On a mission trip to Tanzania, JSU receiver saw something that changed his life
by Al Muskewitz
amuskewitz@annistonstar.com
Oct 02, 2013 | 2783 views |  0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State receiver Dalton Screws with some of the children he worked with in Tanzania during a mission trip. (Courtesy photo by Keith Screws)
Jacksonville State receiver Dalton Screws with some of the children he worked with in Tanzania during a mission trip. (Courtesy photo by Keith Screws)
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JACKSONVILLE -- Dalton Screws has always been the type person guided down the path of life by his faith, but it took traveling halfway around the world for him to become a true believer.

Screws is playing his first season as a receiver and holder on Jacksonville State's football team. When he's not working to break into the Gamecocks' lineup, he travels on mission trips, bringing service, development and his faith to people in undeveloped parts of the world.

He has made four such trips, the first to Venezuela and the last three to Tanzania in East Africa. He said each left a profound impression on him.

It was on the last one he believes he witnessed a true miracle that strengthened his own faith.

Screws made the trips as part of a program headed locally by his father through Anniston's Center of Hope Ministry.

Keith Screws has traveled to Tanzania 26 times. When Dalton accompanies him -- usually at times that won't interfere with his football workouts -- he typically works with children, spending much of his time in the schools in the areas they visit.

While the trips are rewarding and life-changing, they also can be dangerous. Keith Screws said his groups go into "very extreme" areas of the country, places he estimates are 100 years behind the West in their development. In addition to the intrinsic dangers of living in the bush, reports abound of non-Christian groups attacking the churches and pastors.

On one of those trips, Screws' team ventured into a village near Mugumu where they came upon a man in his 60s, the village witch doctor, with a grossly deformed hand.

They approached the man and in time began sharing their beliefs with him. The man seemed willing to accept their message and convert to Christianity, but remained attached to the bands on his wrist he believed had powers to heal his afflicted hand.

The missionaries convinced the man to remove the bracelets with the promise if his hand didn't get better in a reasonable amount of time they would return them to him.

They returned to the village the next day and found the man flexing his hand as if he were squeezing a ball. Today, the witch doctor has full use of it and continues to embrace the gospel.

"It blows my mind," Screws said. "You read all these stories in the Bible, but it's hard for me to believe some of them were real. When I saw it with my own two eyes, it completely changed my views on faith.

"You know the verse that says faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. We've all heard that and how important faith is, but I actually feel I got to see that first-hand, and God actually touched that man's life. It was incredible. I always said I believed it, and everybody who says they are a Christ follower would say that they believed that, but it's a fact of, 'Do you really think if you've seen this person that God would be able to do this?'

"Honestly, I can say I was probably one that said I wouldn't have believed. Now it's something I know I believe. I've seen first-hand what He can do. That was something that definitely changed my life back here."

It wasn't the first time Screws has been moved by his experiences on a mission trip.

The first time he traveled to Tanzania, he was drawn to a 7-year-old he met while distributing clothing at a Ukara Island orphanage. He later learned the child had been diagnosed with the AIDS virus. When he returned to the orphanage the next year he was saddened to discover the girl had died. He keeps a picture of her in his room, and reflects on her memory when times get tough.

"That little girl is etched in my mind," he said. "Living here we have so many things, so much going on, we get caught up in our daily activities and how busy we are and don't take a moment to think of the opportunities we have and just really be thankful for just waking up and having the opportunities to go to practice, go to school. It makes you sit down and be slower to complain about things going on.

"I try to bring that back to here because we have so much, so many opportunities, that these people only dream of having. It drives me to make the most of every opportunity I have, not only on the field, but the classroom as well. You just realize how blessed you are to be in the situation you're in and how important it is to live every day like it's your last."

Life is pretty good for Screws on the field these days. He put himself in the mix at receiver through his work ethic and JSU coach Bill Clark has demonstrated his trust in the player he calls "kind of a hero around here" by using the former Wellborn High standout as the holder on extra points and field goals.

Screws saw his most extensive action of the season Saturday against Murray State. Making his first college career start because of an injury to Telvin Brown, he responded with five catches for 58 yards. He caught a 26-yarder the week before at Georgia State.

"I was a proud dad," Keith Screws said. "He got 10 yards on his first catch -- I probably ran 20 in the stands."

The elder Screws has another mission trip scheduled for November to an area near Mount Kilimanjaro that may include some nurses from Jacksonville State. There also has been talk of other JSU football players joining the group on a later trip.

"I'll be going again," Dalton Screws said. "I'll be going back to Tanzania. I don't know if it'll be the same part, but I'll definitely be going back to Tanzania."

Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577
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