A television is not all too important for a 20-something in Guatemala. Designer threads are also not practical.

Ray Lea Jr, a sophomore at Southwestern Assemblies of God University, realizes as much. He recently began to weigh which of his personal items were expendable and could bring in the most substantial return to help fund his summer mission trip to Central America.

See, Lea is a 5-foot-9 defensive back who wears No. 20 on the football field for the Lions. He recorded two interceptions and 21 total tackles in 10 games his freshman season.

This summer, though, he joins a new team. Lea and a local church group plan to spread the word of Christ, education and hope to children and all who will listen this July. The group will also work to distribute water filters to local families and build desks for schools.

And he needs a little community help to get there. About $900 worth, to be exact.

"I knew being a missionary was probably something that was going to happen for me," Lea admitted. "I started out thinking I wanted to go to Brazil, but that was just me thinking for me. So I did a lot of praying over it, and Guatemala just seemed like the place that I needed to be, and things started to fall into place."

The calling to Guatemala didn't just fall into place, though. It practically jumped out in front of him outside of The Schaefer Center on the SAGU campus after a seminar on missionary work.

During that seminar, Lea first learned of Daren and Heidi Walker and their work in Guatemala. He was hooked and could not wait to meet the husband-wife duo, whenever that might be.

"It was kind of like they were just waiting for me," recalled Lea after walking outside of the SAGU training room near The Schaefer Center later that afternoon. "We just started talking and everything starting falling into place. A few months later we ended up having lunch, and they asked me to come as soon as possible."

Lea hopes to fly down to Guatemala July 10 with the Walkers. They will be joined the next day by a church group. The missionary work is scheduled to last one week.

The broad picture commonly painted of Guatemala, or any third-world country, is often bleak and heartbreaking. The sheer knowledge that the primary goal of the trip this summer is to pass out water filters and build desks for schools has assured Lea of that reality.

In fact, according to the 2016 inequality-adjusted Human Development Index, which is "a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators," Guatemala ranks as the 98th-most impoverished country in the world out of 151 countries. The United States, for reference, ranks 19th with an IHDI of 0.796 compared to the 0.450 of Guatemala.

Norway tops the list with a 0.898 IHDI.

But the realism of the situation in Guatemala does not deter Lea's excitement — not one bit.

"I expect to see nothing but good people and people who just want to feel like they are cared about," Lea said. "It is hard to explain because I feel like I can relate. I didn't grow up as bad as it is over there, but it was pretty rough. So, I guess, I expect to see a bunch of kids like me."

He also plans to return to the country next May as part of an internship before he graduates from SAGU with a bachelor's degree in social work. He also hopes to move to Guatemala after graduation to "show the world the great potential that the Lord's children of Guatemala hold" and continue to spread the importance of His word and quality education.

"Education is pretty rough over there. I kind of want to show the kids over there that, you know, a lot of them end up dropping out of school or getting into gangs or stuff like that because that is the way they think they need to survive," Lea explained. "But I want to show them a way out of that. You can get a degree and get an opportunity to come to the States or go wherever you want and have the opportunity to show that it's not all bad in Guatemala or any of these third-world countries."

Lea rejoins his SAGU football team when the Lions report to camp Aug. 6. He credits athletics for instilling within him a team-first mindset. But, more importantly, Lea thanked the game of football for leading him closer to Christ and SAGU.

"The game has helped me grow spiritually. That was a big reason why I made the decision to come to SAGU. Out of all of the schools God could have sent me to, he sent me to SAGU. It just came out of nowhere."

He added, "it just seemed like the perfect place to be, to be honest. Of course, everyone wants to go D-I and all of that, but I have realized this football stuff is just temporary."

The deadline to assist Lea on his journey to Guatemala is June 20. To contribute to his GoFundMe campaign, visit https://www.gofundme.com/vmxx5-guatemala.


Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith

(469) 517-1470