COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – China is a land of many wonders, one that is sure to leave visitors with an unforgettable first impression. Charles Newton, Newt for short, certainly made the most of his 10-day trip to Asia to participate in Reach USA, a Christian ministry that uses collegiate basketball as an avenue to communicate faith and belief systems cross-culturally.
Ironically, the journey over there leaves an equally memorable, albeit less enjoyable impression.
“First off, I was just glad to get off the plane!” said the Golden Eagle basketball guard from Lexington, KY. “A 14 hour plane ride is crazy! I didn’t know this, but you really have to stand up and walk around on these flights. My feet, ankles and shins are swollen from sitting down so long. We spent a whole day in the airport or on a plane – literally 24 hours! It was a great flight though, no complaints.”
Upon getting off the plane though, Newt realized the magnitude of the experience that he was privileged enough to be a part of.
“It’s like New York, Chicago and L.A. all put together. You think the buildings are going to end, but they don’t. China is so far ahead of us architecturally.”
The purpose of Reach USA’s trip was to achieve personal enlightenment and meld Eastern and Western religious ideas via using basketball as a commonality for communication. Newt traveled with a new group of teammates from throughout Kentucky and surrounding states to participate in five basketball games against other collegiate and pro B teams. He immediately took on the role as an informal leader both on and off the court with his new teammates.
“Oh [I was] definitely a leader on the team. I was one of the younger guys there, but I was just a leader. That’s pretty much how it always goes,” Newton admitted. “I got really close to Coach Macy, and I actually ran the point instead of playing the two guard.
Being a part of a new team in China, especially in the role of a team leader, really helped to solidify Newt’s beliefs that his goals of spiritual growth and development as a person were attained during his time overseas. One of the main reasons that he believes this is because he saw changes in those around him. Having the opportunity to become close with a new team of peers really allowed for the chance to observe the way the Reach USA experience influenced those around him.
“Having people to go along with you and making changes with others gives you motivation,” Newton explained. “It’s kind of like a strength by numbers thing.”
The life changes and lessons that Newt claims to have taken away from his trip to China range from ordinary to extraordinary. Faith and religion are sensitive topics in Asia, and using basketball as a means to develop personal relationships enabled conversations that eventually turned to more religious topics. One of the most significant lessons that Newt took from his experience was to value the freedoms that many people take for granted as a part of a western culture.
“You learn to value being free to talk to people and be open about your life experiences,” Newt said seriously. “They don’t play around with religion over there – either they believe it or they don’t, there’s no middle ground. It’s all or none, very different from here.”
On a less intense note, upon his return Newt realized a new appreciation for something that he has done on a daily basis for years, except for during his trip to China.
“I value being able to read signs!” he laughed. “It was so weird coming back and actually knowing what a sign said. I had no idea in China.”
Even so, Newt will never admit that any of his time spent in China struck him as difficult or strenuous.
“I don’t really look at anything as hard, just interesting,” he said, although he claimed later that his somewhat stingy eating habits were tested by some suspect Chinese food.
“Everybody I was with was so positive, it’s a great environment,” he raved. In fact, the environment fostered by the program is one of the key components to the continuation of a more positive and enlightened lifestyle. Newt has definitely brought the positive aura back to the states, and has plans to continue being active in Reach USA.
“All I can do right now is keep walking the faith and living the life,” he said. However, Coach Robbie Spear, one of the founders of the program, was impressed with the way that Newt responded to the trip to China, and the people that he encountered.
“He asked me to come back next year, and I can’t say no. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Newt excitedly, and it appears that he will have several more “opportunities of a lifetime” as the years progress.