This is the third in a series profiling Big East players with interesting summer jobs or internships.
Cincinnati receiver Jordan Luallen has been to Nicaragua four times on mission trips, but each one served its own special purpose.
He took his most recent one just before the start of summer school, and spent his time volunteering at local orphanages for one week. That meant playing with children, and even helping the girls plan their quinceanera, or sweet 15 birthday party.
Luallen, 21, also had an opportunity to help build a church in a remote village outside Managua, the capital city. The congregation used to assemble in a space roughly the size of a walk-in closet. But Luallen's church group, along with two others, began to lay a foundation for a bigger space. The hope is for the church to be completed in September, for all 120 of its members to worship more comfortably.
Every time he returns home, Luallen is left feeling overwhelmed with a wide range of emotions.
"It's a very powerful and inspiring trip," Luallen said in a recent phone interview. "Every time I go down there, I learn something new and I am able to make myself a better person. The neatest thing about it is when you go down there, your initial thought is to help change someone's life. But in the long run, they're the ones who change your life."
"It helps me look at things in a broader perspective and not focus so much on the value of things or materialistic things," he said. "It makes me look at the world and see how little my problems are compared to these people. We get so worked up about things that are so small and minute compared to what these people have to go through. I look at them and see how happy they are and say, 'Why am I being so selfish when I don't have to worry about half the things they have to worry about?' I know my next meal is provided for. They're hoping to find another meal. So helping out allows me to be a happier person and have more joy in my life because I'm able to see and be thankful for the things I have."
Luallen belongs to the New Hope Church in Greenwood, Ind., and his father, Bill, heads up its Nicaragua mission. Bill Luallen takes about 10 trips a year to the country and works closely with Mi Familia, and organization that runs a majority of the orphanages in Nicaragua. Jordan has spent a lot of time helping at Puente de Amistad orphanage.
The children range in age from infancy to 16.
"I have a soft spot in my heart for little kids, so I spent my time with the younger kids," Luallen said. "Sometimes we play soccer. The pastor there is trying to get me to teach them to play football, but I've never had time to get them to do that. A lot of times, I am just going out and pushing kids on a swing, throwing them up in the air, stufff like that."
Aside from working in the orphanage, Luallen spent much of his time gathered with local residents in prayer. One day, his group held a church service and went throughout the entire neighborhood to pray with people.
Another day he spent time in Tent City, an area where people at one time set up temporary homes made of plastic bags and sticks. The government stepped in to build some housing, and Luallen and his group went home to home offering prayer.
During a trip last summer, he spent time at a special needs orphanage and met a young boy named Wilfredo, who was born with his legs fused together. He finally underwent surgery and went from having casts on both legs for two years to being able to walk with help.
"It really is incredible," Luallen said. "You don't know the language, but you don't even have to communicate to experience the love. It is easy to see how simply they live and how happy they are and how much God is in most of those people's hearts."