July 6, 2011
There were plenty of cool places Asa Watson could have visited this summer. Beaches, mountains, and other alluring vacation coves are ever inviting.
So where did NC State’s junior wind up? In Los Angeles, on Skid Row.
Along with six other Wolfpack student-athletes, Watson participated in Urban Project Los Angeles, ministering to the forlorn and forgotten, the homeless and hurting.
It wasn’t what Watson had intended to do. He had planned to attend Athletes-in-Action’s grueling Ultimate Training Camp in Colorado until a friend mentioned the LA mission trip. That’s when the 6-4, 225-pound tight end changed his route, so to speak.
“I decided in about 20 minutes,’’ Watson wrote in an email. “God had totally different plans for me.”
The son of a pastor, Watson spent three weeks in LA. He viewed the city’s glitz and glamour districts, where prosperity abounds and hopes rise to skyscraper heights.
And then, not far from the bright lights, he recalled how the scenery and scent dramatically changed.
Around Skid Row he saw empty, dilapidated buildings and streets littered with stench and trash. Worse, he saw the abandoned and downtrodden, homeless and disabled people, pimps and drug addicts.
“It was like a different country,’’ Watson said. “I’ve never seen that much homelessness and deprivation in one area. It was shocking. We would talk to the people, pray with the people. Some were just down on their luck.”
In a letter to his supporters, Watson wrote: “God opened my eyes to poverty, racism, and social injustice...He also taught me about the vastness of his love, the need for the gospel and my personal need for grace.”
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The squad of Wolfpack athletes, which included Zach Powell (football), Grant Pearce (track & field); Chandler Knox (soccer), Hannah Eshraghi (soccer), Allison Hofmann (track & field), Jade Hennig (softball) and Dave Overman (weight training), ministered in several areas. One stop was in the rough section of Watts, where they gave a sports clinic that was well received.
Watson based mostly at The Church of the Nazarene in the Skid Row section, where he spent lots of time working with elementary and middle school youth, some whose home was at a mission.
He played games and prayed with them, took them on field trips, assisted them with homework, and helped serve an after-school meal -- the only meal many would eat during a day.
An encounter with a fatigued third grader reminded him of the weighty burden some school kids have. When encouraging him to get more rest, the young boy told Watson he couldn’t sleep at night because of biting bed bugs and the frightening sound of “guns going off all the time.”
It’s hard to measure the impact the Pack might have made, but Watson believes it was three weeks well spent.
“There was a chance to show them love, the love of Christ,'' he said. "Kids were reached [with] the Gospel and we helped people in need.
“But I feel I was impacted more than I impacted them,’’ Watson added.
Growing up with a pastor father in Rock Hill, S.C., Watson has long been spiritually grounded. At State he's a Bible Study leader and active in Athletes-in-Action. It is his faith that has sustained him in the midst of trails. When he arrived home from Los Angeles, he got devastating news that one of his best friends had died.
Now Watson faces a challenging football season, a different season. He expects to redshirt this fall, acknowledging that he needs time to adjust and trusting the additional year of practice will pay off in the long run.
“I need to focus on getting stronger, putting on some extra weight, and grow in leadership,” he said. “I sacrificed time with football (this summer), sacrificed strength and conditioning and being in shape. I’m kind of behind.”
But he harbors no regrets. This summer Watson -- like the other Pack Athletes who went to LA -- was on a special mission, sharing his faith, offering help and hope to the hopeless.