soak in every interaction with people and be thankful. 

Q.) Did you get in some football while you were there?

We played soccer with the boys from Transition House and we taught them and the village orphans American football.  We brought some USC football videos of this year's Cal game and our 2010 highlights. 

They were shocked by how many people come watch our games.  They loved American football and were always wanting to play with us.  They only knew soccer, so American football was totally foreign to them.  But they embraced it, especially after seeing the videos of our games.  And we got the kids in the orphanage to do the Fight On sign.

Q.) On a trip like this, there had to be many memorable moments.  What sticks out?

On our last day there, the girls in our group taught the Bible story about Jesus being the ultimate servant.  Then they gathered all the kids and washed their feet. 

To these children who hadn't been loved, it showed that someone loved them, that even though we were there just for that day we were representatives of God's love. 

It was a pretty emotional moment.  The children all got quiet and had tears in their eyes.  It was incredibly touching to leave Nigeria on that note. 

Q.) Are you glad you went?

It was really amazing how this opportunity opened up because of the bowl ban.  I hope I get this opportunity again someday, although obviously not under the same circumstances of NCAA sanctions.

It was a hard transition coming back to the States afterward.  For almost two weeks, we were away from technology, we were where people didn't know me as a football player.  For me, it was a blessing to get away from all that and be able to focus on serving and on the children.


Thank you for sharing this and putting life inperspective. This is what really matters humanity.

God bless you all for all the hard and amazing job you did in Nigeria. Truly a perfect example to follow.....may God continue to give you the strength, the wisdom and may He bless you abundantly.

Wow! What a great story. There's more to life than football, even Trojan football. Thanks for the reminder. Fight on Matt!

You inspire me Matt, family and Kyle. Very impressive. You make this world a better place. Keep up the great work...all of you.

God Bless the Barkley family and friends who went along. This put me into tears almost instantly. This is amazing and I think that more people, especially the athletes we look up to, need to do this. Matt Barkley, you are a hero and a true inspiration.

God Bless.

Your maturity at your age is mind-blowing! A special thanks to you and your family for being so selfless and serving others. This is the stuff that often doesn't make the news. Keep being you, it's extremely refreshing!
Fight On!

This is why you will be successful in life, Matt, because you put God first. Thank you for being such a shining example to everyone. Fight on!

Thanks for sharing this story!! How could you not be a Barkley fan after seeing and reading this. God Bless and Fight On!!

How Awesome to be able to share God's love with others. This is what its all about. Love the video!

Thank you Matt, family and Kyle for taking a negative situation (sanctions) and making it meaningful for the children. You have truly embodied the fruits of the Spirit. God has blessed you with an amazing talent and an amazing family. It's refreshing to see a positive story about an athlete. I guess "Fight On" has a whole different meaning now.

This is a wonderful piece...I hope it gets highlighted on ESPN to show the positive side of what young men are doing in sports as opposed to all the negative stuff recently shown in the media. Keep up the good work Matt and my God continue to bless you and your family.

What a wonderful way to spread the holiday spirit and share your blessings--you truly are an inspiration of God's grace!

Thank you for sharing your journey!

It's truly encouraging to see how Matt's handled the bowl ban. I agree with so much of what he said. Many times, my safe and comfortable life at home lures me away from remembering those who are in constant threat of death and violence (for the sake of their beliefs), severely sick/handicapped, and widowed or orphaned (often as a result of poverty and religious strife). This interview has been a good reminder to be thankful for life in all of its mundane simplicities and intricate nuances, but more so, to praise God with each breath -- not just with my words and mind, but with my actions and deeds; I can do so by caring and loving for those around me, as God has loved me through Christ. :) Thanks for the perspective-refreshing reminder, Matt!

I am still in tears from watching the clip.The things that you have done for the better of humanity has really inspired me. And you are really lucky to have the opportunities to do all these missions. You have encourage me to do that in my life, but I have not yet find the opportunity to do so. But I will not give up, I will keep looking, though my parents would not let me travel out country. I will keep looking, you have opened up a whole new perspective for me in life. And for that I am grateful. Thank you. :)

I have lived in Nigeria though not as a missionary. I have spent time in places similar to those you visited so I know how much your presence meant to the people whose lives you touched. The foot washing service was unbelievably beautiful!! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!! Be Blessed!

I think the video and story speak for themselves and there isn't much I can say that hasn't already been conveyed in the other comments. I think that no matter what Matt accomplishes on the field, he will always be under valued. When the sanctions came down, no player or anyone in the USC organization stepped up like Matt did. He said that it never occurred to him to even think about transferring and he is personally responsible for keeping a lot of the upper classmen at USC who could have gone elsewhere without penalty.

Obviously this year did not have the success that we have come to associate with the program of late, but Matt's play on the field and his leadership off kept this team from falling apart when it had every reason to do so. I don't think many people would consider the 2010 season a great year for USC, but no one would say it was an embarrassment.

In spite of our two year absence from a BCS bowl and the fact that we were just handed sanctions that in the history of college football are second in their severity only to the "death penalty" given to SMU; it looks like we are still going to sign a top 5 recruiting class this year. I don't think anyone fully appreciates what a feat this is and how much of it is due to the on and off the field actions of Matt. Does anyone really think that Matt is not one of the primary reasons that this is the second straight year that we have gotten the #1 ranked WR recruit in the nation?

USC has had a lot of great QBs in its history, but can you think of one that you would rather have leading the team through what must be the darkest hour in the history of the program? I think that he could end up as the most skilled QB that USC has ever had, and I feel so bad that he inherited the situation that he did. However, I have a feeling that he has never felt the same way.

Hi Jordan - thank you for bringing light on Barkley's efforts during the holiday to spread what I'm sure has been the most influential force in his life, the love of Christ, with those who are less fortunate.

This could have easily become a very "unpopular" article, but I feel that the pure selflessness and hope for inspiration the Barkley's express through their video has kept negativity at bay.

Matt, if you read this, continue the work of the Father. More than any trophy or championship title, we must all celebrate the victory that is already won in Christ, as you are already doing.

God bless all of you Barkley's!

Wow. Not a fan of USC, but I just became a fan of Matt Barkley. He certainly has his priorities right. Thanks for sharing that experience. Very moving.

I am Nigerian and lived in Jos many years ago. It is heartening to hear about great young leaders like Matt Barkley, who realize this life is about giving and lends a helping hand thousands of miles away from his life to people in need..

Interestingly I have always liked Matt. The way he plays, the mature way he carries himself. So I was reading up on his decision to remain at USC and then saw this! Now I am not just a marginal Matt Barkley fan but a FULL fledged one! His kindness and assistance will come back to him with the many blessings!

Next year, USC National Championship, Matt Barkley winning the Heisman, then #1 pick in 2013 draft and then on to a Hall of Fame NFL career! :)

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