Palmer Visits Serbia to Teach, but Ends Up Learning More

Palmer Visits Serbia to Teach, but Ends Up Learning More

Jay Adams

Published June 27, 2012 at 10:07 AM

The way Falcons tight end Michael Palmer talks about his recent “summer vacation” story, it’s quite apparent that it affected him on a very deep level. Earlier this month, he took a week off from voluntary OTAs in Flowery Branch to travel to the Eastern European country of Serbia with five football coaches and his youth minister from Mount Park First Baptist in Stone Mountain, Ga., to put on two football camps.

American football, Palmer says, is the fastest growing sport in Eastern Europe and the city he visited during his trip — Kraljevo — has only been playing the sport for the past five years, three of which were without pads because they didn’t have them.

The two three-day camps Palmer and his crew held in Serbia were highly attended by the locals, with 50 people showing up for the first camp and 70 for the second.

“It was very rewarding,” Palmer said. “We’re already talking about going back next year and making the camp even bigger and maybe even bringing a couple more over there with us to teach even more football. I really can’t say enough of how awesome of a trip it was.”

It wasn’t just the enthusiasm about the sport in a war-torn country that Palmer came across that changed him; it was also many of the experiences away from the field.

Barely two decades out of communism, Serbia still shows many of the effects of war and atrocities that became commonplace during a tumultuous 20th century. Palmer visited a monument located at a mass grave left by Nazis during the 1940s where 1,000 Serbs were murdered and marble tree stumps, symbolizing life cut short, now dot the landscape.

He saw a coliseum where people in the city of Kraljevo were forced to go and chant for dictator Josip Broz Tito and if they refused, they were killed on the spot.

Outside of town, he visited a gypsy village located on the skirt of a junk yard. When a dump truck would come by to drop off a load, the village would bee-line for the dump to dig through the garbage.

But through all that, there was so much positive that Palmer took from the trip. He took note of how and what the Serbs value and, by the end of the trip, found himself envying their simple lifestyle and rich values.

“We get going and we work and work and work, and it’s all about material things, making enough money and all these things,” Palmer said. “These people truly have it figured out. When you die, you don’t take that stuff with you. It’s the lasting relationships that you had here on Earth. Those are some of the big things we took away from it.”

But Palmer brought just as much to them. Along with bringing a touch of the NFL to a country that is becoming rabid for the sport, Palmer left with his new friends his faith. When Palmer was thinking about colleges years ago, he had one offer — from Clemson. He took it with the confidence that he’d prove himself enough to earn a trip to the NFL one day.

When his college career ended, the NFL Draft came and went without his name being called. He got a call from the Falcons and an invite to 2010 training camp and made the 53-man roster despite the long odds. Through the whole process, Palmer drew on his favorite Bible verse — Jeremiah 29:11, “that says God says that he knows the plans he has for me and to give me a future and hope and not to harm me. I began to really trust in Him then,” Palmer said.

“I’m going into my third year now, which is kind of hard to believe,” he said, “but it’s something that’s definitely huge for me and I can say I wouldn’t be where I am now today without it.”

Exactly what he tried to instill in those he came across in Serbia.

Below are photos Palmer took during his trip.

From left to right: Josh Hepner (missionary in Serbia), Srdjan Cosic (president of the Royal Crowns football team in Serbia), Cecil Flowe (head football coach at Parkview High School), Eric Godfree (head coach at Loganville High School), Mark Whitley (athletic director and defensive line coach at Parkview High School), Richard King (discipleship pastor), Greg Slattery (offensive line coach at Camden County High School), Michael Palmer, David Brown (played DB/WR at Parkview High School with Palmer).

The gypsy village Palmer visited near the dump site.

The mass grave monument in Kraljevo

A view of the Serbian countryside

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