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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Hasselbeck's Hero

By Gail Wood
January 31, 2010

He was an unlikely inspiration for a struggling quarterback.

A blind man, grossly disfigured by leprosy, stood with his arms raised, praising God. Matt Hasselbeck watched amazed, wondering what this leper with no fingers, ears or nose could be thankful about.

Confronted with such undiluted devotion to God, in a poverty-torn city in Jamaica, Hasselbeck sensed a change in his own attitude about life and himself. An admitted whiner, quick to blame others for his mistakes, Hasselbeck became accountable, committing to God and to a game that would become his profession.

"No question it was a life-changing experience," says Hasselbeck, today the Seattle Seahawks three-time Pro Bowl quarterback. "My attitude was what this elderly leper's attitude should have been. I felt guilty. It changed me."

Hasselbeck's unlikely journey from backup quarterback in college to the Super Bowl with the Seahawks began his sophomore year at Boston College. Hasselbeck took a 10-day missions trip with 20 classmates to Jamaica, visiting a home for lepers during the trip. For several days, Hasselbeck scraped and painted a bathroom in a center for 12 lepers. At the end of each day, the college students gathered with the lepers to sing hymns.

It was there that Hasselbeck met George McVey, the disfigured blind man.

The first evening Hasselbeck came late, and only one seat remained. It was next to McVey. Reluctantly, Hasselbeck took his seat.

"I'm ashamed to say this, but it was hard to look at him," Hasselbeck says. "His leprosy was so much worse than everyone else's. They said it wasn't contagious, but I was a young kid. I was wondering, Well, how did he get it?"

Holding a harmonica between his stumps, the 65-year-old McVey played and everyone else sang. Between songs, McVey quoted poems he had written about God's grace. One poem that McVey titled "My Cup Runneth Over" was about how he had been given so much that God's blessings were literally running over. So much had been given to him, a blind leper.

McVey also quoted long passages from the Bible, then lifted his fingerless stumps and repeatedly said, "Thank You, Jesus."

McVey's sense of joy puzzled Hasselbeck.

"I'm saying to myself, These people should be angry," Hasselbeck remembers. "What they were born into - poverty, poor health. Their attitude was what my attitude should have been like."

A blind leper with joy? Hasselbeck didn't understand.

"How could you not have hope when you talk with George and you see what he has?" Hasselbeck says. "His hope was in Jesus. Just as mine is."

Hasselbeck also spent a week at a school for children ages 3 to 6. The students wore uniforms given to them by the church. Many had no shoes. Most of them hadn't eaten before coming to school. They all lived in shanties with tin roofs, windows with no glass, no electricity and no running water. Hasselbeck, the son of an NFL tight end, stayed with a mother, her 22- and 10-year-old sons and a grandmother.

"They were one of the wealthy families, and they had nothing," Hasselbeck says.

On the first day Hasselbeck arrived at the school, a young child slipped into a latrine and drowned. The mother, screaming for help, ran to the school carrying her child covered with excrement. Hasselbeck and several other Boston College students were out playing with the children when the mother ran by, clutching her child.

A nurse tried to revive the child but couldn't.

That night, Hasselbeck and his classmates shared their thoughts.

"There wasn't a single person who didn't have tears," says Ted Dziak, director of the outreach. "It was a hard thing to see."

Hasselbeck and the other college students talked about the gifts and talents they had and the importance of using those talents to God's glory. It was a turning point for Hasselbeck.

"They saw the great gifts in life and the great tragedies," Dziak says. "They came away with a sense of what's the use of complaining about their life."

Hasselbeck's lessons from the trip continued after his return. After getting home from Jamaica, he was one of four who came down with hepatitis and was hospitalized. Jaundiced, he lost 20 pounds, missed spring football practice and dropped to fourth string. But he wasn't deterred.

"I thought this was nothing to what those people in Jamaica, the lepers, were dealing with," Hasselbeck says. "They had so much joy in their hearts despite their circumstances."

While lying in a hospital bed, Hasselbeck made a commitment to God.

"I prayed, ‘Dear God, I apologize for not using this athletic ability You've given me to the fullest.' I made a promise that when I got better I was going to try as hard as I could all the time."

Hasselbeck changed his work ethic. He became one of the hardest workers on the team. He became that lone figure on a high school track not far from his home running wind sprints, sweat pouring as he prepared for the upcoming season.

"It was kind of like I was doing this for an audience of One now," Hasselbeck says. "I was playing for the Person who created me. I'm trying to make Him proud and not waste this ability He gave me."

Remarkably, Hasselbeck transformed from that forgotten college backup, to a sixth-round draft choice, to a starter for the Seahawks to the Pro Bowl and to the Super Bowl.

"So many people say to me I'm a role model because I'm a quarterback in the NFL," Hasselbeck tells the Evangel. "Well, who would have thought that some elderly guy with leprosy in Kingston, Jamaica, would be one of the top role models in a 19-year-old kid's life? It's an amazing journey."

GAIL WOOD is a frequent contributor to the Pentecostal Evangel Super Bowl Outreach Edition and is author of the book Saved Twice.

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