Fire midfielder Jeremiah Gutjahr’s global view takes him to Africa

In late November and the first part of December, Gutjahr served for the first time with the Kefa Project in Rwanda and Uganda.

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Jeremiah Gutjahr served with the Kefa Project in Rwanda and Uganda.

Miriam McSpadden/Kefa Project

Fire midfielder Jeremiah Gutjahr is focused on his soccer career. After an encouraging rookie season in 2019, Gutjahr is looking forward to 2020 and what it might bring for him and the Fire.

But Gutjahr’s view of the planet goes well beyond soccer.

‘‘The better I’m able to see the world, the better we all are able to see the world, the better we see our own worlds,’’ Gutjahr said. ‘‘I think that’s something I try to be intentional about. Just getting a better feel for where everybody’s coming from.’’

This offseason, Gutjahr lived those words by volunteering in Rwanda and Uganda.

In late November and the first part of December, Gutjahr served for the first time with the Kefa Project. Originally founded in 2009, the project says on its website that its mission is ‘‘to serve, empower and advocate for at-risk youth through sustainable, quality sports ministry, which facilitates community, education and, ultimately, spiritual growth.’’

Gutjahr arrived in Rwanda on Nov. 30 and traveled to Uganda on Dec. 8 before leaving on Dec. 12. The experience left a mark on Gutjahr, who also had gone on mission trips to Jamaica and Guatemala and traveled around the world for soccer.

‘‘It’s been wonderful,’’ Gutjahr told the Sun-Times from Rwanda. ‘‘It’s a true joy.’’

In early 2019, Gutjahr met sports psychologist Seth Taylor at the MLS Rookie Symposium. Taylor introduced the Kefa Project to Gutjahr, who quickly got interested in and impressed by its work.

And considering Gutjahr’s interest in different places and cultures and in experiencing soccer all across the globe, the project was a perfect fit.

‘‘I think I’m a little bit of a deep thinker,’’ Gutjahr said. ‘‘I love the game of soccer, and, no matter what it is, I always think there’s got to be a bigger purpose to it all. Seeing more of the world helps [me] understand that a little bit. I think it just comes down to the relationships. Whether it’s in Chicago or Rwanda, just the need to be genuine and caring and partnering and experiencing things together.

‘‘Helping, trying to encourage or come alongside the projects that are going on here, I learn a lot from it. And I hope they learn a lot from it, as well.’’

On its website, the Kefa Project says: ‘‘Sports are an avenue for us to create families for at-risk youth in Rwanda.’’ The goal is to help them in their lives in various ways.

Gutjahr sees sports as a vehicle to make that happen.

‘‘It just brings a lot of joy,’’ Gutjahr said. ‘‘I think we’re all kind of searching for deep connection or community. I think sports can do that in a way that a lot of other things can’t, especially soccer.

‘‘Being able to come alongside the group of people I’ve only known a little bit and instantly connect through the beautiful game . . . we have different backgrounds, maybe, but we can still enjoy being in the presence of each other.

‘‘I think that’s just the genuineness of that experience.’’

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