On the field, Hanover Rhinos’ linebacker David Harden is a loud, shouting bundle of energy. Standing at 5’6″, 160-lbs., Harden was the second-smallest player on the Rhinos in 2018. In spite of his unimposing frame, he was the Hanover Rhinos’ Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, his first season with the team. He certainly stands out on game days, with his violent but clean hits charging up his teammates while striking fear into opposing ball-carriers.
However, as soon as the game ends, you wouldn’t guess Harden was the vocal and physical leader of the Hanover defense.
His mild demeanor coupled with the message of love and peace he spreads are bringing credence to the fact that football players aren’t just big, angry, ‘roided-out guys who beat each other up for kicks.
Harden is also taking his message one step further. He volunteers for missions in impoverished countries where people need help in many different fashions.
Rhino Charge host George Marinos recently sat down with David in hopes of shedding some light on wonderful work that often goes unnoticed in the mainstream spotlight.
GM: I’m here with David Harden of the Hanover Rhinos. You are involved in a number of charitable and religious causes throughout the year. Tell us about some of them.
DH: Well, I started about five years ago on international missions. I served three consecutive years in the country of Honduras. We worked with churches, schools, and feeding kitchens in extreme poverty-stricken areas. We did everything from providing clothing and shoes, to blessing families with finances for building materials for their homes. In addition, we taught in churches and school. This past year I spent three weeks in Africa, in Kenya, teaching in churches.
GM: Are all of your missions done with the same organization?
DH: No, the first two years, I did my missions trips with a local church. Since then, I have done them all independently. I make connections with a missions organization that is local in the area I am going and connect with them.
GM: Tell our readers how you got started with the mission trips. Was there a moment where you were in church and just had a moment where you decided this was something you wanted to do?
DH: As crazy as it sounds, I had a dream one night that I was supposed to start going on missions trips. Before that, I never had considered or had any desire to go. Ever since then, I’ve gone on a missions trip every year.
GM: Do you have a favorite one of your trips so far?
DH: Yes, this last year going to Kenya was my favorite so far.
GM: What made that trip special?
DH: I got to go to a new culture and meet new people who have the same passions that I do. It was a very special trip for me, it seemed like everything came together. I was able to learn a lot and reach a lot of people.
GM: What is the main goal of your work?
DH: Show as many people as possible love, joy, kindness and a hope. Basically, that there is more to life than just going through the process. That everyone has a purpose. Obviously, I’m driven by my faith and beliefs. I’m a Christian and I just want to extend kindness and love to people.
GM: It seems that there’s a lot of hate and discontent in the world today. How hard has it been sometimes to break down those barriers and get people to embrace kindness and love?
DH: It’s tough, the cultural standards and morals of the world are changing, However, it’s programmed in every person to want to be accepted and loved, that’s just how we are made. My opinion is, when you focus on others above self it’s easier to be kind and loving. Put others’ best interests above your own and the hate and suffering goes away.
GM: So, you want to extend love and kindness to people. How do you feel you’ve done with that goal so far?
DH: I feel like there are still a lot of people who are hanging on by a thread that need to be shown love still.
GM: When and where are you planning tour next trip?
DH: Well, I leave on (July) 31st for Kenya, I am considering going to Brazil next year. We will see what opportunities present themselves along the way. Who knows, I just kinda go through life with an open mind.
GM: Any places you haven’t been that you really feel you must get to?
DH: That would be Brazil.
GM: What about Brazil really intrigues you?
DH: I’m not really sure, I just feel lead to go there.
GM: Take me through a typical arrival day for you on one of your missions. What do you do when the plane touches down?
DH: I try to find my way through an unfamiliar airport where most of the time I don’t speak the language and can’t read the signs. Then, I try to find someone I often have never met. The first ten minutes are the scariest, just like right before kickoff.
GM: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve had happen at the airport?
DH: One time in Honduras, I had a group of guys who worked at the airport grab my bags and tell me to follow them. They led me a back way around the security checkpoints and customs directly out to the cars. That was a first for me, saved me a lot of time.
GM: So, where do you go from the airport?
DH: I meet with whoever I’m working with and then, usually I go to a mission house or a hotel. Next morning, we get busy.
GM: Do you ever work with familiar faces, or people you have formed friendships with?
DH: Most of the time I am meeting up with at least one person I’ve met before.
GM: Have you formed any lasting friendships either with fellow workers or people you’ve helped?
DH: Absolutely, that’s the best part.
GM: How long do you usually stay for a mission?
DH: I usually stay between two weeks and a month. I hope to eventually be able to go longer, like up to a year.
GM: So, you wake up on an average morning. What do you do from there?
DH: It depends on the day and the trip. It’s pretty wild. I do a lot of teaching at churches, feeding kitchens, and school. Sometimes we lead kids programs. Sometimes we are teaching leaders of churches and organizations. It all depends. Everyday is a different adventure.
GM: Were there any times where you accidentally said the wrong thing and it turned out to be a pretty funny moment?
DH: Of course, when you’re trying to learn a new language, you mess up a lot.
GM: Any stories in particular that stick out?
DH: No, not particularly.
GM: Why do you think your missions work is important?
DH: Because the world is pretty messed-up, and needs to learn how to be kind and love unconditionally again.
GM: The world is pretty messed-up right now. With all the messages of hate and violence, how did you get the message of spreading peace?
DH: I was raised right. My parents invested and sacrificed a lot of time and effort into my life. Between them and just my faith, I believe we don’t have to live our lives hating people.
GM: What’s the most powerful moment you’ve experienced while on a mission?
DH: I’ve had a lot, but I hope all my experiences will be topped on this trip. I’ve seen little kids’ lives being saved because of funding for medicines. I’ve seen whole communities changed in a matter of a few years. I’ve seen a lot of things I didn’t think was possible. Actually, I see things most people don’t think is possible everyday. It’s pretty amazing. I just enjoy going wherever and showing people in need support and love. Giving people hope and direction.
GM: What are some examples of things you see that people don’t think is possible.
DH: I’ve seen people in really bad medical conditions completely restored/healed. I’ve seen a lot of people that were in a really bad mental/emotional state make a full recovery. Like I was saying earlier, people that just have no hope or anything to live for in their minds, I’ve seen them given a purpose and hope. Just a lot of life change. Whole communities changed by love.
GM: Have you ever gone back to a place where you were on a previous mission and had people remember you?
DH: Yes, I usually go back to the same places more then once with the same people.
GM: People seem to have this idea that football players are big angry guys who tackle each other all the time. How do you think your work changes that narrative?
DH: Never really thought about it. I don’t really fit the football mold, anyway.
GM: How so?
DH: People don’t look at me or talk to me and think football player.
GM: But you are one of the most intense competitors I know when you are on the field. Where does that desire to compete come from?
DH: Proving myself, and that it’s not about size and strength, but what’s on the inside. Basically, heart.
GM: Well, that heart is half a world away from little-old Snacktown right now. You’ll be in Kenya for another week, I look forward to sharing some of your stories with our readers when you come back.
Keep an eye out for our follow-up interview with David when he returns from Kenya. You can read it here on Rhino Charge, The Official Blog of the Hanover Rhinos Football Team.