Holmgrens Raise Funds for Congolese Refugees

Post a Comment » Written on February 11th, 2009     
Filed under: News
SEATTLE, WA (February 11, 2009) – Kathy Holmgren says she is “blown away” by the U.S. State Department’s decision to grant Medical Teams International (MTI) $594,000 to serve the needs of Congolese refugees in Uganda.

Kathy, a nurse and the wife of Mike Holmgren, former Seattle Seahawks coach, is active with MTI, a world-renowned organization formerly known as Northwest Medical Teams. Kathy began her nursing career in 1970 when she spent 10 months doing medical missions in Congo with the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC).

The State Department awarded the grant after Holmgren, her four daughters, and 100 volunteers collected $60,000 outside Qwest Field on December 21, the day of Mike’s last home game before retiring. They spent several hours before the game and during halftime collecting donations in buckets.

Money raised that day enabled MTI to send a team to Uganda, which borders Congo, to care for Congolese refugees who had fled violence in their country. The grant will fund 12 additional volunteer medical teams, including medicines, staff, vehicles, and logistical support.

A number of Covenant leaders participated in the fundraising outside Qwest, including Gary Walter, president of the ECC; Glenn Palmberg, former president of the ECC; Donn Engebretson, vice-president of the ECC; Jay Phelan, president and dean of North Park Theological Seminary, and Mark Novak, superintendent of the North Pacific Conference.

Kathy recalls thinking that the day would not go well. “Weather-wise, the day…was awful, and my comment on the way to the game was, ‘We have to be at Qwest but I don’t expect anyone beyond the families of the coaches and players to be there.’ ”

She adds, “I was amazed by the fact that we had an almost full stadium plus all those folks from Chicago who had hoped to come to a somewhat warmer city. And to think they would also volunteer to collect money—wow!”

The experience was a new one for Engebretson. “As someone who is passionate about giving and stewardship I talk a lot about money and ask for money from churches and donors,” Engebretson says, “but I don’t recall ever standing out in public with a bucket asking strangers to support a ministry of compassion.”

The local media had provided advance publicity for the fundraising, so fans came ready to give. “Several of us had young children come up to us with bags of coins they had saved to share with the people of Congo,” Engebretson recalls.

“People were very gracious,” says Mark Novak’s wife, Marilyn, who organized the Covenant leaders’ participation. “It’s amazing how a dollar here and a dollar there add up.”

The response of the people inside the stadium to the Holmgrens also was testimony to the character of the family. “It was a powerful experience to see Mike make a last walk around the stadium and receive tremendous applause for his time in Seattle,” Engebretson says.

“Mike and Kathy are deeply revered,” Engebretson adds. “Not only because Mike was a great football coach, but because together as a couple they gave such strong witness to the kind of lives God’s followers demonstrate in our world.”

The Holmgrens’ daughter Calla came up with the fundraising idea to celebrate the end of her father’s career. “She has been deeply troubled by the conflict in Congo ever since our trip there in 2006,” Kathy says.

Kathy and Calla, who is an obstetrician, attracted worldwide media attention when they traveled to Congo on a medical mission trip and missed the Super Bowl even though the Seahawks were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers. For previous Covenant News Service stories on the trip, which was co-sponsored by the Paul Carlson Partnership, click here.

Kathy is quick to emphasize that the work in Congo has been a “team effort.” “Ever since the Super Bowl and the great news coverage that Calla and I received because of that trip, I have been even more thankful for Mike’s job and his ability to generate positive stories,” Kathy says. “There are folks all over the world who serve, yet our efforts have been highlighted because of our relationship to a famous sports figure.”

Kathy says she and Calla hope to travel to Uganda with MTI in May.

Kathy, her four daughters, and two sons-in-law are former North Park University students. Mike and Kathy attend Mercer Island Covenant Church in Mercer Island, Washington.

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