Volleyball and faith took Makenzie Bouse halfway around the globe and back.
The Willard High School graduate recently spent two weeks in the woodsy green mountains of Thailand playing volleyball and doing mission work for Athletes in Action, a ministry that uses foreign and domestic sports tours to encourage people to become Christians.
Bouse’s mother Jennifer went on three different Athletes in Action volleyball trips when she was in college. Bouse was inspired by stories and photos from those trips for years.
“I knew that I wanted to be a part of it,” Bouse said. “I had to wait until I was in college to go, but when the opportunity came, God opened up doors and had this perfect timing for me to go.”
She graduated high school in December and joined the college team at Western Illinois this spring. A break in training gave her the time to attend one week of training camp in Ohio before a two-week trip to Thailand, where she was overtaken with the beauty of the mountain scenery and pace at which the people go about their days.
“It was a very different culture, you could just tell, but it was so intriguing,” Bouse said. “Everyone was going all the time, but you could tell they were all very, very happy. They were all very content with where they were.”
Bouse, a setter, was the youngest of 12 women on her team of American college players who were on a mission to use volleyball to share their message.
“We played against a men’s team the second day that we were there. Because Athletes in Action is a Christian organization, we played and then gave testimonies and shared the gospel with them,” Bouse said.
The team spent three days hosting a volleyball camp for middle school and high school players. The camp ended with the Athletes in Action team winning a tournament that also included the teams they had been coaching.
“We all had a blast playing, and to play internationally is so different,” Bouse said. “We all played the same game of volleyball and we all played the game that we loved.”
While the language barrier proved to be a challenge for the Americans, some translators were able to convey the thoughts of the Thai athletes.
“This trip has impacted me in so many ways that are indescribable in what it has done,” Bouse said. “We were supposed to be impacting their lives through volleyball and a ministry and what God has done in our lives, but (the Thai players) were impacting our lives.”
Bouse added that the trip created strong bonds among the 12 American players, who had never met before they arrived at the training camp in Ohio prior to the trip. They rode elephants on mountain trails together on one of their last days in Thailand.
“To meet these girls that I played with and that I connected so quickly with, I know that we will be friends forever,” Bouse said. “We are so excited to see where each of us go in life.”
She hopes to create similar bonds at Western Illinois, where a rebuild is underway following a 3-28 season in 2015.
“It’s a rebuilding program, and to get to be a part of a program that is coming up is awesome,” Bouse said. “It has been quite the experience. College (volleyball) is so different than anything you can describe. It challenged me athletically and academically.”
Bouse earned first team all-district, first team all-Large COC, and all-region honors as a senior at Willard. This past fall, Bouse helped guide the Tigers to district and sectional titles before falling to Ozark in three sets in the state quarterfinals.