By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Perspective, ever so critical in our lives, is never short for Bears linebacker Sam Acho.READ MORE: Ed’s Driveway: Toyota Sienna
No number of tough losses can keep Acho from smiling with each day. The difficulties of the NFL, the struggles of this 3-9 season, the pressure to improve — it pales in comparison to the reality he’s seen.
Acho knows true hardship. He’s seen it first-hand in Nigeria. Through countless trips with his family and its foundation, Living Hope Christian Ministries, he’s traveled to help those in desperate need.
“When I’m in Nigeria, I don’t think about football,” Acho said. “I don’t think about records, I don’t think about contracts, how much money I make. I don’t think about free agency, I don’t think about any of that. Anybody who’s gotten the chance to serve anyone in anything, you know how much joy it brings you to serve people. That’s what we were created for. We’re not created to serve ourselves. We were created to serve others.”
In his second season with the Bears, the 28-year-old Acho knows his greatest impact doesn’t come in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense. It’s by touching the lives of those who need a helping hand.
Along with Living Hope Ministries, Acho helps provide medical aid to the sick, the injured, the dying. The organization is saving lives. Recently, Acho was named the Bears’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. It was incredibly rewarding for Acho, who’s one of 32 players in the NFL given such a distinct honor.
With that comes $50,000 that will be donated to Living Hope. The winner of the award, to be announced Feb. 4 in Houston, is given $500,000 to the charity of their choice, and the two other finalists get $125,000 each.
Giving back means the world to Acho.
“Just go try it and see how you feel after you do something for someone that has no benefit to you,” he said.
Acho’s most recent trip to Nigeria came just before training camp in July. He brought along teammate De’Vante Bausby, a partner in Bible study.
Admittedly, Bausby was unsure about the trip. It took consideration before saying yes. He returned with the feeling of gratitude and renewed faith.
“It makes me appreciate the things I have here,” said Bausby, a 23-year-old defensive back in his second NFL season. “The things I’ve been complaining about here, it’s nothing to them. It kind of gives me a different mindset, a different approach about everything.READ MORE: 17-Year-Old Boy Shot, Killed In Gresham Neighborhood
“They’re very, very appreciative of everything. (For) the little they have, they still believe in God.”
In Nigeria, Living Hope converts abandoned buildings into makeshift hospitals. Lines of hundreds — sometimes thousands — form outside the doors. There, they’re mended back to health and lives are saved.
Among their duties, Acho and Bausby spent this last trip in the lines of people waiting for their chance to see a doctor, to finally get help. They saw humanity in need.
“The fun part for me was seeing patients come in with conditions and leave healed,” Acho said. “People who came in with barely any vision and they come out with a cataract removed and now they can see. People who came in with a huge hernia sticking out — and I’m not talking about sports hernia; I’m talking real-deal, Holyfield, only-see-this-stuff-in-developing countries (hernia) — they leave the next day and it’s gone. The fun part for me was being able to help.”
Acho has spearheaded a campaign to raise money for the construction of hospitals in Nigeria through Living Hope Ministries. His NFL platform allows the opportunity to raise funds for the foundation. He envisions participating in this work after his football career is over.
This trip in July was special for Acho because he was able to bring along Bausby and see how it affected a teammate experiencing something entirely new. Bausby arrived at his second NFL training camp shortly after the trip and saw life differently.
“What we did in Nigeria was the hard part,” he said with a smile. “We were out in the sun about 10 hours a day, on our feet all day. That was the hard part.”
Acho knows his fortunes well. He grew up understanding this and now reaps the rewards of a professional football player. There’s money, fame and opportunity with each day.
Yet with all that, nothing can compare to the greatest gift he could ever receive — giving back.
“I live in America,” he said. “It’s easy for me to have strong faith in America, because things are easy for me. I play in the NFL, I’m making a lot of money, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a good neighborhood. I look at people in Nigeria and they don’t have anything. Some of the people there don’t have clothes to wear, don’t have food to eat, don’t have sight, yet they’re still praising God.
“Spending time in Nigeria really adds perspective for us. When you treat other people the way you want to be treated — when you give, you get so much more in return.”MORE NEWS: Chicago Weather: Frost Advisory, Sunny Through The Day