On the evening of April 14, 2016, 200+ guests gathered under a gorgeous sunset as Pro Athletes Outreach held the 2nd Annual Increase Awards Gala in San Diego, California. Super Bowl champion quarterback and sports personality, Trent Dilfer, hosted the event, and Grammy-winning artist and producer Aaron Lindsey provided musical entertainment. Pro athletes and community leaders gathered together on this night for one purpose:
“Tonight is a night of celebration and inspiration,” said Trent. “We are here to celebrate those who have chosen to live a life of self-decrease so that the power, presence, and purpose of Christ will increase.”
Recognition was given to four honorees for their life’s service to others. The final award for the night, the Community Outreach Award, was presented by Trent to honoree, Karen Richards.
“Tonight we have a surprise honoree,” Trent began, “this person has no idea they are being recognized. But because she has inspired so many people, they demanded that she would be honored tonight.”
The guests’ attention was then directed the following inspirational video highlighting Karen’s longtime work serving the Lost Boys of Sudan:
As soon as the video concluded, the audience rose to their feet in rapturous applause and Trent welcomed Karen on stage to accept her award.
“Thank you all very much,” Karen responded with tearful gratitude in her voice. “This is such a privilege. I want you to see five of my Sudanese friends who are here tonight.”
She then invited five of the Sudanese refugees who had been blessed by her ministry and were attending the gala to stand up. Their admiration and love for Karen shone from their smiles.
“These are the real heroes!” Karen exclaimed as the rest of the guests gave another round of thunderous applause.
“To be with them and know little parts of their stories is so inspiring,” Karen continued. “These men have truly risen up. After being in a war where their village was attacked and destroyed and many of their parents were killed, these little boys, at the age of seven, could have given up but they didn’t. Thousands of them walked together for over a thousand miles, helping and caring for each other as brothers, often giving up their food for each other so that they could survive. Their stories are quite incredible.
“Because we are talking about sports tonight, I have one story for you about when they first arrived here with us. My sister, who worked in the sports administration at Azusa Pacific University, brought some of the university soccer players to play a game with these boys. Soccer was one game that these boys were able to play while they were growing up in the Sudanese village; they were very good soccer players and very competitive. A Muslim family had just arrived from Darfur and when the Lost Boys saw the family’s 14-year-old boy, they asked him if he wanted to play with them. This little boy loved to play goalie so they let him play this strategic position that day and the boy and his family were thrilled.
“That is what tonight is about: Community, caring about one another, and reaching out to one another. That’s what they were demonstrating to this new family that had just arrived—’we’re all in this together.’ I know many of you are living lives that are selflessly serving your community as well and it’s really encouraging when we can see what God is doing through each and every one of us so that we can be ourselves and serve each other in the ways that God has gifted us.
“I was so shocked to see almost my whole extended family here tonight—this is such a treat. Thank you for all your support throughout the years. I thank all of you for being in community together. It’s really important that we each use the role that God has given us and that we do so with joy, humility, and dependence on God, asking for wisdom day by day. The challenges are pretty huge but when we do it together it works. So thank you all very very much.”
By the end of Karen’s speech it was hard to tell who was more honored by this presentation, Karen herself, the five Lost Boys who were present, or the audience who were so blessed by the witness of this selfless woman. Karen descended the stage, award in hand, to a further round of enthusiastic applause.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” —Matthew 25:40
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